The Washington DC Theatre community has responded to the adversity of these strange times by inventing new forms of expression and remaining fiercely relevant in their content. Innovation is everywhere: From larger theatres like Round House Theatre experimenting with Homebound - a web series about the pandemic (www.roundhousetheatre.org/On-Stage/Explore/Homebound) to smaller theatres like Rorschach Theatre premiering Distance Frequencies - a season-long immersive story that brings audiences to outdoor locations around the city in seven monthly chapters (https://rorschachtheatre.com/distance-frequencies).
Among the many terrific programs presented in the area, four companies created distinctive programs focused on local playwrights: Regional powerhouse Arena Stage as well as the smaller companies Theater Alliance, Spooky Action Theater, and Solas Nua.
Arena Stage engaged local playwrights in two filmed monologue projects inspired by interviews with DC area residents. May 22, 2020 ( https://www.arenastage.org/tickets/may-22-docudrama/) captured one day in the life of the radically changed lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. Playwrights included AUDREY CEFALY, ANNALISA DIAS, CALEEN SINNETTE JENNINGS, Aaron Posner, PSALMAYENE 24, John Strand, Gregory Keng Strasser, Mary Hall Surface, KAREN ZACARÍAS, and me. The 51st State (https://www.arenastage.org/The51stState) was inspired by the protests after the murder of George Floyd and the quest for the creation of the 51st state in Washington, D.C. Playwrights included Dane Figueroa Edidi, Farah Lawal Harris, Caleen Sinnette Jennings, Teshonne Nicole Powell, Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe, Debra Kim Sivigny, Gregory Keng Strasser, Mary Hall Surface, Aria Velz, and Karen Zacarias.
Theater Alliance, a long-running small company dedicated to creating socially conscious work, presented A Protest in 8 (theateralliance.com/protest_in_eight), presenting world-premiere readings of eight plays written in response to the requests of the Black Lives Matter movement. Topics included defunding the police, decriminalizing sex work, reducing prison populations, ending cash bail, banning stop & frisk, dropping charges against protesters, addressing school to prison pipelines, and making reparations. Playwrights included Savina Barini, Alric Davis, Roney Jones, Emmanuel Key, Tehya Merritt, Kayla Parker, Naima Randolph, and Carmin Wong.
Spooky Action Theater (spookyaction.org), a small company with big ambitions has presented an enormous amount of world-premiere digital readings since the summer featuring local playwrights: Moderation by KEVIN KAUTZMAN, We Victorians by MATTHEW KELLY, Circular by LAURA SHAMAS, Transferal by JACK NOVAK, Zero by IAN AUGUST, and To The Earth by Brett Abelman. November featured their “Impossible Play Cycle,” a short play festival with “impossible to produce” plays chosen from 115 local submissions.
Solas Nua, a bold company dedicated to presenting contemporary Irish arts, premiered Emoji Play, a digital theatre world premiere (October 1-11) that is the first in a series of new plays co-created by local African American playwright Jeremy Keith Hunter and Irish playwright, John King. Emoji Play (solasnua.org/theatre) utilized Zoom and WhatsApp to exchange text messages with the actors and audience throughout the performance. Solas Nua’s season will feature works from both of these writers as they continue to explore co-writing models, diverse international perspectives, and engaging digital work.
The DC area has been noisy with new work in these troubling times. The focus on innovation and a commitment to local artists promises that institutions may end up stronger for the adversity they faced.