Friends at Fringe

The 2016 Capital Fringe Festival is NOW OPEN, and we’ve compiled a list of Theater J affiliated artists who are creating, performing, and entertaining at the festival this summer! Check it out!

PLAY CUPID

sixteen
Created and directed by Theater J 5×5 Playwright Brett Steven Abelman
Featuring Theater J Load-in Crew Member Niusha Nawab

LOVE IN RUINS

ruins

Directed by Clare Shaffer, Assistant Director of Falling Out of Time

SONG READER: THE MUSICAL

sixteen (1)

Directed by Clare Shaffer, Assistant Director of Falling Out of Time

THE HOUSE OF YES

sixteen (2)

Featuring Theater J House Manager Claire Schoonover

RAPISTS AND DRUG DEALERS

sixteen (3)

Featuring 2015 Locally Grown actor Lee Ordeman

ALIENS, NAZIS and ANGELS

sixteen (4)

Directed by Regie Cabico, Theater J post-show panelist

HOW TO GIVE BIRTH TO A RABBIT

sixteen (5)

Featuring music by former Theater J intern Itai Yassur


PAUL GONSALVES ON THE ROAD

sixteen

Directed by The Last Schwartz actor Andrew Wassenich

See you at the festival!

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An Interview with Dan O’Brien

dan-obrien-headshotThis engrossing and provocative play tells the true story of the extraordinary friendship between playwright Dan O’Brien and Pulitzer Prize-winning war reporter Paul Watson. Shirley Serotsky, Theater J Associate Artistic Director, interviewed O’Brien while preparing for the regional premiere of The Body of an American, which won the Horton Foote Prize for Outstanding New American Play.

Shirley Serotsky: The origin story of your play traces back to an interview you heard on NPR between Terry Gross and the photojournalist Paul Watson in 2007. Now, almost ten years later, how can you explain what stood out to you about that particular conversation, and at that particular time? At what point did you realize that this could be the inspiration for a play?

Dan O’Brien: I knew right away that I would write about Paul. I felt haunted by his haunting but I didn’t know why, and our ongoing, peculiar collaboration has been an exploration of precisely this question. I say “ongoing” because I’ve written this play, two collections of poems, a libretto for an experimental chamber opera, and a new play-in-progress about Paul Watson; and “peculiar” because he shares his material with me, both personal and professional, but he never reads what I write about him. He hasn’t seen the play and says he never will, simply because he imagines the experience would be too disturbing.

SS: Your play, THE BODY OF AN AMERICAN, has been described as a docudrama; a “poetic true story”; and as biographical drama. How would you describe its particular mix of reality and theatricality?

DO: The play is certainly quite close to docudrama, as everything’s derived closely from things Paul and I have written, and written to each other, as well as recordings of our conversations, and audio and video recordings that Paul has shared with me from his work and life. There’s been some poetic license taken here and there, very minor stuff having to do mostly with chronology, or pieces of dialogue and phrasing.

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Eric Hissom as Paul Watson and Thomas Keegan as Dan O’Brien in The Body of an American

SS: You are both a poet and a playwright (interestingly—so is the final playwright in our season, Anna Ziegler). How do these two genres interact with each other for you? What compels you to turn to one form or the other?

DO: Poetry is simply more private for me, a more intimate experience to conceive a poem and to craft it, and I imagine a one-on-one relationship with a reader. A play is much more about story, dialogue, language that works in the moment and—however poetic—functions primarily in a dramatic sense. It’s a story to be experienced in public.

SS: Theater J’s production of THE BODY OF AN AMERICAN marks its Washington, DC premiere. What about your play do you think will be particularly resonant for a DC audience?

DO: This play is primarily a story of friendship, in my opinion, and an exploration of the healing—or at least strengthening, clarifying—power of storytelling and specifically theatre in relation to past trauma. But it’s my hope that the play addresses our historical ghosts too, specifically the Battle of Mogadishu and the Rwandan genocide, but the relationship of those traumas to the wars of the last thirteen years and our ongoing “war on terror.” I imagine that a Washington, DC audience might come to this story with even more knowledge of this play’s historical and political context.  

The Body of an American is now playing at Theater J through May 22. Purchase tickets online at bit.ly/TheBodyOfAnAmerican, at the Box Office or by calling 202-777-3210.

Spending Time with Stephen Karam

Hi, Readers!

