– Derek Goldman is Artistic Director of the Davis Performing Arts Center and Professor of Theater and Performance Studies at Georgetown University. He is an award-winning stage director, playwright, adapter, developer of new work, teacher, and published scholar. –
I feel so blessed to toil in this community where so many of us — artists and audiences — get to sojourn habitually across styles, cultures, and varied producing structures (not to mention across DC, Maryland and Virginia) to collaborate and be inspired by each other’s work.
And as educators, it gives us profound ammunition to encourage the next generation of leading artists to stay and contribute to the greatness blossoming here in DC.
The Nominees in the category for Outstanding Ensemble this year reflect, in their range and diversity, all that is most exciting about the ever-evolving ecosystem of the DC theater world. Represented here are emerging companies as well as long-established ones, companies that focus on ensemble-developed work as well as classic plays.
Among the nominees here, we see fresh and singular re-imaginings of classic works (Lear, Cyrano, Oedipus) — these have been significantly re-worked by visionary artists like Paata Tskurishvilli, Luis Alfaro, and Aaron Posner — along with important new plays beautifully rendered by directors David Muse, Shirley Serotsky, and Spanish director Jose Luis Arellano Garcia. And these creators are working with extraordinary ensembles of performers, wildly diverse in their cultural and professional background, training, and performance style.
In these plays, we see a vast range of cultural and aesthetic traditions and encounters. There is a true cross-cultural collaboration between a Spanish troupe and our own GALA Hispanic Theater (a national center for Latino performing arts). Then there’s a Chicano adaptation of a Greek classic, an American adaptation of a French classic, a new American play about the culture wars, a US Premiere of a play about inspiration and creativity by one of the world’s leading playwrights (Alan Bennett), and a Shakespeare tragedy filtered through Synetic’s Georgian sensibility.
There’s an explosion of activity here in Washington, and real diversity. Ari Roth discusses this in a compelling recent article for the online journal Howlround. The article is called “Reagan’s Legacy/ Zelda’s Children: The Explosion of DC Theater.” The nominees in this Ensemble category epitomize the eclecticism Ari discusses. We are particularly invested in politics — issues of power, justice, culture, war, international and intercultural exchange — so it follows that we, as a diverse theater community, embrace a wide range of stylistic ways to explore and express these interests.
Again, look within just the six nominees in this one category this year. They encompass classics, literary adaptations, new plays, devised/ ensemble-based work, crosscultural work, musical traditions, physical theater, and much more.
Maybe this makes it harder to quickly define a signature style or identity for DC theatre. But I think we as a community are increasingly called to overcome this identity crisis by embracing this very breadth as something truly our own.
And, how fantastic it is to see even this one category recognize many of the leading artists in DC, working at several our most established theaters, but also at an emerging company like the Hub Theater. This plus performers who are part of ensemble-based work like Synetic, alongside brilliant artists from other parts of the world. This is another great feature of the DC theater world. Within just one season we artists frequently move from big theaters to small ones. Or, from established classic works to experimental ones. Or from splashy musicals to edgy new plays. We learn from each other, and we flex new muscles in new configurations. We call many places home simultaneously.
Synetic has been producing their signature ensemble-style here for over a decade. But how gratifying in recent months to see the community’s excitement around the ensemble-based/ devised work of new artists. The success of Beertown, dog & pony’s work of interactive civic theater, is richly deserved. And Natsu Onoda Power is getting noticed too. After the recent success of Astro Boy and the god of comics at Studio 2ndStage, she’ll be working this coming season with a range of companies that have different missions and aesthetic approaches, like Synetic and Forum.
The category of Outstanding Ensemble carries with it an implication that much more ensemble-based work is to come. I think that it is gradually becoming a real hallmark of DC theater. By recognizing the spirit and ethos of ensemble, we open the door to a wider spectrum of thinking together as a community about all the different ways theatrical work is created — from the playwright-driven model to the ensemble-devised model — and the works in this category live across that continuum in compelling ways.
Congratulations to the nominees!
Guess who'll receive the Helen Hayes Award for Ensemble for a Play
- King Lear, Synetic Theater (29%, 10 Votes)
- Oedipus El Rey, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (24%, 8 Votes)
- Birds of a Feather, Hub Theatre (21%, 7 Votes)
- Cyrano, Folger Theatre (18%, 6 Votes)
- The Habit of Art, Studio Theatre (9%, 3 Votes)
- ¡Ay, Carmela! , GALA Theatre (3%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 34