Beyond the Stage Takes a Bow

Former DC-resident, the Giant Panda Tai Shan, eats an enormous summer Popsicle in an attempt to beat the DC heat.

Former DC-resident–the Giant Panda Tai Shan–eats an enormous summer Popsicle in an attempt to beat the DC heat.

As the temperature rises and the city slows down, we’re over here in the Theater J offices marveling at the fact that we made it to the end of this amazing, chock-full, stunningly diverse eight-show season. Things slow down just a bit here as well as we catch up on meetings; sort emails; dive into play reading; look at pictures of Cavachons on the internet (wait, what?); and take a minute to step back and look at what we accomplished in our 2012-2013 season.

And what besides those eight main stage productions did we accomplish?

Programming, programming, programming.

With help from our super intern Lauren, I’ve just completed our Programming Spreadsheet for the season (we do this for various record-keeping purposes) and I’m pleased to report that we had a stunning 106 additional events this season. That includes Locally Grown and other readings, Tea@Two’s, a Teach-In, Miriam’s Kitchen visits, talk backs, and panels.

And speaking of panels, we’ve had a few of those to wrap up our season as well.

On Sunday, June 16 we discussed:

Race and Representation: The African-American Artist in the World with

Juanita Hardy, Executive Director of CulturalDC and co-founder of the Millennium Arts Salon
Jennifer Nelson, Theater Director, Playwright and Educator, former Producing Artistic Director of the African Continuum Theatre
Dr. Dianne Whitfield-Locke, Collector of African-American Art and owner of The Locke Collection

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/68719528″>Race and Representation: The African American Artist in the World</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/theaterj”>Theater J</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

And on Sunday, June 23 we turned to:

A Lasting Legacy: The Past, Present and Future of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) with
Sandra Jowers-Barber, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, History Program Coordinator, The University of the District of Columbia
Jim Loewen, American sociologist, historian, and author of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
Dr. Leslie Richards, Professor of Urban Affairs, Social Science & Social Work, The University of the District of Columbia
Gerald Allan Schwinn, former Hampton Institute Instructor

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/69188390″>Post Show Conversation: The Past, Present and Future of HBCUs</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/theaterj”>Theater J</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

This past week we also wrapped up our second Locally Grown Reading Festival with a reading of a brand new play by Renee Calarco (author of THE RELIGION THING) titled PEOPLE OF THE BOOK.

Adrienne Nelson, Sasha Olinik, Celeste Lawson, and Lawrence Redmond. Photo by Bill Petros.

Adrienne Nelson, Sasha Olinik, Celeste Lawson, and Lawrence Redmond. Photo by Bill Petros.

As directed by Allison Stockman, PEOPLE OF THE BOOK asked us to consider how far we would go to believe a story that’s too good to be true. Partially inspired by the story of Rabbi Menachem Youlus—the self-dubbed “Jewish Indiana Jones”—the play goes to “some uncomfortable places,” according to Calarco.  “We all yearn for survival stories,” she says, “and I’m obsessed with the stories that we collect and re-tell and believe—beyond the point of reason.”

The very next evening we gathered in the theater for our Locally Grown culminating event, a Playwright’s Town Hall Discussion which gathered the community to talk about the progress we have (or haven’t) made in the past year when it comes to supporting new work, and especially–encouraging opportunities for playwrights based in the greater DC region.

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J is for Journaling (aka blogging)

Shirley here.

Some good news and some sad news to share, we’ll start with the sad.

Larry Gelbart–writer for stage and screen, and a creative force behind the television series “M*A*S*H,” Broadway hits like “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and film comedies like “Tootsie”–died on Friday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 81. (ed. note: it’s been pointed out to me that this information was already linked to in a comment from this weekend. Sorry for the repeat!)

You can read his obituary in the Times here; which quotes his fabled statement “If Hitler’s still alive, I hope he’s out of town with a musical.” That line also appears in ZERO HOUR when our “Zero” talks about FORUM’s somewhat rickety road to the great white way.

