Director Cara Gabriel on the magic and joy of ‘Winterfest’ at Adventure Theatre

'Our kids have been on screens 24/7 the past two years. I wanted to involve them live and in person whenever we could.'

Adventure Theatre MTC is celebrating its 70th season and to commemorate this milestone has produced Winterfest for the holidays. The production features three multicultural shows, each celebrating the love and joy the season brings: “Uri & Ora Light the Menorah” by Robyn Shrater Seemann, “Connection” by Diego Maramba & Michelle Bowen-Ziecheck, and “Cranky Penguin” by Keegan Patterson. Cara Gabriel — DC-based director, writer, educator, and performer — served as director for the trio.

This is a world premiere for all three shows, commissioned by Adventure Theatre, and in order to get some insight on the thought process and desired effect of the entire production, I reached out to Gabriel with some questions:

Cara Gabriel

Doing three shows in one isn’t very common. Do the stories connect in any way?

Cara Gabriel: The three shows take us on a sort of chronological journey through the holiday season. The first piece takes place during Chanukah, the second piece takes place at Christmas, and the third piece takes place on New Year’s Eve. So it really does carry us through the holiday season, and I think most people will be able to find something in one of the three shows that they can find joy and meaning in.

Was there any special meaning in these new shows in particular?

It is not lost on me that these three shows were born of pandemic times — a time when collectively, as a society, we were all yearning to connect to each other in any way possible. Seeking ways to overcome our collective isolation. The second play in the roster is even called “Connection.” And each of the three plays focuses on the need for connection and the various means to make such connections. Some of the pieces are focusing on connecting with one’s culture, some seek to connect with our ancestral past, some seek to connect with the future, or future generations, some seek a more spiritual type of connection, but mostly they are all focused on the ways in which we struggle to connect with other beings in the here and now, despite a multitude of obstacles — be they literal, metaphorical, or metaphysical.

Emily Gilson, Sophie Schulman, Sally Imbriano, and Linda Bard in ‘Uri and Ora Light the Menorah.’ Photo courtesy of Adventure Theatre.

What was your goal and focus while directing these shows?

I wanted to make sure we focused on the following elements, in order to emphasize the theme of connection:

• MAGIC AND MIRACLES — Each play has an emphasis on the miraculous, or something magical. I wanted to make sure we found the magic in each of the three shows and conveyed the miraculous to our audiences. That said, what I think we sometimes forget is that magic and miracles begin with us. Begin with our own humanity. So I wanted to make sure that the audience felt a part of that magic, that they were able to help create the magic with the production. There is a sort of paper doll projector element to the show, but rather than making it seem like those projections come from some sort of iCloud in the sky, I wanted to expose the mechanics of that magic for the audience. The audience can actually see the actors manipulating the paper dolls, and then see the magic of the way those dolls are projected onscreen.

Andrew Quilpa and Sally Imbriano in ‘Connection.’ Photo courtesy of Adventure Theatre.

• AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION — While there is a “screen” element to our show with the projections, I wanted to make sure that the shows were first and foremost very human. Our kids have been on screens 24/7 for the past two years, and I wanted to make sure we involved them live and in person whenever we could. I don’t want us to forget about the magic of live theater. So the actors speak directly to the audience, and the audience has an opportunity to interact with the events on stage. I wanted to emphasize the immediacy of theater. The live and living nature of it.

• HUMOR — My goodness, we all need to laugh. We need to breathe. We need to have a shared experience that is something other than trauma and pandemic. So I wanted to create a space for laughter, for the community that comes with laughing together. These shows aren’t all funny, in fact, some of them are downright tear-jerkers at times, but each show has moments of levity and joy. I want us to remember what joy feels like.

On a personal note, do you generally enjoy the holidays?

I do!

So what does this time of year mean to you, and what are your feelings on the importance of creating theater for kids (or anyone, for that matter)?

Connection. Live, immediate, genuine connection. Magic. Miracles. Humanity. Humor. And joy.

Linda Bard, Andrew Quilpa, and Sophie Schulman in ‘Cranky Penguin.’ Photo courtesy of Adventure Theatre.

I must say that a theme of connection is a sentiment that many can get behind, now more than ever. The word “connection” means so much more than it used to. And I love the idea that ATMTC has taken, of bringing different cultures and traditions but celebrating them together to show that even though they are different they too are connected.

It’s a beautiful message for everyone but even more so for our youth, who have missed out on so much socialization, which is a necessary step in understanding others who may have different traits, hobbies, belief systems, and the like.

Adventure Theatre’s Winterfest is quite clearly a passion project, made with love and hope for our future generations. Love of diversity and all that defines us in a myriad of ways. And hope that the youth will share that love and heal the many divides that are present across the world today.

A lofty goal indeed, but a goal worth supporting.

Winterfest runs through January 2, 2022, at Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo Park, at 7300 Macarthur Blvd, Glen Echo, MD. Tickets are $20.50 and available online, or by calling the box office at (301) 251-5766. To learn more about ATMTC’s 70th season, click here.

COVID Safety: As Adventure moves to indoor performances and in the spirit of protecting the most vulnerable in their community, Adventure Theatre requires everyone attending its shows to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. Proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test, no more than three days old, will be required for admission for all individuals ages 12 and up. To view ATMTC’s full COVID Protocols, click here.

Adventure Theatre’s ‘Winterfest’ is a three-in-one celebration


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