For their inaugural Logan Festival of Solo Performance, 1st Stage will welcome acclaimed artists from San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, and New York for two-weeks of performances and community conversations, July 6-16.
“I’ve had the great experience of working in solo festivals in New York and the Bay Area and Chicago, and there’s such great work out there,” says Alex Levy, artistic/managing director at Tysons’s 1st Stage Theatre. “We have nothing like that in the D.C. area and it seemed like such a lost opportunity for our audiences. These are really wonderful shows, and this is a chance to show how powerful and unique the medium of solo performance can be.”
Levy reached out to writers and directors of one-person shows around the country and selected three for what he hopes will become an annual festival.
“We were getting submissions just as a theater company, but not necessarily for this festival itself, and what we wanted to do was hit a range of shows that we felt there was no outlet for,” he says. “The D.C. Fringe has places for local, emerging solo shows that might happen, and every once in a while you might see a big name come through at one of the bigger houses. But these people who were doing great work and accomplished work around the country but hadn’t had an opportunity into the D.C. market, that’s who we wanted to hit.”
“One of the things I really love about the festival is that the plays are so different, not just in style, but approach,” Levy says.
Up first is Hick: A Love Story, by Terry Baum and Pat Bond, stars Baum as pioneer journalist Lorena Hickok and details her romantic relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt through a series of letters the two shared.
Their correspondence and relationship is still not known by many, and Baum has been amazed at how many educated, sophisticated lesbians in the Bay Area (where she’s from) don’t even know about it.
“I thought this would work especially well in the Washington, D.C. area because this is where so much of the story really happened,” Baum says. “There might be a lot of people in the area who would be interested in it and would know about it.”
After reading Doris Faber’s biography about Hickok in 1979, Pat Bond wrote a play about her in 1985 because she had grown up being madly in love with Eleanor Roosevelt.
“This was a wonderful revelation to her that Eleanor Roosevelt had actually had a lesbian relationship although Doris Faber denies it, even though she presents the evidence of it,” Baum says. “I saw Pat’s solo play and I was her closest friend. When Pat died, I set up a local award—the Pat Bond Memorial Old Dyke Award—for lesbians in the Bay Area who have not been sufficiently recognized for their contributions to the community.”
During a benefit for the award, Baum wanted to revisit her work on Hickok, and played Hick in a 10-minute segment from the play. Eventually, she decided that she wanted to more with it.
“It was so overwhelming and my response to portraying Hick was also very intense,” she says. “It just became clear from that moment that I was going to do my own play about Lorena Hickok. There’s been so much more information about her since Pat did her play, and I felt it would be a really different play. Mine has her work as an important theme running through her play, where in Pat’s play, it wasn’t.”
A large portion of the dialogue derives directly from the letters Roosevelt sent to Hickok during their romance on the campaign trail and subsequent lifelong friendship. During the show, excerpts are read verbatim, and it’s clear to anyone listening that these words are referring to anything but a romantic love.
For example, Roosevelt writes, “I would give a good deal to put my arms around you and to feel yours around me” and in another letter, “Oh, dear one, it is all the little things — the tones in your voice, the feel of your hair, gestures … these are the things I think about and long for.”
More than 2,300 letters were donated to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum by Hickok, and Baum has full support from the Roosevelt estate for the show.
“There’s a documentary aspect to the play. We have on tape, all these quotes from the letters read by this wonderful actress, Paula Barish, and everything you hear in that voice is straight from the letters, so it gives the audience a chance to make up their own minds if they agree with me that this was an actual sexual relationship between two women in love,” she says. “I have never had anyone come up to me after the play saying they didn’t agree.”
Empanada for a Dream, written by and featuring Juan Francisco Villa is a living memoir told just before Juan’s 34th birthday, an age every male member of his family has died before turning. Levy describes it as a haunting tale in which Villa uncovers the treasures of his family’s dark legacy.
“I’ve directed Empanada for a Dream all over the country, I helped develop it, so I have a close relationship with it,” Levy says. “It’s Juan’s story about growing up on the Lower East Side of New York as a Columbian immigrant and it’s a revelation about his family. Even more than that, it’s the story of fate and free will and Juan being able to embrace his family’s history as well as his own path. It has the ability to be both haunting and terrifying and incredibly funny at the same time.”
The Gun Show by playwright E.M. Lewis stars Vin Shambry in a story that examines the gun control debate and how a diverse nation searches for mutual understanding. Lewis recently had her world premiere play, Now Comes the Night, at 1st Stage and in this new show, visits her life growing up in rural Oregon where everyone has a gun.
“This production is really fascinating,” Levy says. “It tells a very personal story about Lewis’s upbringing and her connection to guns, as well as the evolution of that experience. It’s her story and she is here, and the audience is aware of that, but the solo performer is not her. There is a theatrical element of having her story transmitted through another person that takes solo performance into a whole other world.”
General admission tickets are $20 per show and $10 per show for students. A Festival Pass (valid for all three festival shows) can be purchased for $50. For tickets or more information, visit www.1stStage.org or call the 1st Stage box office at 703-854-1856.