Lauren and Delia here, who were a few of the lucky staff members to meet Stephen Karam on Sunday. We wanted to share some insight into what it’s like to be in the rehearsal room with a Pulitzer Prize-nominated, and Broadway bound playwright, who joined us from New York City for Sunday’s design run. We were only able to utilize his time for one afternoon, as he’s busy busy in New York with his new hit The Humans (which just announced it’s Broadway run!), but it was such a joy to have him.

Watching Stephen watch the show was so enjoyable – the way he laughed at some of his favorite moments was very validating for us, who laugh at nearly every moment.

Such a gracious, genuine and generous response to our production from a playwright whose career continues to blossom and reach an ever widening audience. This play speaks to adults of all ages in humorous, soulful and heart opening ways. Its author, a handsome young Lebanese American gay man with a modest demeanor and warm smile, entered the rehearsal room with the director, a friend and colleague, Gregg Henry (who was on tenterhooks but as always composed.) They sat together in the back corner of the room during the rehearsal, after which the actors had a ten minute break and returned to hear what the playwright had to say. I think we all held our breath…

Karam and Company

Karam and Company

When they returned, Stephen Karam hugged all of the actors, and gave a few notes including:

“The only solution is to have Gregg [Henry] direct all of my plays.”
“The entire cast trusts the script and their characters.”
And something along the lines of “After the 1st scene, I didn’t think the acting could stay at that level, with a cast of 8, who knows? But it did. Every character did.”

He then sat down with Director Gregg Henry and gave a few more notes. We can’t see how the show evolves and grows over the next week before we open for previews!

Sons of the Prophet runs November 18-December 20, 2015
Purchase tickets online HERE.

Get to Know Adam Immerwahr

Adam ImmerwahrHow would you describe your artistic philosophy?

First and foremost, it is that everything on our stage must be a truly excellent version of whatever it is trying to be. Great theater can be in service to its audience by entertaining, challenging, edifying and transforming them – but no matter what it is trying to do, it must be produced at the highest quality to be successful. Personally, I place delight among the things that matter most to me in a theatrical experience, and I veer toward theater that is beautiful and moving and stimulating. The theater that excites me explores cultures from a wide variety of perspectives, takes us on journeys to other communities, asks us to use our imaginations to try on someone else’s shoes, and demands that we lean forward in our seats and open up our minds.

I also believe that the time has come for us to explore ways in which our audiences engage more deeply and authentically with the work on our stages; I’m interested in blurring the lines between the art-makers and the art-receivers. Whether it is creating community-based projects that reach out beyond our walls into under-served communities, or offering theater education, or inviting our audiences as co-curators for the work on our stages, I am seeking ways to allow the theater to become more permeable, and more multi-vocal.

What do audiences have to look forward to next season?

I don’t know if it’s next season or beyond, but I’m really intrigued to deep dive in to our country’s all-but-forgotten canon of Yiddish Theater. By WWI, there were 22 Yiddish Theaters in NYC, and they were producing new works, adaptations and translations. Some of the plays I’ve read are utterly surprising, and there is a wide variety; there’s one strand that is huge and imaginative and metaphoric, and another that is small and domestic and honest, almost Chekhovian. I don’t know how we’ll engage with these texts (in translation, adaptation, or other ways) and I don’t know when, but I’m confident that we’ll see some of these lost masterpieces on our stage in a coming season. Until then, you might find me in the library, poring over scripts and wishing I knew how to read Yiddish!

Here’s what I know for sure about the first season I will program: Theater J’s audiences can look forward to a bold season of programming that will delight, provoke, stimulate and engage them throughout the entire season. We will continue to use theater to examine our world through a Jewish lens; tackling the great moral, social and political issues of our time for Jews and non-Jews alike, in this country and abroad. We will seek work that celebrates the uniquely Jewish voice, tells our stories (both triumphs and tragedies), and honors our heritage, but we will also present plays that expose us to other cultures that share many of our challenges—immigration and assimilation, language and family, living one’s life religiously in an increasingly secular world, and the struggle to make ethical choices. I know it is going to be a provocative, thrilling season full of some of the best theater in the country.

What excites you about Theater J’s mission?

When I look at Theater J’s mission, I see a company committed to creating theater that heals the world. We must use our art form, which is first and foremost entertainment, to reflect the world on stage, giving us and our audiences a chance to learn, to grow and to change.

What’s your favorite play and why?

