After a 30th Anniversary marked by an awards presentation that doubled as a cocktail party and schmooze fest, this year’s Helen Hayes Awards – on April 6 – will look and feel very different. A communal thumbs-up has already been expressed for the return to a theatrical venue. In contrast to last year’s National Building Museum, this year’s event will take place at not one but two historic Washington theatres. The Awards will be presented at the Lincoln Theatre, with the after-party at the historic Howard Theatre just blocks away.
As the dust settles following the DC Jewish Community Center's controversial dismissal of Ari Roth – Theater J’s former Artistic Director – it seemed a good time to check-in with the theatre’s Managing Director Rebecca Ende and Acting Artistic Director Shirley Serotsky. Deep in the process of programming the 2015-16 season, they’re also in the midst of launching a national search for Roth’s replacement.
When theatreWashington President & CEO Linda Levy invited me to develop and deepen the company’s web coverage, it seemed the perfect opportunity to get re-acquainted with the region’s range of companies and artists. An unexpected perk was the chance to work with three top-notch writers who joined me on the quest. Unlike many who report on the theatre, these folks are artists themselves, taking the risks that are the daily bread of theatre-makers everywhere.
As I started my search for new writers, Jamila Reddy’s name came up more than anyone else’s. When we met – as she ended her shift at the writer-friendly Tryst in Adams Morgan – I found out why. A writer and director, Jamila also identifies as a “facilitator of dreams,” whose work flows naturally from her dual studies in Sociology and Dramatic Art and features stage creations that meld film, live music, dance, and spoken word. A former Artistic Apprentice at Studio Theatre, she received a fellowship in 2013 from the Drama League’s Directors Project. As such, she was a natural to take on the At Rise series for theatreWashington. She explained, “[The series] gives smaller and emerging companies a chance to introduce themselves to a new DC audience, giving them an opportunity to tell us who they are and to widen their reach.”
I first met Hannah Hessel Ratner when she served as dramaturg for my adaptation of Daniel Deronda, developed at Theatre J. Her insights – shared over coffee at Peregrine on Capitol Hill – were enormously helpful. Her current work as a dramaturg with Forum Theatre ranges from Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot to Stephen Spotswood's podcast-based Walking in the City of Silence and Stone. As Audience Enrichment Manager at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Hannah runs a myriad of interwoven programs. As if that weren’t enough, in 2011 she founded Project Gym, a center for creative development. With a day job focused on the classics, she jumped at the chance to author The Wright Stuff for theatreWashington and to explore the unexpected aspects of play-making. “It’s easy to hold onto a view of what a playwright is,” she points out, “or of how one works, and forget that theatre creators are a remarkably diverse group of people. My series looks at the people behind new work and seeks to find out what makes each person, play, and process unique.” It’s not surprising that the City Paper featured Hannah in 2013 as one of 30 individuals “who make DC what it is.”
For years, I’d heard the praises of Otis Ramsey-Zöe sung from playwright friends across the region. When we finally met over coffee at Dos Gringos in Mount Pleasant, I found out why. Funny, delightful, deeply intelligent—what more could you ask for in a writer? A fifth grade teacher in Dallas before moving to Washington in 2003, Otis is deeply embedded in the local theatre scene. An Associate Artistic Director at banished? productions, he’s also a Lecturer of Theatre Arts at Howard University and an editor for NoPassport Press’s Dreaming the Americas series. Currently working with playwright Jacqueline E. Lawton on the development of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz at Adventure Theatre MTC, he has served as a freelance dramaturg at The Sundance Institute, The Kennedy Center, Theatre J, and Arena Stage. For theatreWashington’s The Art of the Actor, Otis delves deep into the actor’s process. He pointed out, “The ancient Greek word for actor was hypocrite, which literally translates to answerer. So, dialogic exchange is a core feature of plays. The Art of the Actor offers opportunities for deeper reflection upon process, which, I hope, inspires greater appreciation of the craft of theatre making and storytelling.”
Finally, I’m looking forward to diving into the world of musical theatre with my own series titled On That Note! Each segment will focus on one of the key artists in the creation of a musical – designer, director, choreographer, performer, etc. If you have any suggestions, you'll probably find me at my new hangout – The Coffee Bar near Logan Circle. And keep your eye on theatreWashington.org.