by Amrita Ramanan, Literary Manager
My fearless leader, David Dower, always carries the mantra of replicating best practices throughout Arena Stage, whether it's learning how to integrate audiences in the new play development process with Theater 101 from a model shared generously with us by our friends at Steppenwolf Theatre Company or learning from you, our audience and blogosphere readers, what we should add to Sub/Text or the post show discussions. So with that guiding principle, I'm here to replicate a best practice from two Davids, Dower and Letterman, with my highlights of what's coming around the bend next season:
1) Plays about art, and how we make it
As we've continued to explore the content and research for the plays in the 2011/2012 season here in the literary office, we've noticed a strong thematic connection of how they all interact with the process of developing and creating art. Plays within plays. Documentaries within plays. Plays about artists making art in a variety of ways (music, visual art, just to name a few). Plays about the political ramifications or commercialization of art. You'll see more blog posts from us that expound upon this idea, but it's definitely something to look for, dwell on, and talk about throughout the year as you go from show to show.
2) The Dr. is in
Many of you shared your congratulatory tweets when the news broke out that Dr. Polly Carl would be joining Arena Stage as the Director of the American Voices New Play Institute and she's going to be riding the tide with us starting this season! You'll mostly see her around the productions of The Book Club Play by Karen Zacarías and You, Nero by Amy Freed (both are playwrights in residence), as well as Theater 101 and our upcoming round of convenings. She's a new play mover-and-shaker that's already bringing some great energy, wisdom, and kick-ass tatoos to Arena.
3) OK! back at the ranch
Never thought I'd say this, but a second time around can be just as good, or even better than the first (and it looks like Peter Marks shares this opinion too). If you missed Oklahoma! the first time around, come see it. If you saw Oklahoma! and thought a second time around wouldn't have anything new to offer, come see it. New cast members and additional choreography add a bit of surprise to the musical that still leaves me humming the familiar tunes long after the performance. It's still got the magic of the inagural production, just with a little more pizazz.
4) From Ashland to Arena
One of our core pillars in our programming is presentation; showcasing the best and brightest companies and productions from around the country in our nation's capital. We ended last year with a bang and are blessed with the arrival of some heavy hitters this year: Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Equivocation and the Goodman Theatre's Red. Artistic Directors Bill Rauch and Robert Falls will don the director's chair for each production respectively. With their talented casts and crews, they'll share two exquisite productions with us in the Kreeger Theater that you won't want to miss.
5) Mary Todd Lincoln's dresses in Mary T. and Lizzy K.
If you've ever seen one of dressmaker Elizabeth (Lizzy) Keckley's creations at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, it has the ability to take your breath away. Meticulous detail work and precise tailoring weave together in stunning harmony that fully validates fashion as art. Our stellar costume shop is already in the works of figuring out how to replicate these beautiful dresses on stage with playwright/director Tazewell Thompson and costume designer Merrily Murray-Walsh. Stay tuned for ways in which you can chart the costume build with us before seeing them adorn the actors on stage.
6) What's in a magic trick?
Confession time. Growing up in Las Vegas, I attended my fair share of magic shows with my folks. And while some of them may have involved tigers and disappearing acts while others toyed with card tricks, they all left me wondering the same question: how did they do it? It's still been a fascination of mine and made me super excited when I learned that the insanely talented ensemble RainPan 43 and actor-magician Steve Cuiffo were pairing up to create a show about the world of magic with Elephant Room. You can check out a sneak peek of the guys in action at the Philly Live Arts Festival in September before they head into the Kogod Cradle in January and conjure up a slew of tricks that will keep you guessing. Not to mention that these guys are freakin' hilarious and will wow you with their physical comedy.
7) The O'Neill and the sea
In celebration of this year's American Giant Eugene O'Neill, we're in the works of developing a festival that explores O'Neill's sea plays in conjunction with our productions of Long Day's Journey into Night and Ah, Wilderness!. A lot of this is still in the nascent stages, but there's the promise of exciting partnerships with organizations and universities in the DC-metro area and using our location by the Waterfront to evoke O'Neill's never-ending fascination with maritime themes.
8) A new class of Allen Lee Hughes Fellows
The fellowship training program that I'm a proud graduate from will welcome a new class of fellows in a number of departments starting this August through next Spring and Summer, as well as mark a number of senior fellowships for fellows from this season (like dramaturgy fellow Aaron Malkin. Yay!). They always bring a determined work ethic and charisma that keep the wheels of the organization turning. We can't wait to have you on board!
9) Engaging and Educating Communities
Our Community Engagement department succeeded in the big move from 14th and T street to the Mead Center with flying colors and expanded upon their exciting programs with a Voices of Now Ensemble Festival, more Student Playwright's Project plays in submission than ever before, and the continuation of Camp Arena Stage and the Musical Theater Academy that Ado Annie's June Schreiner came from. If you missed the festivals and showcases last year, check out the CE webpage for updates this year. The work of these young artists is remarkable and fueled by passion, dedication, and persistence.
10) Some changes in the literary office
We've been thinking about how to better develop a dialogue between the art and audiences and plan to experiment with some new changes to SubText, the post show discussions, the lobby, and much more. Remember that we can only move forward with your feedback on what's working and what's not, so send in your thoughts to Stage Banter or find some time to chat with us by the concessions bar while you're in the building.
What are you looking forward to next season? We'll post your highlights on Stage Banter and can't wait to see you back at Arena!