There was a great deal of bold new work taking place among the 90 or so professional companies in the Washington DC area: new plays, new musicals, adaptations, devised work, and world premiere theatre for young audiences. However, because of the COVID-19 quarantines this season will be remembered as the season that could have been, with almost as many cancellations as there were productions.
Arena Stage, one of the oldest regional theatres in America, has an admirable dedication to producing new American plays. This season, they produced three world premieres including Right to be Forgotten by Sharyn Rothstein, a play that explores privacy, technology and the first amendment, and Dear Jack, Dear Louise, Ken Ludwig’s story of his parents’ courtship during World War II. Celia and Fidel by Eduardo Machado was commissioned by Arena Stage as a part of their Power Play initiative and is a powerful look at Celia Sanchez, Fidel Castro, and what happens after the revolution is won.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre, the four decades old national innovator in the development and production of new plays, was to premiere There’s Always the Hudson by Paola Lazaro with Paola in the lead role. While technically not a world premiere, Woolly co-produced with the Public Theater in New York ANNE WASHBURN’s new play Shipwreck: A History Play About 2017.
The Welders—a playwrights collective designed to collaboratively produce one play by each member, and then hand the entire organization off to a new cohort when that has been accomplished—ended their second generation of playwrights this season. Their final two productions were RACHEL HYNES’ Lady M in the summer of 2019 and ANNALISA DIAS’ performance project the earth, that is sufficient, an iterative piece that culminated in November 2019. The new cohort of playwrights (Cat Frost, Farah Lawal Harris, Teshonne Powell, Sisi Reid, JR Russ, and Jared Shamberger) took over the organization in January 2020 and have postponed their first production, Jared Shamburger’s The B-word.
A home for new work and for making transformational, socially relevant art, Mosaic Theater’s two world premieres have also been postponed to next season. Inherit the Windbag by Alexandra Petri revisits the televised 1968 punditry between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal. The Till Trilogy by WANDA BAYEZA tells the now legendary story of Emmett “Bo” Till whose murder and trial launched the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Signature Theatre, the Tony award-winning regional theatre known for its world premiere and reinvented musicals, premiered Gun & Powder with book & lyrics by ANGELICA CHÉRI and music by ROSS BAUM, a new musical about the Clarke Sisters, notorious outlaws who ruled the Wild West. They also saw the world premiere of Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes by local playwright DANI STOLLER. The play grew out of their SigWorks new play development program.
Rep Stage in Columbia, MD produced the world premiere of E2, BOB BARTLETT’s contemporary reimagining of Christopher Marlowe’s tale of England’s infamous ineffectual king.
Rorschach Theatre, a company dedicated to producing new works of magical realism and “impossible” theatre, postponed to the fall F*ck La Vie D’Artiste by GEORGETTE KELLY, a play about the Paris race riots of 2005 and the ghost of Van Gogh. Taffety Punk Theatre Company was also to produce Georgette Kelly’s In the Belly of the Whale (a.k.a. The Jonah Play), a new take on the biblical story of Jonah.
Theater Alliance, a company dedicated to creating and producing new work that is socially conscious and catalyst for innovation and diversity, postponed the revolutionary hip-hop musical The Blackest Battle by local theatre artist PSALMAYENE 24.
Flying V Theatre, a company with a penchant for unique company-generated works, created Crystal Creek Motel—an episodic piece created by a handful of directors and taking place in twelve scenes over the course of one year in a motel room. The show was directed and written by Kelly Colburn, Daniel Mori, Lee Liebeskind, Jason Schlafstein, Tonia Sina, Robert Bowen Smith, and Aria Velz with Additional Writing by Nerissa Hart and KJ Moran.
The small but ambitious 4615 Theatre Company premiered two new works: Infinite Tales, Gregory Keng Strasser’s adaptation of several Irish myths, and RENEE CALARCO’s Museum 2040, an immersive tale of a terrifying future. Calarco developed Museum 2040 when she was a member of the Welders.
Other small theatres produced world premieres: Keegan Theatre produced West by God by Brandon McCoy, Nu Sass produced Weep by Amanda Zeitler, and Ally Theatre produced Dhana and the Rosebuds, a new play devised and created by Federica Cellini.
Theatre for Young Audiences continue to flourish in the Washington Area. Imagination Stage, a children’s theatre company with a dedication to creating surprising new works and adaptations, commissioned Natsu Onoda Power’s bold new retelling of Thumbelina inspired by Kamishibai—a form of Japanese street theatre that uses illustrated boards to create the story. This production featured live video projections, puppetry, dioramas, and other theatre magic. Adventure Theater MTC premiered a new adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit by PATRICK FLYNN from the book by Margery Williams. Arts on the Horizon, who create theatre for the very young premiered a new show, Squeakers and Mr Gumdrop, by Natalie Cutcher and Amanda Forstrom. The Kennedy Center Theatre for Young Audiences premiered a commissioned new work Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (The Musical). Based on the book by Mo Willems, the musical is written by Willems and Tom Warburton with music by DEBORAH WICKS LA PUMA.
In response to the unprecedented shut down of daily life, theatres have rallied to create online events. From readings to workshops, much of the online activity has focused on new work. The most significant response has been from Round House Theatre who has created from scratch an online web series Homebound, employing many of their displaced artists in its creation. The episodes are written by local playwrights Alexandra Petri, KAREN ZACARIAS, Farah Lawal Harris, Liz Maestri, PSALMAYENE 24, TIM J. LORD, AUDREY CEFALY, DANI STOLLER, Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi, and CALEEN SINNETTE JENNINGS.
A regional leader in new play development, Washington DC continues to build the next generation of plays. Even in a year that saw numerous cancellations and postponements, the DC Area’s dedication to new play development remained clear.