This is the hardest question ever! Honestly, I think it’s whatever I’m directing at the moment. So right now that is Julia Cho’s masterpiece, The Language Archive. It is a stunning new play about language itself, about the words of love and the challenge of communication.  A love story about how love can be as hard to learn as any language. It is whimsical, magical, funny, moving and exquisite—and it takes on the eternal mystery of communication: our never-ending struggle to articulate the synaptic connections of our brains and share our thoughts with others. I’m directing it at Bristol Riverside Theater (in Pennsylvania) and as I write I’m in the middle of casting the last actor in what promises to be a really brilliant ensemble.


Understudy Rehearsal 2

Immerwahr directing a production of The Understudy at McCarter Theatre

Adam Immerwahr was most recently the Associate Artistic Director at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ. His directing credits at McCarter include The Understudy and The Mousetrap. NYC directing credits include productions at The Public, Theater Row (both for Summer Play Festival), Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Wild Project, and NYU’s Studio Tisch. Internationally, he directed the African premiere of The Convert in Zimbabwe (nominated for the National Arts Medal Award, Zimbabwe’s highest arts award). He has directed and developed work for Luna Stage, Hangar Theatre, Bristol Riverside, Premiere Stages, Playwrights Theatre of NJ, PlayPenn, the National Constitution Center, Philadelphia Artists’ Collective, Princeton Summer Theater, Westminster Choir College, Theatre Masters, and Passage Theatre Company in Trenton, where he served as Resident Director.

Adam’s documentary theater works include his many years as the Artistic Director of OnStage Seniors: a community project of McCarter Theatre, in which he led a group of Mercer-county based senior citizens who gathered and performed the stories of their community. He has also developed, written, and directed community-based projects for Nassau Presbyterian Church (where has been the artist-in-residence from 2014-2015) and for Passage Theater and Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Central New Jersey (for whom he is currently developing a piece a documentary work around central NJ’s Holocaust survivors).

At McCarter Theatre, Immerwahr was part of the producing team that commissioned and premiered Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (starring Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce), which went on to transfer to Broadway and win the 2014 Tony Award for Best Play, and Fiasco Theater’s Into the Woods, which premiered at McCarter before transferring to San Diego’s The Old Globe and then The Roundabout in NYC, where it won the 2015 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Revival. Other producing credits include works created by some of the world’s top artists, including Ken Ludwig, Mary Zimmerman, Emily Mann, Danai Gurira, Stephen Wadsworth, Phylicia Rashad, John Kani, and Fiasco Theater. Adam is the recipient of a 2008 Drama League Directing Fellowship and the 2010 NJ Theatre Alliance “Applause Award.” Adam was the winner of the 2014 Emerging Nonprofit Leader Award presented by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Center for Excellence and the Center for Non-Profits.

A Look Back- Exploring the World of Queens Girl

Everyone remembers those few headlines that have come to define the time period during which they grew up. For many young people today those headlines include 9/11, the election of Barack Obama, and the recent Supreme Court decisions guaranteeing the right to same-sex marriage. For Jaqueline Marie Butler, the main character in our upcoming production of Queens Girl in the World, many of those defining moments were centered on the racial struggle that tore through the United States during the 50’s and 60’s. We are sharing just a few of those headlines to help us all remember the events that took place in our country not too long ago and which shaped the life of Miss Jaqueline Marie.

October 1, 1962
James Meredith Registers at “Ole Miss”
On Sept 20, with the support a Supreme Court ruling, James Meredith arrives at the Univ. of Mississippi in Oxford, intending to enroll as the school’s first black student. The state Governor physically blocks Meredith’s progress on Sept 20, and again Sept 25. Talks between the White House and the Governor fail to produce a solution. The Kennedy administration orders federal marshals to Oxford. On Sept 30, rioting kills two students, and wounds 160 marshals. The next morning, Meredith officially registers as a transfer student; he graduates in 1963. Bob Dylan writes Oxford Town about Meredith’s experiences.

August 28, 1963
“I Have A Dream…”
During the Civil Rights March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. delivers one of his most impassioned and memorable speeches to an audience of 250,000. Speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial, King sets aside his prepared notes to describe his vision of an nation that will “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.'” Later this year, King is named TIME’s Person of the Year.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington, Aug. 28, 1963
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

November 22, 1963
Kennedy Assassinated
President John F. Kennedy is shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Lyndon Johnson is quick sworn in as President.

