For the 11th year, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has opened its doors to local theatres to showcase works still in development to the general public at its ‘Page-to-Stage’ Festival. Over the long Labor Day weekend, local theatregoers can get a first glimpse at plays that will get full productions at well-established theatres during the 2012-2013 season, be exposed to new theatre companies, and witness new works being developed by some of DC’s most excitingly innovative small companies. This year, I had the opportunity to witness three readings and each of them fell into one of the categories described above.
Theater J, a well-established company, presented The Hampton Years. Jacqueline E. Lawton’s commissioned play will receive a full production as the final offering in the 2012-2013 Theater J season as part of its Locally Grown Festival. Directed by Shirley Serotsky and featuring a staged reading cast, which included Edward Christian, Jessica Frances Dukes, Lolita Marie, Julian Martinez, Sasha Olinick, Colin Smith, Emily Townley, and David Lamont Wilson, this 1940s era play examines what happens when a Jewish art teacher, Dr. Lowenfeld (Sasha Olinick), assumes a position at the all-black Hampton Institute in Virginia and establishes an art department. In the politically and racially-charged environment, both students and teacher experience the complex relationship of art and society.
It will be interesting to see how the play is further refined as it moves toward full production. I commend Theater J for continuing to provide a platform for local playwrights when many established companies are content to simply craft their season around works that have achieved recent critical (and/or audience) acclaim in New York.
I also saw four excerpts of plays presented by the Apothetae in association with VSA and Kennedy Center Access. The Apothetae is Gregg Mozgala’s new theatre company in New York City, which seeks to provide a platform for actors with and without disabilities to present newly commissioned works that focus on the “disabled experience,” whatever that might include. Using some major DC actors, including Tonya Beckman, Rana Kay, Susan Lynskey, Jessica Frances Dukes, Kimberly Schraf among several others, the group presented Good Dancer (written by Emily Chadick Weiss and directed by Colin Hovde), Downsizing Camus (written by Todd Bauer and directed Joel David Santner), Eighteen Down (based on the myth of Hephaestus, written by Ashlin Halfnight, and directed by Michael Dove), and The Penalty (written by Clay McLeod Chapman and directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner).
As someone who spent several years of her life working in the international disability rights field during graduate school, it was interesting to see how disability issues were and weren’t featured in these plays. This company has some potential to do some work not being done by other theatrical groups so it will be interesting to see how it focuses its artistic endeavors according to its mission statement in the future.
Finally, I had the great opportunity to witness Somersaulting (written by Liz Maestri and directed by Elissa Goetschius), a play being developed as part of the new Taffety Punk Theatre Company Generator project. The T-Punk Generator builds on an existing effort by this highly-inventive company to develop new works. As part of the project, company members are given the creative space to develop new plays and refine them through a multi-step workshop process that involves other company members. The end goal for each play is not a full production, but rather the development of the play in and of itself.
Featuring a staged reading cast that included Rana Kay, Esther Williamson, Marcus Kyd, Joel David Santner, James Flanagan, and Tonya Beckman, Somersaulting, based on Sammy Harkham’s graphic novel, explores the process of growing up just as high school ends and a new chapter of one’s life is about to begin. Ms. Maestri has a fresh playwriting voice and I commend Taffety Punk for taking on this and other new works. This company continues to excel at pushing theatrical boundaries and I always can’t wait to see what it does next.
Like every year, this year’s ‘Page-to-Stage’ offered a diverse array of staged readings. While I wish I was able to witness more of the offerings this weekend, it’s encouraging to know that this festival exists as it provides a benefit to the theatre-producing and theatergoing communities. I look forward to seeing how the festival grows and changes in the coming years.