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.

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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

Mixing the very ordinary world with the supernatural – An interview with Charles Busch

Charles Busch, playwright of The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, was recently on the Theater J stage performing his legendary drag act at our annual benefit. Shortly after that fabulous evening, he and our Acting Artistic Director Shirley Serotsky corresponded over email about the past 30 years which encompass Charles’ long and varied career.

SHIRLEY SEROTSKY: You’ve made updates to references in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife script before the Theater J production and also during this rehearsal process. Can you tell us about those changes and why you thought they were important to make?

CHARLES BUSCH: The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife was written in 1999 as a contemporary comedy. But now 16 years later, it seems wrong to make it a “period” piece because nothing in it seems rooted to that particular year. Therefore, every few years, I find I have to update the references as technology changes and cultural figures evoked in the play die. Also, to keep the characters’ ages consistent, I need to update their biographical details.

Charles Busch and his musical director Tom Judson on stage at the 2015 Theater J Annual Benefit

Charles Busch and his musical director Tom Judson on stage at the 2015 Theater J Annual Benefit

SS: You’ve said in earlier interviews that with The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, your idea was to take “these Jewish suburban characters and put them in a cryptic Albee or Pinter play.” Since we are at Theater J, can you talk a little bit about being a Jewish playwright and if that influences your work at all?

CB: There are two parts to that question. The character of Marjorie Taub originated in a monologue that was part of a solo show I performed in the early nineties. I loved the character of this raging Medea-like Manhattan Jewish woman and I wanted to write a play around her. All of my ideas seemed rather TV sitcom. But then I saw the wonderful revival of Albee’s A Delicate Balance with Elaine Stritch and  began thinking about Pinter’s play about a ménage a trois Old Times and thought if I placed these very recognizable New York types in this kind of enigmatic world, it would allow me to take them into deeper waters. I also read the fiction of Cynthia Ozick where she mixes the very ordinary world with the supernatural.  Part Two: I was raised in a somewhat bohemian household by my Aunt Lil, very much like the story of “Auntie Mame” and had no religious education at all. Any knowledge of Jewish history I’ve received is from Hollywood biblical epics. It is a bit of a cliché when agnostic Jewish celebrities say “I’m not a practicing Jew but I am deeply and profoundly Jewish.” All I can say is that I identify as a Jew. I have a great snobbism about being Jewish and the gravitas and depth that comes from the Jewish heritage. I like to think that the characters in all of my plays, even my campiest movie spoofs, benefit from that identification.

Charles Busch

Charles Busch

SS: When you started your career in theater, you were a solo performer. Many of the plays you’ve written include a role for yourself. Can you tell us a little bit how performance has influenced your writing and how your writing has influenced you as a performer?

CB: I was stage struck first and although I wrote plays as a child, it wasn’t as important as my desire to be on stage. I began seriously writing plays in college when I realized that I was an odd type and would most likely not be successful as a traditional actor. I was very influenced by the work of experimental theatre artists such as Charles Ludlam, which provided me with the courage to create roles for myself. The eccentric qualities that made me difficult to cast turned out to be the elements that have provided me with a long career. I think being an actor has certainly been a help in writing for the stage. I know from personal experience what an actor needs in a role and what dialogue will play well.

SS: What is the process of creating a play versus originating a character you will embody?

CB: There really isn’t much difference to me. The character always seems to come first. I’m not the kind of writer who comes up with a theme or issue and then tries to illustrate it. Perhaps because I started out as a performer, I get the idea of a character who intrigues me and then I come up with a story that contains that character. When I come up with stage vehicles for myself, there is a bit of a fantasy element to it –  who would I like to play?  Many of the plays I’ve written for myself have been inspired by classic film and so often I have thought about what kind of old movie would I like to be in.

SS: What is it like to be an openly gay writer-performer now versus 30 years ago when you were starting out?

CB: The greatest strides for gay writers and performers were made just before I made the scene. I have greatly benefitted from the toughness and determination of people like Charles Ludlam and  even later, Harvey Fierstein. By the time I got it together in 1985, I did not have trouble getting reviewed in the New York Times and other mainstream publications or finding a varied audience.

SS: You have some stellar titles. How do you come up with them?

