DC: Meeting the Challenging Moment
Man sitting alone in a theatre
Photo by Dibakar Roy (Unsplash)

Iwanted to create an event for this moment we find ourselves in and create an opportunity for local regional artists in our industry, who have been deeply affected by the pandemic,” said Joseph Ritsch, the Artistic Director of Rep Stage, about their latest theatrical offering. LOVE/language was a run of virtual performances that ran in late March, bringing together ten DC-area playwrights to write monologues about how love can help us connect and heal in a time when isolation and unrest affect our daily lives.

In creating this event, Rep Stage not only created a compelling collection of dramatic pieces but also a time capsule for these times. There have been countless projects featuring new work during the last year in the Washington DC area, but none with this event’s breadth and diversity of playwrights. It was the perfect opportunity to take the pulse of the playwriting community here in DC.

The ten playwrights included Bob Bartlett, Annalisa Dias, Dane Figueroa Edidi, Tracy Hall, Farah Lawal Harris, Susan McCully, JR Nexus Russ, Debra Kim Sivigny, Hope Villanueva, and Britt A Willis. I spoke to many of the playwrights about the project, the process, and what it means to be a playwright at this moment in history. “I think subconsciously I was also thinking about the isolation we are all feeling,” said Ritsch, “and how one-character monologues could speak to that in a personal way while at the same time trying to craft a production that would facilitate safety of the artists.”

In talking about creating their pieces, the playwrights spoke of loss: “I wrote of my friend Bill who I helped care for until the moment his physical life ended from HIV/AIDS nearly 30 years ago,” said Susan McNulty. “Loving in the time of COVID forces me to look clear-eyed at ourfevered, imperiled planet and our life on it. I’m exploring the paradoxically glorious truth that all death is life and all grief love; that is something to celebrate.”

“When things closed, I was working on a show featuring the late Nick Cordero, who was one of the first great theatre losses to COVID,” said Hope Villanueva. “Each time I’m reminded of Nick, I’m also reminded of all that’s gone now… I think we’re all going to be emotionally recovering from COVID long past when the virus is gone.”

They spoke of love as an instrument of healing and change at this moment in history: “Love is not simply a feeling. It is an action, a process, an unveiling and a remembering,” said Dane Figueroa Edidi. “Love tells us ‘You deserve.’ Love tells us ‘Your life matters.’ Love tells us ‘You have a right to prioritize rest.’ Love tells us ‘Liberation for all.’ Love tells us how beautiful, divine, and powerful we are. Love also partners with accountability to demonstrate what a less oppressive world can look like. We can’t talk about love unless we talk about accountability, and Healing.”

It has been a challenge to write during the pandemic and there was near consensus among the playwrights that the lack of human interaction can be hard for the creative process. “With today’s uncertainties due to the state that our world is in, it has been challenging for me to preserve my creativity and consistently produce art,” said Tracy Hall. “I’ve missed those more tenuous contacts,” said Britt Willis. “Not the best friends, but the people I’d talk to in my apartment lobby or smile at on a walk.” There was also a recognition, though, that the time afforded space and that the silence of these times can be helpful. “In a way, the change in social interaction probably helped by leaving me alone with my thoughts and giving me time and space to explore and play,” said JR Russ.

Though the playwrights were asked to write about love, the commentary on these times was inevitable. “I know people are writing about the pandemic (there’s a running joke that everyone is going to have a pandemic play),” said Hope Villanueva. “but I think we’re all still too close to it. We don’t really know what we know and haven’t processed our experience yet, as we’re still living through it. But that will be a fascinating set of plays once the time comes.”

“People keep asking me to write monologues,” said Annalisa Dias. “Which is partly because theatre producers are solving social distancing by choosing work that can be made in isolation, so one actor at a time. On one hand, it’s great practice in a very specific form. On the other hand, even when the monologues don’t have anything to do with the pandemic, I’m grappling with the fact of reproducing isolation.”

Above all, this remarkable group of playwrights agreed that this time is an important moment—a turning point for all of us. “I believe the Universe is asking us ‘who are we? and who do you want to be?’” said Dane Figueroa Edidi. “The universe has asked this often to us as a society, as a race of Divine beings made flesh. And I am hoping that this time, the majority of us choose a world free of oppression. I am hoping we choose liberation. I am hoping that we choose love.”