By Aaron Malkin, Senior Literary Fellow
Although Labor Day is only next Monday, we're already knee deep into the 2011-2012 season in the literary office (and organization wide). Last week alone, my work involved five of this season's upcoming shows. As I sat at home last Tuesday reading Alan Jacobs' The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, trying to find excerpts for The Book Club Play Actors' Research Packet, I began to understand exactly why I am so excited for this season at the Mead Center. Now, it's not that I wasn't excited for last season at Arena. When I was looking for fellowships and saw the season Arena had lined up, my jaw dropped- Edward Albee, Marcus Gardley, Anna Deavere Smith, and Mary Zimmerman in one season! Unreal. I learned more than I ever could have imagined as I helped bring these artists’ work to our stages.
But sitting at home reading about the joys of reading really hit home why I am excited about this upcoming season:
We are grappling with creation and we are celebrating art.
Working in the theater, it is so easy to have the blinders on to everything going on around us. If I'm not at the theater for 12 hour days, I'm at a play in town, reading scripts for consideration, or totally drained watching the Food Network. I won't say how few of the Smithsonian museums I've been to after 15 months in D.C.- it's embarrassing. The content of this season is forcing this to change. I didn't have time or energy to read a single novel in the last year. This month, I'll read four as I prepare to sit in on rehearsals for The Book Club Play. And although I was initially hesitant about diving into Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (after having read I thought all I needed to read of Wharton in 9th grade), I'm enjoying it. Next up: Twilight (a book I would never read without a push from somewhere), The Da Vinci Code (which I pushed through so quickly when it first came out that the detail are fuzzy), and The Return of Tarzan (a book I never knew existed).
I'm also making time to visit museums. What better way to prepare for Red (coming from Chicago's Goodman Theatre this January) than to spend time in the Rothko Room in the Phillips Collection in Dupont? A trip to the National Gallery to see the sculptural portraits of Roman citizens is next on the list.
Each play we're producing speaks to a love for the arts. We have:
- Troubled valentines to the theater (Trouble in Mind, Equivocation, You, Nero),
- allusions to film (The Book Club Play is structured as a documentary and when Amy Freed was here last week she urged her design team to watch The Sign of the Cross, a pre-Code movie about Rome, to get an understanding of the Rome she has drawn in You, Nero),
- the magic of magic (The Elephant Room),
- one musical that celebrates the power of music (The Music Man) and another that celebrates the power of the culinary arts (Like Water for Chocolate),
- an exploration of literature's ability to transform the reader (The Book Club Play),
- the brilliance of costume (Mary T. & Lizzy K.),
- and an American Giant whose plays speak eloquently to the ability of theater to articulate a dream (Ah, Wilderness!) and a reality (Long Day's Journey into Night).
This season is forcing me to step outside the theater and take advantage of all that is around me. And I step back into the theater with a greater understanding of and a greater appreciation for the storytelling, aesthetics, and full sensory experience that drew me to theater in the first place.