June 22, 1964
Freedom Summer Begins With Murder
The SNCC organizes Freedom Summer to increase voter registration and build a grassroots political party in Mississippi. Three young activists disappear on June 22: Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney. Their bodies are found on August 4, buried in an earthen dam. Investigation results in 21 arrests, and conspiracy convictions of seven Ku Klux Klan members in October 1967. Exactly 41 years after the murders, on June 22, 2005, Edgar Ray Killen is convicted on three counts of manslaughter for masterminding the killings.

Freedom Summer activists sing before leaving training sessions at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, for Mississippi in June 1964. TED POLUMBAUM COLLECTION NEWSEUM

Freedom Summer activists sing before leaving training sessions at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, for Mississippi in June 1964.
Ted Polumbaum Collection, Newseum

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act
Legislation outlaws discrimination on basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

February 21, 1965
Malcolm X Assassinated
The civil rights leader is killed while delivering a speech in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom.

Malcolm X on March 5, 1964 (Eddie Adams/AP)

Malcolm X on March 5, 1964 (Eddie Adams/AP)

August 6, 1965
Voting Rights Act
The legislation ends discrimination at the polls.

August 11-16, 1965
Watts Race Riots
Six days of rage and riots in Los Angeles leave 34 dead and $200 million in damages.

TIMELINE: Selected Events 1962-1965
Adapted from PBS.org

Join us for Queens Girl in the World Sept. 16th- Oct. 11th. Buy tickets here.

Season Planning, An Insider’s Look — Part 3

Illustrations by Donald Ely

Illustrations by Donald Ely

In December 2015 we’ll present a special week-long run of a fantastic, family-friendly, festive piece (just on the heels of Hannukah and during the week of that other December holiday):

StarsOfDavid_Final_CDecember 22-December 27

Stars of David: Story to Song

Based on the book by Abigail Pogrebin, Conceived by Abigail Pogrebin and Aaron Harnick
A musical adaptation of Abigail Pogrebin’s best-selling book, Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish. A celebration of Jewish identity drawn from interviews with some of America’s most recognizable public figures, including: Gloria Steinem, Joan Rivers, Aaron Sorkin, Leonard Nimoy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and more. With original music by an all-star lineup of composers and lyricists including Marvin Hamlisch (A Chorus Line), Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home), Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof), Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater (Spring Awakening), and Tom Kitt (Next to Normal).

Stars of David has had an interesting development history. Lead writer Abigail Pogrebin talked about her original approach to the book with the Forward in 2012:

“When Abigail Pogrebin decided she wanted to interview Jewish celebrities about their Jewish identity, even her husband was skeptical.

“I think it’s a great idea, but why would anyone talk to you?” he told her.

“I basically dove in with a prayer,” said Pogrebin, a Manhattan-based journalist and former television producer. She began with her own contacts: her onetime boss at “60 Minutes,” Mike Wallace; family friend Gloria Steinem; Leonard Nimoy, who had attended Torah study with her parents; Sarah Jessica Parker, whose husband, Matthew Broderick, had gone to Pogrebin’s grade school, and Wendy Wasserstein, who knew her literary agent and her twin sister, Robin Pogrebin, a New York Times reporter. Some 62 interviews later, Pogrebin had her book, “Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish” (Broadway, 2005). Divided into short chapters, it is an unexpectedly intimate compendium of thoughts about observance, heritage, family and the State of Israel…”

From there Pogrebin worked with a team of theater artists (composers and lyricists, as well as a director and book-writer) to adapt the interviews into what was originally a book musical that was work-shopped and presented by the Philadelphia Theatre Company. When the production moved to New York however, producer Daryl Roth observed, “We decided that the stories were so well told through the songs by our various composers and lyricists that it felt like a better format would be a song cycle instead of a book musical.”

Theater J presented the revue as a benefit performance in 2014. It was a spectacular evening–with special guest Ruth Bader Ginsburg present in the first row, watching her own moving story told through song.

Theater J's 2014 benefit presentation of STARS OF DAVID

Theater J’s 2014 benefit presentation of STARS OF DAVID

The show has gone through some small changes since that presentation, so our December 2015 audiences will be seeing the most updated version yet. And I’ve got to say–these songs are pretty wonderful. It’s a smart and eclectic mix of musical theater styles, from more traditional approaches (like Sheldon Harnick’s song “The Book of Norman” about Norman Lear) to witty, wordy patter songs (Michael Friedman’s “Horrible Seders” about Tony Kushner) to contemporary, indie-music influenced compositions (“The Darkening Blue” by Duncan Sheik and Stephen Sater about Kenneth Cole.)

