Elements Theatre Leaderboard-Apr16
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Creede Repertory Theatre's Boomtown Improv Comedy ensemble. (Photo by John Gary Brown)
Creede Repertory Theatre's Boomtown Improv Comedy ensemble. (Photo by John Gary Brown)

The Buzz: 6 Theatre Artists Share What They’re Looking Forward To

From improv comedy shows, to multidisciplinary performances, to painted unicorns onstage, six theatre workers dish on what they are working on, and looking forward to.

  • Congo Square Theatre artistic director Samuel Roberson has women on his mind—female theatre artists, that is. The theme for his theatre’s season, focusing on works by women of color, is “Power of Her.” Running Jan. 8–Feb. 7 is the Chicago premiere of Pearl Cleage’s What I Learned in Paris, a play “centered around the election of the first black mayor of Atlanta,” Roberson says. In June, Chicago native Harry Lennix will direct the world premiere of Lekethia Dalcoe’s Small Oak Tree Runs Red, which links lynch riots in 1918 Georgia to recurrent contemporary cases of police brutality. The distaff emphasis came about, Roberson admits, when he realized “how, even as a young leader of color, I was unaware of the male-dominated voice of American thea­tre…If I want to be a champion of change, I need to be an example as well as a leader in the fight to end disparity.” Accordingly, all his other callouts were for work by XX-chromosome theatre folks: the local premiere of Dominique Morisseau’s Sunset Baby at Timeline Thea­tre, Jan. 21–April 10; the Chicago Inclusion Project started by Emjoy Gavino to promote nontraditional casting; and the work of Kristiana Rae Colon, a freelance playwright and activist who started Let Us Breathe, a collective led chiefly by artists looking for ways to use art as a means of “protest and disruption.”
Reginald Pierre, Sarah Porter, Sara Sapp, Steven Castelli, Sarah McKenney, Elizabeth Van Pelt in "This Is Not Funny." (Photo by Anna Skidis)
Reginald Pierre, Sarah Porter, Sara Sapp, Steven Castelli, Sarah McKenney, Elizabeth Van Pelt in “This Is Not Funny” at Theatre Nuevo in St. Louis. (Photo by Anna Skidis)
  • It’s all musicals, all the time at New Line Theatre in St. Louis (AT, July/Aug. ’14). But these ain’t your grandma’s showtunes: Artistic director Scott Miller has packed the season, the thea­tre’s 25th, with the usual edgy mix: In the fall was the murderous satire Heathers, and in March it’s American Idiot, followed in June by Atomic, a brand-new rock musical about the Manhattan Project from Danny Ginges and Philip Foxman. Elsewhere in his city, Miller says, “My local hero is Steve Woolf,” artistic director of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. “The Rep is really, truly wonderful. It’s incredibly rare that I see a show there that I don’t like, and I see almost every show they produce.” Miller also gave a shoutout to his “other local hero,” Mike Isaacson, who took the reins of the popular St. Louis outdoor summer theatre the Muny in 2012. In Miller’s view, Isaacson has “completely transformed” the organization, bringing in a roster of New York City talent (Dan Knechtges, Rob Ruggerio, Rob McClure, John Tartaglia) to beef up its musical-theatre bona fides. Miller wants us to know about one other promising development: A frequent actor at his theatre, Anna Skidis, started the city’s first Latino theatre company, Theatre Nuevo, with a show last summer called This Is Not Funny. The company currently seeks play submissions for their next production, Orgullo: a Pride of One-Acts. The deadline is Feb. 1, and the e-mail is theatrenuevo@gmail.com.
  • Los Angeles actor Leon Russom spent some of 2015 recovering from an illness (and vociferously opposing Equity’s changes to the city’s longstanding 99-Seat Plan), but he did make it to the stage for Padraic Duffy’s The Box: An Experiment in Random Narrative at his home company, Sacred Fools Theater. Next he’ll return to the Fools for the premiere of Duffy’s Past Time, a metatheatrical romp slated to include “many, many, many painted unicorns,” as well as fellow L.A. stage veteran French Stewart. Russom says he’ll then tackle a little something called King Lear for the downtown L.A.-based Loft Ensemble. Outside the Fools, he praises the pay-what-you-want ensemble, Coeurage Theatre Company, “a young company that stepped immediately into the front rank of Los Angeles theatre.” Their next joint: Tennessee Williams’s Vieux Carré.