CB: I guess I am known to have come up with some wild titles and yet it’s the last thing I think about. It’s sort of an obligation I have to get through.  Most of my drafts have what we call “dummy” titles. Just something to identify them. I drive producers and publicists a little crazy as they wait for me to settle on a title. The important thing is that a title sets up an expectation that can be filled, and with a comedy, something that has an ironic or comic twist but isn’t too silly. So says the author of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. Oh well….

Charles Busch in Die Mommie Die

Charles Busch in Die Mommie Die

An Interview with Tanya Barfield

Jacqueline Lawton is the incredibly talented DC-based playwright whose play The Hampton Years premiered here at Theater J in 2013. Recently, she sat down with Tanya Barfield, the author of The Call, to talk about Tanya’s writing process.

Jacqueline Lawton

Jacqueline Lawton

JACQUELINE LAWTON: I’m curious, other than being a playwright, what other forms of writing have you done? Were you always drawn to the theater? If so, why? If not, what brought you here?

TANYA BARFIELD: I was drawn to the theater in elementary school but I didn’t dream I could be a part of it until my junior year of high school. In elementary school, the advanced English class, of which I was not a part, did a production of Macbeth. Perhaps, I was the only youngster in the audience that watched the show. I was riveted. It was storytelling and poetry like I had never heard. I went on to a very small high school with no theater department. With intensity only a teenager could muster, I lamented over the fact that we had no theater department. So I decided to put on the school’s first play. I chose the only play I had ever read, Macbeth. Indeed, I staged it and it was performed. Everyone that auditioned was cast, and Macduff was played by a girl because not enough boys tried out. I saw my first professional production of a play at the age of 17 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. After that, I was hooked on theater. Looking back on it, I think the only reason I studied acting instead of playwriting was because I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a living playwright. In terms of other writing, I’ve recently made the foray into TV-writing.

Tanya Barfield

Tanya Barfield

JL: Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process. Do you have any writing rituals? Do you write in the same place or in different places?

TB: I often write at insanely early hours in the morning when everyone in this time zone is asleep. Even farmers. But, now, I am expanding to longer stretches of time. After an early morning session, I often go on a “writing dates” in which a writer-friend and I will write in silence in the same space. This can occur in an apartment or coffee-shop.

JL: Describe for me all the sensations you had the first time you had one of your plays produced and you sat in the audience while it was performed…what was different about the characters you created?

TB: The first time I heard my work, I had butterflies in my stomach. I was tremendously happy and about to be sick. I’ve always been drawn to working with people that are interested in collaboration. To me, this is the most exciting aspect of theater. Of course, writing is a solitary activity and I’m not interested in “writing plays by committee.” But I do enjoy the exchange between playwright and director; the actor’s input and how they bring the script to life; the way in which the designers contribute to the storytelling; and finally the audience. I’ve seen shows, my own included, change drastically dependent on the audience reaction. Funnier moments can become funnier, sad moments sadder.

JL: What do you hope to convey in the plays that you create–what are they about? What sorts of people, situation, circumstances, do you like to write about?

TB: I like to write plays that feel both intimate and wide in scope that can be viewed within a larger social context. The play’s lens should feel both macro and micro focus.

JL: What inspired you to write The Call?

TB: The play is about adoption which is of personal interest to me. But, I actually see the play as being more about lifelong friendships, marriage and midlife. On a macro-level, it’s about global interconnectivity and a call to courage.

The Call at Theater J Joy Jones & Tessa Klein Photo by Stan Barouh

The Call at Theater J
Joy Jones & Tessa Klein
Photo by Stan Barouh

JL: What was the most challenging part of writing The Call? Which character’s voice or situation was the most difficult to capture?

TB: Annie was the easiest to write and the hardest. Her voice was very clear to me from the beginning. But, she’s a complicated character because she voices the audience’s darkest fears and reservations. Without giving too much away, she’s an easy character to judge – but not that many people would “jump in” the way they expect Annie to.

JL: One of the most compelling lines of the plays comes from the most intriguing characters. Alemu says to Annie, “You want a child from Africa but you do not want Africa.” Can you talk to me about this?

TB: Like most parents, Annie and Peter want a baby more than anything that they can love and raise as their own.  But, they don’t want a child with history. They want an empty slate. They don’t want to also adopt a continent in turmoil.

JL: If there is one thing you want audiences to walk away knowing or thinking about after experiencing The Call, what would that be?

