– Joshua Morgan is an actor and Co-Artistic Director of No Rules Theatre Company, which received the 2011 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company. –
No Rules produces in both DC and in Winston-Salem, and those are two very different audiences! DC is fascinating. We live in a city that has such a variety of people. We’re so transient here.
I’d argue there is no one formal voice to DC theatre. There’s no institution saying: This is what we do, and this is how we do it. Unlike in Chicago, or New York, or even in LA, the DC theatre community is always finding itself. There’s always some group saying: We’re gonna try this new thing now. And people go: Oh, okay! That’s very exciting to me. I hope that we continue to support that as a community.
Like with this whole Mike Daisey scandal… I know everyone’s on the different side of that issue, but we need theatres that have the capacity to generate controversial content. We need to have theatres like Woolly Mammoth and Studio and Factory 449 and Constellation and No Rules that are committed to exploring.
The most exciting play I saw was probably Savage in Limbo at MetroStage. I think that actors Michael Kevin Darnall and Natascia Diaz were fabulous. Michael is very exciting to me. And Natascia is one of my favorite actresses in DC right now — she’s remarkably daring and imaginative. They did such great work on that play. It was some of the best acting I saw in the city this season. The work was deeply personal and deeply active. Those are the two strongholds I cling to the most as both an actor and an audience member.
It was interesting to see which shows this past year become hot tickets. I didn’t totally love Venus in Fur at Studio, but I thought it was really interesting stuff. Same with Arena bringing in Steppenwolf’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I know some people had mixed reactions to Old Times at Shakespeare Theatre, but I thought it was just fabulous.
In terms of the actors nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Resident Play, I enjoyed The Habit of Art at Studio a lot. I thought Ted van Griethuysen was great. I really enjoyed Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo at Arena.
But I’m totally biased. I’ve worked with Mitchell Hèbert, and I’ve worked with Michael Russotto. I think that Michael’s work on A Bright New Boise at Woolly really deserves to be recognized. Every single day of rehearsal he came to the theatre early, and he would sit there and go over the entire play. The biggest thing we can hold onto in the theatre is a real sense of process — a way to pick up work and use it. And unlike many other actors I’ve worked with, Michael has that and respects it, and he’s not afraid to fight for it. I think that’s pretty rare and special.
I like shows in which we run the chance of watching people fall flat. Actors need to be able to take risks. I get hungry for those situations, those theatre experiences you can’t skim over. I’ve sometimes worked on shows that just don’t push hard enough, or don’t have strong enough direction. When actors get to do whatever they want, a lot of the time they don’t learn very much. We’re very lucky to have directors in town like John Vreeke and Aaron Posner — directors are fearless and will push for what they need from a cast until they get it.
Having theatre awards in this city is really hard. When I look at the nominees this year, I’m particularly happy for small groups like dog&pony dc. It’s great that Birds of a Feather and Wonderful Life at Hub Theatre was recognized. I’m happy for the major theatres too, but I think it’s great that we have awards that don’t exclude. In New York, Broadway doesn’t have 120 professional theatres. So they don’t have this same challenge to recognize as much work each year.
An awards show in a town like DC creates some unique challenges. There are so many theaters, and so much is overlooked. People have asked, should Helen Hayes break up the awards to recognize small theatres and large theatres separately? I don’t think that necessarily what’s best. But I don’t know what’s supposed to happen next, because there’s a lot of fabulous work that stands little chance of being recognized.
Like, I loved the design in The Green Bird at Constellation. It was so inventive and fabulous. But, think about the parameters for judging here, even unofficially. You look at the extraordinary costume budget for a Shakespeare Theatre show, and then you look at the tiny fraction of this amount that Constellation has to spend… I mean, how do you even try to touch those two shows with a single award?
I totally understand the value of the awards. Being recognized is wonderful. For actors, the nomination — and the win — go into their working title, and into their bio. And when theatres win it’s a big help for fundraising on top of ticket sales and attention. But what really means something to me is people coming to see the work. To show up at theatres of all sizes, and buy tickets to shows. I love having discussions with audience members about what they like and don’t like about what we’re doing.
You’ve just got to be proud of what you do, huh?
The coming season looks very exciting. I love that Aaron Posner is doing Shaw’s Man and Superman at Shakespeare Theatre.I think it’s going to be really exciting. And I’m happy that Theater J and Studio are both doing Annie Baker plays. I think the more work of hers we do in DC, the better. I’m happy that Signature Theatre is doing Dying City. And of course I’m curious to see Mike Daisey’s next show at Woolly.
The most exciting DC companies to me right now are Theater J and Woolly Mammoth. I think they produce with a purpose unlike anyone else. The work they do is both clear and varied. I think Howard Shalwitz and Ari Roth are genuinely unafraid of taking risks. And I think they have a strong hold on their audience because their audience understands that plays at those houses will explore a huge terrain no matter what.
I’m thrilled that Ari is doing one of his own plays as part of Theater J’s Locally Grown series. He’s a leader in the theatre world nationally, particularly in Jewish theatre, and this year we get to really hear his voice. It will be a great reminder of who he really is as an artist.
And of course, I promise next season at No Rules is going to be very exciting.
Find more tributes to the Nominees on Curtain Call