It’s so strange when real life and theatrical life intersect in this way. I’d heard of Larry Gelbart before, but only put together the full picture of his career recently, as I did research for this show. For me it’s more about the tail end of his career–I saw his show CITY OF ANGELS as a freshman in high school; three years later I used a song from it for my college auditions (while I was a poor excuse for a femme fatale, I loved the song).

We’re glad to play (even a small) tribute to Gelbart’s humor and commitment in ZERO HOUR.

As for the good news–we hosted the third of our town hall meetings Sunday evening after the matinee of ZERO HOUR–with yet another solid house and lively discussion. This one, titled What Does the J in Theater J Mean? aimed to “delve into Theater J’s identity as it applies to both Jewish and non-Jewish patrons, and what the various expectations and wants from a Jewish theater company might be.”

Ari and I were joined by several of our Theater J council members and actress Naomi Jacobson, notable at this event as one of the few Theater J actors who is of Jewish decent. Continue reading

Town Hall Meetings I & II (a recap)

Our notes from the the first Town Hall Meeting (on August 31 – on Themes for a New Season and Reflections from a Season Past) got filed onto a shared drive at the office and never made it out into the world. So we’ll share these bullet points in a moment. And then we’ll post a shorter summary and appreciation of this past Thursday night’s second meeting on the subject “Pushing the Envelope: How Far and to What End?”

Remember that on back on that last Monday in August, we opened with a 50 minute long Season Sneak Preview (see all the wonderful pictures here) that set the table for a ranging discussion about themes for the new season. Let’s begin the recap with an introduction to that first evening.

Welcome to our first-ever Town Hall Meeting/Season Sneak Preview:

As suggested in the very title, it’s an evening of two highly inter-related parts. We welcome subscribers, friends, brand new audience, artists, Council and staff to this GLIMPSE OF THE ARTISTIC FUTURE – what we’ll be talking about and working hard to realize in the most authentic and galvanizing way possible over the coming months – It’s a season born out of on-going conversations, with our audience, with our Council, within staff, within ourselves.

It’s a season born out of Great National Recession in the economy, and simultaneous sense Renewal and reinvention in the same sphere; of a profound new Hope in the White House; and of a new government in Israel as well, with a recognition that we as a theater sit on the seams of a friendly, yet sometimes uncomfortably growing division between the two. Our season was born out of a recognition that we live in a more starkly partisan society than ever, and that we crave unity, and healing, and common footing as a community more than ever.

It’s a season that was forged by asking a series of simple questions: Why do we go to the theater? Why do we need to now? Do we? How much is it worth to us and to our consumers? What are the stories that will bring us together? What are the stories that we need to hear when we’re blue? Or when we can’t see the light. Or when we can’t see other people’s suffering because we’re so wrapped up in our own?

If times of affluence and ascendancy, what is the theater’s function?
In times of anxiety and descent, what is our purpose then?
Continue reading

Happy Press

A quick round up of new press coming in over the transom. Our August 31 Town Hall Meeting rates as a “love fest” in the Washington Jewish Week.

The Washington Post comes through with a lengthy (compared to some other recent) comprehensive review (“absolutely impeccable. If you close your eyes, you’ll swear you hear the Mostel of Brooklyn and Broadway, the late star who forever put a stamp on two of the plum roles of musical comedy’s golden age”) that we feel really good about.

Even more fortuitous is The Washington Times rave coming out at the exact same hour, on the exact same day as The Post piece. When’s the last time that happened? So we’re thrilled to welcome back Jayne Blanchard as a reviewer after she was unable to cover our last show. We agree that “Actor and writer Jim Brochu has the size — physical and emotional — of Zero Mostel in his funny and piercing one-man show, “Zero Hour,” playing at Theater J under the astute direction of actress Piper Laurie.”

Finally, Marilou Donahue of Artistically Speaking concludes, “It is deeply moving, laugh-out-loud funny and Brochu’s performance shimmers like gold. Don’t miss Zero Hour.”

Nice news to wake up to, no?