Sadly, we’ve lost some of the luminaries whose words and stories appear in the show since we last visited the material (Leonard Nimoy and Joan Rivers) but we hope that reflecting on their lives and unique journeys is the best kind of tribute an artist can have.

Asking Big Questions in Washington Jewish Week

Last week an OpEd by our Acting Artistic Director, Shirley Serotsky, ran in Washington Jewish Week, exploring our role as a Jewish theater, the thought process for planning the 2015-2016 season and what we’ll be exploring on our stages.

film, jewish week
The purpose of a Jewish theaterDisplaying
July 15, 2015

At a time when Jewish theater artists — playwrights, directors, designers and performers — are more deeply involved in the American theater than ever before, we ask ourselves: What is the purpose of a culturally specific Jewish theater? What needs do we fulfill?

To entertain people. To stir their passions. To call attention to transformative works by Jewish and Israeli playwrights — programmed alongside plays by non-Jewish writers that ask relevant questions about identity, community and humanity. To bring together the people of a neighborhood, and of a city, to experience art together.

But, should there be more to it than that? As we set out to plan a new season for Theater J at the Washington DCJCC, we naturally had to ask ourselves: Who are we? Or perhaps more accurately, who are we now? Are we the same theater we have always been or something different? Can we still tackle difficult questions as we have in the past, or should we focus on content that is less likely to stir debate?

When putting together a season of plays, we want to take the audience on different journeys over the course of the year. I want them to be inspired, feel enlightened and, yes, I want to challenge their thinking.

A touchstone that guided us in selecting next season’s shows is that “the personal is political,” a concept which came out of the second wave of the women’s movement. It articulated a defense against those who claimed that women who were speaking out loud for the first time about the oppressions they faced in the home, the workplace and the social sphere were really in need of therapy, not policy change. In recognizing that personal battles were deeply intertwined with larger political issues, the movement was able to move from experiences and feelings to action. It was a truly galvanizing idea.

I feel the same way about theater. A character’s personal journey reveals something deeper and truer, and often something greatly in need of examination, about the world.  Experiencing the personal allows us to activate our own individual sense of the political; it forces us to articulate the important questions ourselves, and in doing so, we hope, to move toward action.

So, in case there is any doubt, we will continue to ask big questions, on stage with our productions, at panel discussions and talkbacks. We will continue to provide a nurturing environment so playwrights, directors, designers and actors can continue to achieve at the height of their craft. This will come as a disappointment to those who have lashed out at Theater J in recent years, but our change in leadership in no way represents a retreat from taking on difficult questions — whether about race, sexuality, gender, faith or Israel.

We will turn a personal lens on the political. We will face the horrors of war as markers in the life of acclaimed photojournalist Paul Watson. We will witness the specific and wrenching effect that the cycle of violence and loss that has played out in the Middle East for decades has on families in that part of the world. We will spend time with characters of different generations who are facing crises of health and identity. We will live through the tumultuous 1960s as viewed through the eyes of a young African-American girl coming of age, and coming into her own sense of political activism, during the Civil Rights Era.

All of this brings me back to my original question. Will we still take on the difficult questions? Yes, we will.

Providing a forum to tackle the issues most central to our community is part of who we are, and that will never change.

Remembering Theodore Bikel: Ver vet blaybn, vos vet blaybn? (Who will remain, what will remain?)

Actors Ed Gero and Theodore Bikel in THE DISPUTATION.

                      Actors Ed Gero and Theodore Bikel in THE DISPUTATION.

Upon hearing of the death of legendary theater artist and musician Theodore Bikel yesterday, we’ve been moved to observe as many artists from the Theater J family reflected on the time they spent–on stage and off–with this incredible man.

Our own Associate Producer Delia Taylor worked closely on the production of THE DISPUTATION with Theo. She shares this memory:

In the Fall of 2005 I stage managed The Disputation, a Theater J production starring Theodore Bikel. Also in the cast were Edward Gero, John Lescault and Naomi Jacobson.  It was a once in a lifetime experience for all of us—working with Theo—he was one of a kind, a big man in every sense, to whom all superlatives applied. He played with us too; Naomi and John will never forget having him in their home, singing with the cast and crew, strumming his guitar until the wee hours following the show. He would return to the DCJCC again a number of times since then and every one of his performances will be remembered with delight by the many who attended—his memory is a true blessing.

We worked with Theo again in 2008, producing his own stunning adaptation of several Sholom Aleichem stories in the solo show SHOLOM ALEICHEM: LAUGHTER THROUGH TEARS.

