It was back in 2008 that CulturalDC created the three-week Source Festival, a vehicle for launching new plays and fostering the careers of emerging artists. After 10 successful events, the organization announced the Festival will be no more.
“It had a great 10-year run,” says Ava LaTanya “Tanya” Hilton, executive director for CulturalDC. “In 2008, we had readings of full-length plays, one-act plays and 10-minute plays, and in 2010 is when we started the three full-length plays, 18 10-minute plays and three artistic Blind Dates.”
Over that period, Source Festival was responsible for approximately 186 10-minute plays, 23 full-length plays, six readings, 10 one-act plays and somewhere around 16 artistic Blind Dates.
During its decade-long run, the Source Festival introduced audiences to the next generation of top theatre artists, including playwrights, directors, designers and actors. In total, about 1,500 artists took part in one way or another.
“I am most proud of the mix of talent that has come together to support each other and who made sure the curtain always went up for almost 32 different works every year,” Hilton says. “They are now supporting each other and creating more work across the theater community. This has been a stepping stone for many.”
The Source Festival was responsible for numerous success stories. In 2013, Perfect Arrangement by Topher Payne won the M. Elizabeth Osborn Award for best new play by an emerging playwright from the American Theatre Critics Association; in 2012, Qualities of Starlight by Gabriel Jason Dean won the Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University and the Dramatist’s Guild Fellowship; and Dontrell Who Kissed the Sea (2014) by Nathan Alan Davis received a National New Play Network Rolling World Premieres in 2015, was produced by Theater Alliance for which it received multiple Helen Hayes Awards nominations in 2016.
“When we look across the successes, there are so many we can point to if we look at what’s gone on to be produced at other venues and in other ways,” Hilton says. “To me, when I think of the biggest successes, I don’t think about the awards. I think about the fact that so many seeds have blossomed into people who have had significant impact as their careers have gone on and developed in many areas of theater.”
In 2016, CulturalDC sold its Penn Quarter arts incubator building known as Flashpoint, including the Mead Theatre Lab, which companies such as the puppetry-based Pointless Theatre used as its home venue. Those companies have found new spaces in DC Northwest.
The Next Chapter
But there is a silver lining to these decisions, an Act 2 if you will. CulturalDC recently launched SPACE4: Arts, a new initiative that will bring visual and performing artists to different parts of the D.C. community, through partnerships with communities and non-traditional venues.
“Our board and some of our supporters adopted a strategic direction and that included really broadening our contributions,” Hilton says. “One of the things we’ve included is going directly to communities across the Washington area, and that led to our launch of this program. SPACE4: Arts is defined by bringing performing and visual art to neighborhoods everywhere.”
So, rather than look at the end of the Source Festival as a negative thing, CulturalDC sees this as an exciting opportunity to branch out further and to more people.
“We are truly seeing the benefits of this early in its development and launch. It started in September with a performing arts initiative, partnering with new and unexpected venues to some,” Hilton says.
That was In Cabaret We Trust, performed by TBD Immersive, which was staged at the 15,000-square-foot Blind Whino, complete with burlesque artists, fire breathers, drag acts, hula-hoopers and aerialists.
“That was all the way in Southwest D.C., so instead of having people come to us, we’ve given artists an opportunity to have their self-produced work be in neighborhoods around the city,” Hilton says. “It’s very exciting performing arts and we have more to come.”
This past weekend, it championed the OPEN Box Project, hosted by the Rouge Collective, at the Dupont Underground. Influenced by American minimalism and popular music, the string players of Rogue Collective blended their sounds and creations with the dynamic, virtuosic, and visually athletic choreography of Orange Grove Dance.
An additional part of the initiative to get into communities, CulturalDC converted a 40-foot shipping container into a mobile art gallery and it will be moving to a different ward every eight weeks with a new immersive exhibition, allowing people to touch and interact with the art.
“Right now, it’s at the zoo where almost 300,000 people visit “Zoolights” annually, and many are being exposed to CulturalDC’s Mobile Art Gallery exhibit every day,” Hilton says. “It’s some very exciting work.”
And the Source Theatre itself will still be welcoming theater and new artists, with at least three works in the rehearsal hall, and currently there’s an opening from May 27 to July 3 (The time around when the Festival would have been), and CulturalDC is looking for producing organizations for that period.
“We would love to have people who want to produce new work,” Hilton says. “There is so much great work going on and the Source Festival provided a stepping stone to spirit these great groups on and there’s so much talent that will continue with SPACE4: Arts. It doesn’t end, it continues.”