TB: Courage.

JL: What advice do you have for up-and-coming playwrights?

TB: I tend to be of the belief that you should write what you know as long as it doesn’t bore you. I’d say “write what you know – turn it into fiction – and then make yourself uncomfortable.”  Writing a play should be enlivening but not easy. You should feel uncomfortable in the same way that one might feel uncomfortable when giving a confession. Your words should be both familiar and unfamiliar. People often assume that my work is more autobiographical than it actually is. I used to feel the need to clarify that I write plays not autobiography. Now I don’t bother correcting people. I just take it as a compliment.

JL: What next for you as a writer? Where can we follow your work?

TB: My most recent play, Bright Half Life, opened at the Women’s Project Theater here in New York. It’s making its way around the country.  And I just joined the writing staff of The Americans on FX.

The Call is onstage at the Atlas Performing Arts Center now through May 31. Tickets are on sale here.

Tanya Barfield’s plays include: The Call (Playwrights Horizons & Primary Stages), Of Equal Measure (Center Theatre Group), Blue Door (Playwrights Horizons, South Coast Repertory and additional theaters), Dent, The Quick, The Houdini Act and 121º West. She wrote the book for the Theatreworks/USA children’s musical: Civil War: The First Black Regiment. Tanya was a recipient of a 2013 Lilly Award and the1st Annual Lilly Award Commission. She has been commissioned by Playwrights Horizons, Center Theatre Group, South Coast Repertory, Primary Stages and Geva Theatre Center. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild Council.

Jacqueline E. Lawton was named one of the top 30 national leading black playwrights by Arena Stage’s American Voices New Play Institute. She received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin (Hook ’em Horns!), where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She participated in the Kennedy Center’s Playwrights’ Intensive (2002) and World Interplay (2003).  Her plays include: Anna KBlood-bound and Tongue-tiedDeep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet WaterThe Hampton YearsIra Aldridge: the African RosciusLions of Industry, Mothers of InventionLove Brothers SerenadeMad BreedNoms de Guerre; and Our Man Beverly Snow.

Hints to Our 15-16 Season

We are thrilled to be announcing our 15-16 season next week! But we couldn’t wait until then to share a couple of hints of what it will hold.

We’ve been working with an new illustrator, the incredible Donald Ely. Can you guess any of next season’s titles just by looking at close-cropped versions of some of them?

This play was a Pulitzer Prize finalist

This play was a Pulitzer Prize finalist

This play was a Pulitzer Prize finalist

This play was inspired by a true story

This play is the work of a renowned Jewish female playwright

This play features three sisters

Can’t wait to share all seven titles next week!

Reporting from First Rehearsal of The Call

I have been procrastinating, avoiding and downright refusing to blog for years. But with a new year, a new blog and a new show in rehearsal, 2015 seems like the time to get over my trepidation about sharing in such a public forum.

Last Monday was the start of the rehearsal process for The Call, a new play by Tanya Barfield. I read the script a few times during the season planning process last season, so I wasn’t expecting to be as moved by the first read as I was. Something about hearing it out loud made it much more resonant for me.

TheCall at Playwrights Horizons

Playwrights Horizons’ 2013 production of The Call. Kelly AuCoin, Eisa Davis, Crystal A. Dickinson, Kerry Butler. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

When Tessa Klein, as Annie, lashes out with “Three years of drugs, of doctors – my body /lost babies” my eyes well-up with tears. Not because it’s an experience I have experience with personally, but because through Tessa’s vulnerable but resilient voice, I could feel what she must be feeling.

In grappling with America’s relationship with Africa – the devastating impact of AIDS, the overwhelming poverty, the experience of being an American tourist and volunteer – the reading also stirs up my own conflicted feelings about my time as a volunteer in Ghana. I was there for a week to help repair schools and attempt to promote safe sex and education to high school students. Although it was an amazing experience for me, I am sure I got more good out of it than anyone in Ghana. Just the amount of money I spent to get there could have done far more for the students in Ghana than I managed to do.

I have a feeling that every time I see this relatively compact play that manages to dive into so many issues, it’s going to bring up different feelings for me. Director Shirley Serotsky kept saying in her remarks that this is a “story for our modern times,” and indeed it feels that way to me – relevant in ways I hadn’t even expected.