Two recent theatre festivals, both with the theme of “inclusiveness and engagement,” brought together dozens of area actors, directors, producers and audience members, all there to share their talent and support.
Over 150 participants gathered at Howard Community College for the fourth annual conference dedicated to women working in theatre. Rep Stage, the regional professional theatre in residence at HCC, hosted the festive all-day event that kicked off with a stirring keynote address by Maria Manuela Goyanes, the newly appointed artistic director of DC’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.
“The seed for the Women’s Theatre Conference came from Rep Stage producer Suzanne Beal and Nancy Tarr Hart who pitched it to our queen of the Arts & Humanities Division (Valerie Lash) who made it happen,” said Grace Anastasiadis, the Community Engagement Coordinator for Rep Stage. “Our guest speaker, Maria Goyanes, is a force…she’s wonderful.”
For her opening speech, Goyanes reiterated the Women’s Festival theme, “Power of Engagement,” before a capacity crowd in the Monteabaro Recital Hall. She spoke of having the courage to share stories and told of her own journey – moving, indeed.
“Gender equality and racism in our theatre communities must be addressed,” the feisty director emphasized. “We must share our problems with other theatre groups. It’s a time to come together and celebrate the diversity of theater.” As for the future of American theatre, she summed it up with a positive quote, “There is always enough time for the right work.”
Following her inspirational talk, attendees participated in a Speed Network session, held on the Smith Theatre stage. An expo where individuals and theatres promoted their wares was set up in the Horowitz Performing Arts Center open space. The afternoon highlight was the readings from the winners of the 10-minute play contest who came from all out of states to showcase their works.
Looking forward to next year’s festival, Anastasiadis sums it up best. “We constantly change the format and anticipate what we need to do from our surveys. We really listen to the people who come and take it under consideration for change. We look forward to dedicating more of our time and energy to promoting equity, diversity, parity and access.”
New blood for Washington theatergoers
New to the area, Maria Goyanes is making the theatre rounds with her latest gig as a panelist at yet another m theater gathering, held last Saturday at The Arena Stage, Mead Center for American Theater. The Kickoff Party for DC’s Theatre Week is always a hoot with a huge turnout and a terrific show. This season it runs from Sept. 10-29, more like theater month.
Goyanes was a key panelist in the opening conversation, “The Future of Washington Theatre.” Peter Marks, Washington Post Theater Critic, spoke to the three new artistic directors. Raymond Caldwell of Theater Alliance and Chil Kong of Adventure Theatre MTC commented on stepping into their roles at the helm of established Washington theatres. The theme of “inclusivity” popped up as the directors shared their visions for moving their institutions forward and engaging their communities.
“There is a tremendous opportunity for these conversations,” Marks pointed out as he asked the panel to relate their transitions. Goyanes who has a long list of achievements from NYC Public Playhouse (where she was involved with “Hamilton”) said, “it was one of the smoothest ever, but doesn’t understand DC politics…yet!”
Raymond came off as the most passionate advocate of community involvement and credited his mentor the late Zelda Fichandler, for “building a theater (Arena Stage) for the community.” As the new director of his Anacostia-based theater (which will take to the streets of DC this season) wants to celebrate “black joy…black love…everywhere, especially on the stage.
The question of sharing an audiences and making a show viable were brought up in the 90-minute conversation. “Is being a ‘Rainmaker’ part of it?” asked Marks. All nodded. “What’s the identify of theater in DC?” The combined answer, “A vibrant, artistic community that wants to engage the actors with the audience.”
This was only a brief comment from an audience member on the simultaneous festivities at the Kennedy Center on the opening day of the REACH, with 500 free events across 16 days. The Center was not represented at the Theatre Week festivities.
The party really got going when Felicia Curry took the stage last Saturday afternoon. The Helen Hayes winner is a doll, a favorite at Toby’s Dinner Theater and Olney Theater where she recently performed in “Matilda, the Musical.” Her rendition of “My House” and “I’m Just a Random Black Girl Singing Soul” brought the attendees to their feet.
All 13 performers in the showcase were terrific, but this writer must give a special nod to Maria Egler for her beautiful vocal talent and Wood Van Meter, another favorite from Toby’s Dinner Theater, who earned a Helen Hayes nomination for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Theatre Week (Sept. 10-29) s a celebration of the professional theatre community and the launch of the theatre season in Washington. With dozens of participating theatres and productions, it’s a chance to sample the diverse and vibrant work on a variety of stages across the region. There are musicals, dramas, comedies, theatre for young audiences, and more. All tickets are priced at $15 and $35 and are available through TodayTix.