Update: A memorial service for Tom Prewitt will be held Sunday, Nov 29, 2020 at 1 pm ET. Tom’s family invites you to join them in remembering Tom’s life and celebrating his memory. For a link to the Zoom event, email firstname.lastname@example.org (subject: RSVP) by Wednesday, November 25.
Tom Prewitt, Avant Bard Theatre’s Artistic Director, died suddenly yesterday, the company announced on Facebook.
W. Thompson Prewitt, Avant Bard’s Executive and Artistic Director since February of 2013, had previously served as Associate Artistic Director for Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, where he led its outreach and education program. In addition to serving as Avant Bard’s Artistic Director, Prewitt was also Managing Director of City of Peace DC, and had been since 2008.
A 1979 graduate of Harvard University, Prewitt led Avant Bard through a challenging time. The company had just lost its lease on the now-defunct Artisphere and was forced to stage its productions in Arlington’s tiny Theatre on the Run before moving to Gunston Arts Center. But Prewitt proved himself to be a shrewd manipulator of physical place in the company’s first production after he took over – Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land (which featured Avant Bard’s two previous Artistic Directors, Christopher Henley and Brian Hemmingsen), and he never looked back.
Under Prewitt’s tenure the company produced twenty-one plays, paying sharp attention to the classics, including Shakespeare (the “Bard” in the company’s name refers to – well, to the Bard; originally, the company was called the “Washington Shakespeare Company.”). But under Prewitt, Avant Bard always had its own take on these plays; its 2013 King John was framed in a 1962 fallout shelter where a young child, burrowed on the eve of a nuclear holocaust, plays with toy soldiers; charmingly, the boy later becomes John’s son, the future Henry III. In 2015, Avant Bard staged an Othello set in the present, where the military leaders struggle with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The following year, Avant Bard presented Jonelle Walker’s Tame., which reconsidered The Taming of the Shrew, (DCTS’ Kelly McCorkendale said “Tame. flips a beloved Shakespeare comedy—The Taming of the Shrew—into a psychological mind-game that has had my thoughts drifting in and out of Flannery O’Connor stories since seeing it.”), and in 2017 Avant Bard produced a King Lear in which Lear’s closest friend, the Earl of Gloucester is a woman, thus unsettling their relationship. (Lear marked the swan song of Rick Foucheux, who played the title role, as a stage actor.)
But Prewitt also took the company down the road less travelled, presenting controversial or obscure plays and the work of local playwrights, including Mario Baldessari’s and Tyler Herman’s The Good Devil (in Spite of Himself), Mickle Maher’s rhyming There is a Happiness that Morning Is, Visible Language, a musical about the fight for education for the deaf, the outrageous glam rock musical Nero/Psuedo, and Allyson Currin’s Caesar and Dada.
Prewitt had most recently announced the company’s name change – it had previously been known as WSC Avant Bard – and its three-play 2019-2020 schedule. That schedule, of course, was waylaid by Covid.
Since then, Avant Bard has staged productions online.
Memorial arrangements for Prewitt have not yet been announced.