In these tumultuous times, theatermakers and theatergoers have been working to share a long-time common goal: to reflect upon and engage with the human condition. In a noble effort to continue this project, even as live theater has been dark more than seven months since the pandemic struck, several companies have taken the opportunity to present classes and courses on Zoom about the inner workings of what makes a theater production. One of those theater companies, Theater J, has now held about three dozen Online Classes for Theater Lovers, for those interested in gaining a deeper knowledge of theater.
One such upcoming course caught my attention. It seemed to respond to questions I have been hearing from longtime DMV-area theatergoers. The course is titled At the Intersection: Black and Jewish Plays. I wanted to learn more.
At The Intersection: Black and Jewish Plays will be taught by Theater J Artistic Director Adam Immerwahr and acclaimed DC actor Felicia Curry (Helen Hayes Award winner, nine-time Helen Hayes nominee, and co-host of this year’s Helen Hayes Awards).
The idea behind the course offering is this: Black and Jewish stories have intertwined throughout the history of America. The stories have spurred some of our nation’s top playwrights to write plays that explore the intersection of these lives. For me, the word intersection has these meanings: Junction. Convergence. Where things can collide. A point or place at which two or more things meet
In recent a Zoom conversation with Curry and Immerwahr, I learned that the course will explore deeply into scripts—the original written words of the playwright. Over the five weeks of the Black and Jewish Plays course, foundational texts will be read, one play each week. Immerwahr and Curry will lead the course with the active participation of attendees. Together they will examine and discuss the story of Black and Jewish lives that each script presents.
Both Immerwahr and Curry emphasized that this is to be “a highly participatory, book club–style course.”
Immerwahr indicated that through the classes and active participation a community would be built with “an advanced book club format, an intellectually engaging community.” Curry went on to say that participation is important “so all learn together and from each other.” The course will “allow the theater community to explore and delve together.”
Both Curry and Imnmerwaht shared the same concept, that the scripts to be read and studied would examine interpretations in conversation not lectures. Each session might begin with Immerwahr speaking from his perspective as a director on how a playwright creates characters. Curry would speak from her perspective as an actor and performer who becomes that character. Curry said she would be talking about how to find the character within herself and mold it, how to fill it with herself.
Both Curry and Imnmerwahr spoke of discussing and interpreting scripts and characters with an antiracist perspective. Both made clear they want to hear participants’ different viewpoints. As Immerwahr suggested, “Get comfortable, bring your identity to the conversations. Bring your own unique perspectives.” Perhaps, Curry said, “conflicts might happen—but that can bring growth.”
The course will raise questions such as: How do the play and characters inform us? How do we look at the play “then” (when it was written) and “now” (in contemporary times)? How might our current lens and current times change an original view of a play and its characters? n
Among the plays and playwrights to be read and discussed are:
• Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry. A familiar story to some (perhaps from the movie version), but to be read to find and discuss new interpretations.
• Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage. Set in early 20th-century New York City, Intimate Apparel is going to Broadway in 2021 as an opera based upon the play, with music by Ricky Ian Gordan and libretto by Nottage.
• Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez, set in 1865 Richmond, Virginia, as well as a play by John Henry Redwood III—both writers whose works reflect differing American experiences.
As our Zoom conversation concluded, Curry and Imnmerwaht added they looked forward to the course and interacting with attendees.
At the Intersection: Black and Jewish Plays is offered in five sessions on Tuesdays 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. from November 17 to December 15, 2020, with a makeup class December 22. In addition to the $169 course fee, script purchases will be required. Registration is online and closes November 9 at noon. As of the posting of this article, there are still some spots available.