For its first production since shutdown, Rep Stage explores how love can help us connect and heal in a time of isolation and unrest. The fully produced, filmed theater event of ten original commissioned works is collectively titled LOVE/language and will begin streaming March 26, 2021.
Through deeply personal monologues by ten diverse local playwrights, LOVE/language looks at romantic love, self-love, love of family, love of community, and more. The contributing playwrights are Bob Bartlett, Annalisa Dias, Dane Figueroa Edidi, Tracy Hall, Farah Lawal Harris, Susan McCully, JR Nexus Russ, Deb Sivigny, Hope Villanueva, and Britt A Willis.
Five actors have collaborated on the creation of LOVE/language. Two are familiar faces to Rep Stage audiences—Felicia Curry (Tintypes, Home) and Alejandro Ruiz (E2). Three are making their Rep Stage debut—Regina Aquino, Tẹmídayọ Amay, and Garnet Williams.
DC Metro Theater Arts asked Co-Directors Angelisa Gillyard and Joseph W. Ritsch for a LOVE/language preview.
DCMTA: The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning famously wrote, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” What are the ways that count as love in the LOVE/language plays?
Joseph: When I reached out to the ten playwrights I gave them no definition or guidelines other than the prompt to write a monologue about “love.” Their pieces really run a beautiful gamut of the ways that count as love.
Angelisa: One of the things I appreciate most about these plays is the expansiveness of the definition and manifestation of love. Love takes a variety of shapes and forms in these monologues—friendship, self-care, familial love, self-respect, romantic love, and more. The common thread throughout all of these monologues is action. Love is a verb for them. Love is courageous and lived out loud.
Joseph, as producing artistic director of Rep Stage, would you talk about the production challenges for LOVE/language that were specific to the artists’ safety? How did all that alter the typical experience of creating a theatrical work? And how might that affect the audience’s experience of watching it?
Joseph: As an Equity theater, we needed to have an approved safety plan in place before we could start the project. This was a very long and detailed process. One of the big setbacks was Equity not approving our HVAC system, which I know is an issue many theaters are facing. We are very grateful that our friends at Everyman Theatre, whose space had been approved to film two virtual productions, were able to lend us their space for our filming.
All rehearsals were virtual via Zoom, and the only in-person day was filming day. Actors were called separately, had private personal dressing rooms, and even had different paths of travel to get from holding areas to the theater. The actors actually never saw each other the day of filming. The cast and the entire seven-member creative team who were in the room for filming also had to have gotten negative results with three separate COVID tests the week leading up to the filming day.
It certainly was a very different way of working, especially the rehearsals. I had to shift the ways I was communicating to actors while we rehearsed and staged things virtually. But what I think worked to our advantage is that each piece is very intimate and almost cinematic. I think the audience will really get a sense of that while watching. I think the outcome is something that feels both like a theatrical event and film all in one.
Is love during COVID different than before, do you think? What might LOVE/language have to say about that?
Angelisa: The nature of love has not changed. I think that the pandemic has forced us to slow down, pay attention, and examine love more deeply. The world was forced to acknowledge and begin to fix societal injustices. We were challenged to determine how we prioritize love in our lives and forced to get a little more creative with how we experience and express love to ourselves and others.
Joseph: I do believe love is love, but in a time when we have been challenged so deeply by an ongoing pandemic and a demand for justice, love certainly can come in many shapes and forms. I do think the work in LOVE/language is most definitely shaped by the moment we are in. There is a tone across the work that feels very much of the here and now. I have also felt love is an entry point to empathy, and I wanted to craft a theatrical event that really focused on that.
What do you hope someone will take away from LOVE/language—whether they have plenty of love in their life right now or not enough or none?
Joseph: Besides the safety protocols we knew we would have to maneuver, and realizing actors performing monologues would help us succeed in this task, I think I was subconsciously thinking about the isolation so many of us have been feeling this past year. How could we present single characters in a way that in fact turns the isolation on its head and creates connection for an audience member? I hope that audience members see themselves somewhere in the LOVE/language stories and hear their stories being told.
Angelisa: I hope people will be enlightened, encouraged, and empowered: enlightened by an increased awareness of where and how love is present in their lives, encouraged to create new ways to express love, and empowered to love more completely, deeply, and courageously.
LOVE/language will be available for viewing online March 26 through 30, 2021. The show includes all 10 monologues and runs approximately 70 minutes. Virtual tickets may be purchased online. Patrons who purchase a ticket will have 48 hours to watch.
Angelisa Gillyard is a director, choreographer, and photographer based out of Washington, DC. She co-directed the Helen Hayes–nominated Day of Absence with Raymond O. Caldwell at Theater Alliance. Angelisa also directed the world premieres of Welcome to Sis’s and #poolparty (Ally Theatre Company), which was recognized as a Staff Favorite by DC Metro Theater Arts and Outstanding Production by Broadway World. She has directed productions and readings for Young Playwrights’ Theater, Arena Stage, IN Series, Studio Theatre, Freshh Theatre Inc., University of Maryland, and Montgomery College. In addition, Angelisa has choreographed musicals, plays, and operas for IN Series, Ally Theatre Company, and DC Metro–area high schools and colleges. Her choreography for Abduction from the Seraglio (IN Series) was recognized as one of the “Best of 2013” by DC Metro Theater Arts. Angelisa currently serves as director of education and outreach for Mosaic Theater Company. She is an MFA Directing candidate at Catholic University and a graduate of Spelman College, Georgia Institute of Technology (MBA), and The Ohio State University (PhD). For more information visit angelisa.net.
Joseph W. Ritsch is producing artistic director of Rep Stage. His Rep Stage directing credits include Venus in Fur, Sunset Baby, Technicolor Life, Antigone Project: A Play in 5 Parts, The Other Place, Dorian’s Closet, All She Must Possess, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, The 39 Steps, Souvenir, and E2. Joseph’s other recent directing credits include Machinal, The Amish Project (UMBC Department of Theatre); Pride & Prejudice (Catholic University School of Drama); the multiple Helen Hayes–nominated production of Oliver! (Adventure Theatre); and The Understudy, The Importance of Being Earnest (Everyman Theatre), as well as choreography for the dance sequence in the recent production of Dot (Everyman Theatre). He holds an MFA in Theater from Towson University and a BA in Theater and Dance from The School of Performing Arts at The University of Maine, and he completed his initial graduate studies in the acting track at the Professional Program at Playwrights Horizons in New York City. Joseph is a proud member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC).