Neat Things One Is Called Upon To Make, Only In Theater

Hey there Teammates,

This is Theater J Tech Director Tom Howley, speaking to you on location from the Theater J Scene Shop in Beltsville, MD. While only popping up very rarely on our blog, the theme I’ve enjoyed touching on is “Only In The Theater,” and I have to say that the talented Paige Hathaway’s design for ANOTHER WAY HOME, written by Anna Ziegler, has afforded us another one of those happy opportunities. She’s given me permission to give you a behind-the-scenes look at a particularly fun element of her design: The CAMP KICKAPOO sign that looms over the primary playing area on the stage.


It is, of course, one of those traditional made-from-branches camp signs that have been appearing in films and on postcards since about 1903. Very outdoorsy/folksy/artsy-craftsy. But, what there’s NOT is a chapter in the ol’ Scenic Construction 101 on how you’d actually make one of these venerable, iconic items? Happily, it’s really not that challening from a technical standpoint.


Did not cut any live growth. That just seemed inappropriate.

Step 1:  You need branches. Fortunately, a slice of county forest abuts most of our back yard, so I got out into the woods with loppers and a pruning saw, and worked my way around to a couple of particularly large dead-fall piles created by the remains of a) Snowmaggedon, and b) the Derecho (a few years ago).

Step 2:  Cut branches down to transportable, usable lengths, aiming for a ballpark diameter between 1-1/4 ” and 2-3″.



This was easily the most taxing aspect of the project.

Step 3:  Good heavens. These branches are ALL covered with unusable bark! The branches need to be stripped. What expensive, special tool does one have to use to do that?  A machete?  Some new power tool?  Or. . . my Dad’s old Swiss Army Jack-knife which I’ve carried around for 25 years and never actually used?  I summon my inner Jed Clampett. . .




The branches are attached with a combo of long drywall screws and long finishing nails.

Step 4:  Then came the-honestly-quite fun part of the project, which was working from the drafted letters and finding real-branch analogs for them. It was necessary to take a couple of stylistic liberties here and there in order to make the letters themselves attach securely to the beams and to each other. The square panel you see to the right was a gridded guide I used to lay each letter out first to ensure that it fit correctly and that it presented well.


Several kinds of wood on display.

Final Step: The framework has a break point between the two words, as the whole piece is about 6 ft longer than will fit into our truck. Temporarily assembled, I propped some scrap ply behind the frame just to clear up the visual. The framework is open, and the letters themselves will have a lighter, grayer wash to both unify them and to make them visually pop from the darker wood around them.


And there you have it.  A how-do-you-do-it project that proved to be not too hard to figure out and was quite fun to fabricate in the process. One component in a truly delightful design for our final show of the season.


Another Way Home by Anna Ziegler runs at Theater J from June 23-July 17. Click for tickets and more information. 


The Creativity of a Translator – An Interview with Jessica Cohen

Jessica Cohen, translator of David Grossman’s genre-defying masterpiece Falling Out of Time, answered one of our most burning questions: How closely did you work with Grossman on the intent and meaning of the novel, and how much creativity can you use as a translator? 

JessCohen_picWhen I translated David Grossman’s masterful novel, To the End of the Land, I thought it would be the most intense and demanding translation I might ever take on. But then Falling Out of Time came along and proved me wrong. The translation presented many challenges, both professional and emotional. Working with a hybrid form that veers into genres I did not have a lot of experience translating—poetry and drama—required a rethinking of the translation methods I had developed over many years of translating prose. The book’s gut-wrenching subject matter and sheer emotional impact were not an easy thing to live with over the many months of translating this work. And most demanding of all was the knowledge that this was perhaps the most intensely personal work Grossman had ever written, drawing on an incredibly painful experience that he and his family had recently undergone. I was left feeling that there was a hefty responsibility that went along with this translation project. And indeed, David’s personal involvement in the translation work was greater than any I have had before or since with an author, and a fairly unique experience for any translator.

41U-Rkf0obL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Whenever I translate a book, the author generally makes him or herself available to answer the questions that inevitably arise, and in this case, too, I periodically sent David queries about the text, asked him to clarify the meaning of certain phrases and word-choices, and so forth. But whereas that is usually the extent of the author’s involvement in a translation, in this case, after I had completed my translation, David and I met over the course of a few days in Jerusalem and I read my translation out-loud to him, pausing frequently to discuss the text and my translation choices, and for him to offer comments and corrections when necessary. David’s long-time agent, Deborah Harris, was also present at these readings, and the three of us had many fascinating and fruitful discussions about various translation challenges and textual issues. Having this degree of access to the author’s thought process and being able to probe his mind for all the layers of meaning behind every line in the book, was a rare opportunity.

David made it clear in our work together that he had a keen interest in making sure this translation came as close as possible to his original intent. Although this is true, to varying degrees, of any work by a good author, Falling Out of Time is an extreme example—perhaps the most extreme—of the writer’s heart and soul being laid bare on the page, and that was clear to me throughout my work on the project. Yet despite all this weight, I was allowed and even encouraged to find creative solutions to some of the tricky issues presented by the text. David has always been respectful of my creative license as the translator of his words, and it was no different with this book.

Tickets available online at or by calling 202-777-3210.


Jessica Cohen is a freelance translator born in England, raised in Israel, and now living in Denver. She translates contemporary Israeli prose, poetry, and other creative work. Her translations include David Grossman’s critically acclaimed To The End of the Land, and works by major Israeli writers including Etgar Keret, Rutu Modan, Yael Hedaya, Ronit Matalon, Amir Gutfreund and Tom Segev, as well as Golden Globe-winning director Ari Folman. She is a past board member of the American Literary Translators Association and has served as a judge for the National Translation Award.

A Mid-Season Update

We are halfway through the 2015-2016 season and it has been an incredible year so far with some exciting firsts for Theater J.

At the recent Helen Hayes nominations, Theater J received five nominations, including four for QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD.
• The James MacArthur Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play — HAYES Production, Michael Willis, SONS OF THE PROPHET
• Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play — HAYES Production, Dawn Ursula, QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD
• Outstanding Director of a Play — HAYES Production, Eleanor Holdridge, QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD
• The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding Original New Play or Musical, Caleen Sinnette Jennings, QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD
• Outstanding Play — HAYES Production, QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD

Theater J has never before received nominations for lead actress, director, playwright and the overall play all for one production and we could not be more thrilled!

QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD also garnered Theater J’s first ever review in The New York Times, which was glowing, calling the play a “sweet spirited solo show…portray[ed] with star quality brilliance.” The play was commissioned and developed through our unique Locally Grown Festival, which focuses on providing support to local playwrights to foster new work.

Our new Artistic Director, Adam Immerwahr, started in December. He is hard at work programming our next season, which will be announced on April 3rd at the Theater J benefit – so mark your calendars!

Our next production, an adaptation of famed Israeli author David Grossman’s FALLING OUT OF TIME, is going to be an incredible and unique theatrical experience. After losing his son in the Israel-Lebanon conflict, Grossman was moved to write this stunning masterpiece about loss, solace, and hope. To more deeply engage our audiences with the work, we have planned two important events:
• On March 20, A Conversation with David Grossman, Azar Nafisi (author of READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN) and Leon Wieseltier about “The Freedom of the Writer and the Cruelties of History”
• On March 17, Pre- and post-show conversations with The Parent’s Circle, an organization that unites bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents in promoting reconciliation.

We are proud to continue to bring Israeli art to DC audiences and to use it as a springboard for these important and inspiring conversations.

Hope to see you at the theater soon!

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.


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