Theodore Bikel in LAUGHTER THROUGH TEARS, directed by Derek Goldman.

Theodore Bikel in LAUGHTER THROUGH TEARS, directed by Derek Goldman.

Bikel’s script for Laughter through Tears opened with these questions:

Ver vet blaybn, vos vet blaybn? Who will remain, what will remain? Does anybody worry about legacy? People under sixty usually don’t. I started to worry about it in my thirties.

What will become of the memories of yesterday, of the shtetl, of Sheyne Sheyndl, of Tevye? Of the language they spoke and sang in?

Friends keep telling me ‘just live for today and work for tomorrow.’ But today and tomorrow are not worth all that much without the memory of yesterday. Poetry, songs, heated discussions of rabbis, we remember it all. Is this just nostalgia? No, we Jews are not a people of nostalgia, we are a people of memory.

Bikel burns brightly in our memory, and he always will. His legacy–that of an artist, a friend, a mentor, and an activist–will long endure. We at Theater J are honored to have spent time and artistic space with this great man.

Season Planning — An Insider’s Look, Part 2

Illustrations by Donald Ely

Illustrations by Donald Ely

Next up in our 2015-2016 line up is:

SonsOfTheProphet_Poster_FINALNovember 18-December 20, 2015

Sons of the Prophet

By Stephen Karam

After Joseph Douaihy’s father dies in the wake of a freak traffic accident involving a plastic deer decoy, he’s pretty sure lightning won’t strike twice. But it does, again and again, as Joseph’s health, sanity and family are called into question. Add in fending off his off-kilter boss, who wants him to write a book about his family’s tenuous connection to Khalil Gibran, and Joseph’s to-do list is looking pretty long. But he’ll get to everything – just as soon as he can get someone from his insurance company on the phone.   A 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist dark comedy that laughs in the face of human suffering. 

Sons of the Prophet, by Stephen Karam (Speech and Debate, Columbinus) was first produced at the Roundabout Theatre Company in October 2011. I didn’t actually read it until this past year when Erin Neel, our Director of Patron Services (who also happens to have a background in dramaturgy) put it on my desk. It played to raves in New York—famously particular Charles Isherwood wrote “[an] absolutely wonderful new comedy-drama… Mr. Karam understands that for those in crisis, the brute, sometimes humiliating reality of debility and disease is a greater preoccupation than philosophizing about it. And with unerring sensitivity he finds the sweet spot at which laughing at the horrors of life and feeling compassion for those who must endure them intersect.” Since the combination of humor and tragedy–“laughter through tears”–is practically a cultural imperative, the tone of the play felt very right for Theater J.
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Season Planning — An Insider’s Look

Yikes–we’ve gone ahead and announced our 2015-2016 Season and have totally neglected to blog about it!

I’m going to remedy that by sharing a show-by-show account of what excites me about each production and insights into why these 6 plays (plus musical revue) ended up in our line up.

Illustrations by Donald Ely

Illustrations by Donald Ely

The process of season planning is equal parts thrilling and daunting. We start with a clean slate; key questions (what do we want to talk about next year? what themes do we want to address?); and a list of titles. These may be plays we read a month earlier or three years ago–but they are all stories that stuck with us, that resonated then and now as the stories we should be telling. And then we open up the conversation. At Theater J that means discussing the plays with staff and our committee of volunteer readers, mostly members of our smart and intuitive Theater J council. And the list gets shorter, and shorter, and then sometimes longer again, and then shorter, and shorter. And then we do a very fancy high-tech layout of post-it notes with plays written on them stuck to one of our office doors. Super sophisticated.

Door

This is THE door, without any post-it notes (we wouldn’t want to give away too many industry secrets.)

Okay, so not very sophisticated, but it works. The post-it notes start to resemble a calendar. Dates are tweaked and negotiated. We step back and consider balance. How many larger cast shows do we have? Which ones will need a longer load in period? Which are likely to exist in a world that is more physically spare? How about gender parity of the mix? Representation of diverse voices and playwrights of color? Ratio of comedy to drama? And when we have a line-up that feels like the right mix of plays we are passionate about, we start conversations with agents and publishers. Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service are the two largest licensing agencies, so for published plays the conversation continues there. And finally, when contracts are signed and rights are negotiated, we have a season. Simple, right? Not always, but…

On to next season!

We start the year with:

QueensGirl_Poster_D Continue reading