The greatest sign of stability in a culture is, paradoxically, its ability to absorb change. There was a collective holding of breath when Joy Zinoman announced her retirement in 2009; could Studio stand the absence of its only Artistic Director? We needn’t have worried. Studio’s fine, and so are we.
Theatre in the DMV is going to have a chance to show its stability in 2018 because, boy oh boy, we’re going to have change. Three theatres are losing their Artistic Directors — two of them, the only Artistic Director they’ve known — and at least five theatres have plans to move to new venues. Women playwrights will be in the spotlight when the Women’s Voices Theater Festival returns. In addition, Rorschach Theatre is starting a new initiative for new plays, and Theater J will be introducing Yiddish Theatre to our area.
Let’s start with goodbyes.
Howard Shalwitz, Woolly Mammoth’s founding Artistic Director, will be leaving at the close of the 2017-2018 season. Shalwitz has been the company’s only AD, and has held the post for 38 years. Under his artistic leadership, Woolly has become a byword for innovation and risk-taking; willing to roll the dice on new playwrights (such as Robert O’Hara and Aaron Posner, whose Stupid Fucking Bird won him his first Helen Hayes Award as a playwright. Woolly has won 45 Helen Hayes Awards, commissioned 14 new plays, introduced 78 world or US premieres, and won the prestigious Margo Jones Award for Shalwitz, recognizing his commitment to new plays.
He was never shy about challenging his audiences with bold, sometimes controversial plays — but that was the signature characteristic of Woolly under Shalwitz: the willingness to take risks.
Kwame Kwei-Armah’s upcoming appointment as Artistic Director for London’s Young Vic is great news for London, crying time for Baltimore. For the past 7 years, Kwei-Armah has infused Center Stage with a sense of excitement, discovery, and community (Standout shows include One Night in Miami and Marley) and the productions — including Kwei-Armah’s own Beneatha’s Place, a canny sequel to Raisin in the Sun — have been a much more diverse and inclusive array that reflect the neighborhoods and culture surrounding the venerated building on Calvert Street.
Speaking of that, Kwei-Armah spearheaded a complete renovation of the space, opening up the lobby spaces, refurbishing the theaters themselves (and creating a third incubator space) and creating lighted signage and other flourishes that celebrate the joys of theatrical language. He is leaving in January and a worldwide search is on for his successor, but fear not, Kwei-Armah will be back in Charm City in May directing the world premiere of SOUL: The Stax Musical, which will tell the story of Memphis, Tennessee-based Stax Records, its impact on the American cultural landscape, and the launch of iconic artists who created the foundation of what we know today as soul and rhythm & blues music.
Finally, the Hub Theatre is losing the only Artistic Director it has ever had. Helen R. Murray (formerly Helen Pafumi) will be leaving the company she helped found to take the helm of the Aurora Fox Arts Center in Aurora, Colorado at the end of the season,. Murray infused the 10-year-old Hub with plays which — sweet and tart in their turn — radiated hope and optimism. Included among them was her own Steinberg-nominated Abominable and her Redder Blood, which won the 2016 Jewish Playwriting contest. Murray, a noted director and actor as well as a playwright, will close out her tenure at Hub by directing its next-to-last show this season, Secrets of the Universe (and Other Songs) and playing the role of Kari in the finale, Craig Wright’s The Pavilion.
Several other companies will be keeping their ADs but moving to new venues. Compass Rose Theater will be moving to 1623 Forest Drive in Annapolis for the opening of Disgraced in February, while plans are finalized and funds raised for their new state-of-the-art theatre in Annapolis.
Pointless Theatre has found a new home, following the sale of Flashpoint Gallery. They can now be found at Dance Loft on 14, 4618 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20011 where Imogen opens January 18.
Do we have enough professional theatre companies in the DMV yet? Heck, no! John Morogiello’s new company for comedies, Best Medicine Rep, has moved into its new space in time for the opening this month of The Consul, The Tramp and America’s Sweetheart. Find the theatre on the second floor at the Lakeforest Mall (701 Russell Avenue) Gaithersburg, MD.
MetroStage will keep producing in their current Royal Street location through June, Artistic Director Carolyn Griffin told us, then added “or until the wrecking ball appears”, with her customary humor. The company’s ultimate move will be into a new theatre in the front of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Alexandria.
This summer, Fringe theatre lovers will be able to catch a breeze off the Washington Channel of the Potomac River when Capital Fringe moves its annual festival to DC’s new waterfront area.
Creative Cauldron’s Laura Connors Hull reports that the young company, which specializes in new musicals and productions featuring their students, foresees a move to a 5,000 square foot black box theater in a development on the corner of Broad and Washington Street in Falls Church by 2022. The developers, Rick Hausler and Todd Hitt each won the Arts Council of Fairfax County Arts Philanthropist of the Year Award.
2018 marks the return of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. Twenty four companies throughout our area, including Baltimore, will present plays by women playwrights. The festival’s official run is January 15 – February 15. Some productions open as early as this week, and extend beyond the festival’s end. Thirteen plays will be world premieres. A limited number of discounted tickets through TodayTix are available for specific dates, while they last. TodayTix is also offering a guaranteed 25% discount for all production dates with the purchase of a $15 Festival Pass.
Finally, Theater J and Rorschach Theatre have big programming plans.
Yiddish Theater coming to Washington, DC
Theater J is launching the Yiddish Theater Lab—dedicated to preserving and reviving the forgotten literature of the Yiddish Theater. Through this initiative, Theater J will uncover and re-interpret nearly-forgotten Yiddish classics in new English language readings, workshops, commissions, and eventually productions.
The Lab, in its first year, will consist of a series of public English-language readings of some of the greater works of the Yiddish theater. Each reading will be helmed by a director charged with bringing their unique flair and approach to the source texts. Jacob Gordin’s The Jewish King Lear will launch this new program, directed by Craig Baldwin. This reading will be January 8 at 7:30pm at The Lansburgh Theatre.
The series will continue with Gordin’s God, Man and the Devil, directed by Rachel Grossman, and end with Ossip Dymov’s Bronx Express directed by Natsu Onada Power. All readings are free.
In addition to its regular season, Rorschach Theatre will invite three emerging playwrights, at least one of them DC-based, to workshop a trio of new plays over three days with Rorschach actors, directors, dramaturgs and designers. Audiences can hear the plays, experience key design elements, and engage in artist conversations during day long reading event on April 8th at Atlas. Other People’s Ink: An Entertainment Curation Society, debuting in January, invites artists and audiences to monthly social events to explore cultural experiences in different mediums that reflect Rorschach’s unique aesthetic. And this year’s Klecksography titled Collective Ink beings with an open call in May for actors, directors and playwrights. This year, Rorschach leads a collaboration with five other theatre companies from across the city to create a limited run event featuring 6 new 10-minute plays on June 2nd at Atlas. The project focuses on networking and opportunity by pairing theatre leadership with artists new to their companies.
What have we missed?
- Thanks to Tim Treanor and Jayne Blanchard for contributing to this article.