In the Moment: Meet the 2018 John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre eligible companies

For over three decades, Helen Hayes nominations and awards have represented the pinnacle of professional excellence in Washington, DC area theater. What began as public recognition of a small community of about a dozen professional theater companies, has grown under the leadership of theatreWashington to include more than six times as many eligible theaters.

So, how does a new theater company make itself known? One way has been a key Helen Hayes Award category: The John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company. Beginning its second decade as an award category, the John Aniello Award is named after a major champion of theater in the DMV, the late John Aniello. He was a force of encouragement for emerging theaters. The Aniello Award aims to give public recognition to newer theater companies bringing their own takes on the local theater scene. To be eligible for the awards, a theater company must have completed two full seasons of monitoring by theatreWashington and presented at least 12 performances of one full production in each of those years.

This year, two DMV professional theater companies are eligible for the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company. They are LiveArtDC and Monumental Theatre Company. The recipient of the 2018 Aniello Award will join the list of previous Aniello Award winners.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to the founders of LiveArtDC and Monumental Theatre Company. The resulting interviews aim to provide an introduction to two theater companies that some may not have yet discovered.

LiveArtDC

Motto: Theatre created collaboratively and without constraint

Description: “LiveArtDC (rhymes with “Give Art DC”) is a company of artists who believe in the power of collaboration to create engaging stories for the theatre. Comprised of writers, actors, directors and dramaturgs and other art lovers, LiveArtDC is focused on the process of story and character development; no project is guided by a production deadline. Since we do not have the constraints of seasons or spaces, we have the freedom to play and explore, and allow the work to emerge when it’s ready.” – From the LiveArtDC Website

David: Why did you establish LiveArtDC?

Heather Whitpan, Producing Artistic Director of LiveArtDC. Photo courtesy of LiveArtDC.

Heather Whitpan (LiveArtDC co-founder): We were formed by people who live to rehearse: artists who believe that the journey is more important than the destination. Sure, actors win awards for productions, not rehearsals. But for us, the rehearsal is where the team can make their biggest investments.

Whether it’s an actor’s character decision or the crew’s music selection, we believe rehearsal is the place where all the best investments are made. This is where the collaborative muscle really gets to flex.

The choices our actors make in rehearsal aren’t simply based on instinct. They know how their character will talk or twitch or feel in a situation because, as often as not, they wrote the character themselves. This is what it means to LIVE the art, rather than simply produce it.

Was there something missing in the DC area theater community?

It’s time for something different. We look to bring it. We’re bringing art to DC neighborhoods that have been left out: Petworth, Columbia Heights, and Anacostia, where five plays a year are produced as part of our yearly 24-hour “Play in a Day” theater festival. We want to find people who don’t know they love theater and bring them into the fold. And we want to challenge the theater community to look beyond the well-worn scripts and stages we have turned to for decades.

What have been some of the biggest challenges in establishing a new professional theater company?

Working with non-traditional theater spaces — like bars — can be challenging because they aren’t accustomed to the unique challenges that a theatrical production can come with. It’s all worth it in the end though.

Long-form play development requires a multi-year commitment from the artists. Generally, the excitement and belief in the project is there, but life gets in the way, other artistic pursuits, babies, moves, etc. I know that early on people thought we were all crazy when they’d ask what LiveArt was working on and it was the same answer year after year. They might be right. But we think the time invested is worth it, and the results speak for themselves.

What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of with LiveArtDC?

The Merry Death of Robin Hood. Photo courtesy of LiveArtDC.

We’ve managed to get where we are without a major donor or outside grant helping us through (not that we’d say no to the help). We’ve bootstrapped ourselves into a company that can not only produce but also devise high-quality, long-form theater. That’s no small thing!

If you could invite patrons, those who may not have seen a previous LiveArtDC performance, what would you say to them?

We want to give them something different. LiveArtDC’s shows are intended to be a gateway drug for people who don’t know they love theater. By producing shows in popular dive bars around the city, we’re reaching a whole new audience. If someone comes to one of our shows because they want to have a drink at their favorite watering hole and finds us, that’s fine by us, because we know that 30 minutes into The Merry Death of Robin Hood they’ll be shouting “Oo De Lally!” with Little John and Friar Tuck, beer in hand.

They might not consider themselves a “theatergoer,” but they just saw some theater. And on their way out they’ll be asking about the rest of our season.

Monumental Theatre Company

Description: Monumental Theatre seeks to connect emerging artists, specifically those of the millennial generation, with the larger community by giving them a platform from which to promote their work to the public.” – Monumental Theatre website

Beth Amann, Michael Windsor, and Jimmy Mavrikes. Photo courtesy of Monumental Theatre Co.

Beth Amann (Managing Director), Michael Windsor (Co-Producing Artistic Director), and Jimmy Mavrikes (Co-Producing Artistic Director). Photos courtesy of Monumental Theatre Company.

David: Why did you establish Monumental Theatre Company? Was there something missing in the DC area theater community?

[Excerpts from a vibrant group conversation with Monumental’s] Beth Amann, Jimmy Mavrikes, and Michael Windsor: Theater people go to theater, retired people with time and money go to theater. Younger people don’t always go to theater. Our mission is to increase theater interest in millennials and young people. When we attended theater before starting this company, we would look around and see that we were the youngest people by many years. We wanted our love of theater to be reflected among our peers. By doing shows that target the interest of people in their 20’s and 30’s we can hopefully get these people into the audience. We hope to engage those of all generations with the millennial voice through our work as a company.

What have been some of the biggest challenges in establishing a new professional theater company?

Consistently reaching our target audience has been the biggest challenge. Reaching out to those who don’t normally attend theater, and bringing them in with events like Flip Flop (formerly Sex Swap), has been our way of getting people into the biggest productions. It’s a challenge, but that’s why we’re doing it! It’s important to foster this new wave of theater and stand behind our mission. We are transforming theater to appeal to millennials as well as the generations that came before.

What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of with Monumental theater?

Jimmy: Artistically I am super proud of our production of Brooklyn. What Michael created was so special; an immersive piece of diverse and inclusive theater.

Beth: I’m proud that we have created a home for artists. I think we’ve developed a reputation as a place you want to work, and that makes me really happy.

Michael: I feel like we have developed a great foothold in our first few years of existence. People are beginning to understand who we are and why we deserve a place in the ever-growing DC theater community. Artistically, our shows have been unique, diverse, and assured; to have people recognize that has been the greatest accomplishment for me.

If you could invite patrons, those who may not have seen a previous Monumental Theatre performance, what would you say to them?

Jimmy: Come be a part of the conversation. Most of what we do is in a small intimate space, so a lot of the time you feel like you are really a part of the show. We like it that way.

Beth: We’d love to have you! Flip Flop is May 28th and Pippin runs July 15th-30th.

Michael: We’re doing important, entertaining, and incredibly satisfying work. We may not be as large or wealthy as some of the larger theaters in the area, but I know that when you come, you will see just as much heart, artistic vision, and pure talent as those theaters.

The 2018 Helen Hayes Awards, presented by theatreWashington, will take place on Monday, May 14th, 2018 at The Anthem – 901 Wharf Street, SW, in Washington, DC. Doors open at 5:30 for mingling and fun. The ceremony will run from 7:30 to 10:30 followed by a rollicking party open to all ticket-holders. For tickets, go online

LINK:
Hosting the 2018 Helen Hayes Awards: Michael J. Bobbitt and Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan Talk About their Lives On and Off the Stage as They Prepare for DC Theater’s Big Night Out by Ravelle Brickman

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