  • Somerville, Mass.–based Megan Sandberg-Zakian spent the end of 2015 helming a diverse production of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play and workshopping a new play by Eleanor Burgess, a writer she has her eye on, at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass., where she’s a Princess Grace Theatre Foundation Fellowship director-in-residence. Looking ahead, she pointed to another play by Burgess, Start Down, which will have its premiere at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre, Feb. 13–March 6. Sandberg-Zakian describes it as a “smart and engaging” play about “the role of technology in education.” She’ll next helm a production of Danai Gurira’s “heartwrenching Shavian epic about colonial Zimbabwe,” The Convert (AT, Sept. ’13), at Cambridge’s Central Square Theater, Jan. 28–Feb. 28. That will be a homecoming of sorts for the Brown-educated director: Central Square is where she worked some five years as a TCG Future Leaders fellow. After several acclaimed productions, as well as her growing community-building and advocacy résumé, we think we can place Sandberg-Zakian’s leadership firmly in the present.
Creede Repertory Theatre's Boomtown Improv Comedy ensemble. (Photo by John Gary Brown)
Creede Repertory Theatre’s Boomtown Improv Comedy ensemble. (Photo by John Gary Brown)
  • The idyllic mountain town of Creede, Colo., about 250 miles southwest of Denver, is pretty sleepy in the dead of winter, and so too is its local theatre, Creede Repertory Theatre. But this year things are heating up, notes artistic director Jessica Jackson, who’s producing the theatre’s first winter run of its decade-old summertime “cult hit” Boomtown Improv Comedy. “Creede Rep is partnering with local organizations to create economic opportunity for our community in what is still called ‘the off-season,’” says Jackson. That means programming Boomtown in conjunction with such winter festivals as “chocolate competitions, log-throwing, ice sculpting, weird bands, and curling, in case you were curious what people do up here at 9,000 feet.” Asked what excites her outside her theatre’s walls, Jackson name-checks a popular resident-theatre nightspot: “The more I experience theatre sitting down, the more I yearn for club theatre and its merging of nightlife and performance. I want to go hang out at Oberon at ART for a couple of nights.” (Us too.)
A workshop of Critical Mass's "Ameryka." (Photo by Roman Zenz.
A workshop of Critical Mass’s “Ameryka.” (Photo by Roman Zenz)
  • Though based in L.A., director Mark Valdez has his eye on the whole country—an occupational benefit of having been the head of the Network of Ensemble Theaters for eight years. His next project is DJ Latinidad’s Latino Dance Party at Mixed Blood in Minneapolis, for which 12 Latino artists across disciplines were commissioned with the prompt: What does it mean to be Latino/a in the present-day U.S.? Contributors cite Mexican, Cuban, Chilean, Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Guatemalan descent, and an equally diverse slate of media: dance, theatre, music, visual arts, hip-hop, and poetry. “We are curating their responses into a performance that takes the form of a dance party, DJ and all,” Valdez effuses. His list of projects to look out for is similarly wide-ranging, from New Orleans, where Junebug Productions will premiere Gomela/to return: Movement of our Mother Tongue, a multidisciplinary performance about African-American history through a Gulf Coast prism; to Philadelphia, where Team Sunshine Performance Corporation will launch the second iteration of a planned 24-year endeavor called The Sincerity Project, begun in 2014, in which the company will biannually revisit “notions of sincerity, not to be confused with honesty or truth, as the company ages”; and his home base of L.A., where Nancy Keystone and her Critical Mass Performance Group will debut Ameryka, a devised work that “explores our dream of democracy through the influences of film, graphic arts, Poland, Thomas Jefferson, and jazz,” at Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles. DJ not included.
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