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The Dowling Studio lobby. (Photo by Amanda Ortland)

Front & Center for July/August 2016

Immersive theatre, nautical shows, and more take stages across the country this summer.

Staff Picks

This year the standout at Massachusetts’s always-busy Williamstown Theatre Festival isn’t the fine lineup of plays but an immersive project from Obie-winning playwright Lucy Thurber, Orpheus in the Berkshires (July 14-16). Thurber will reset the Greek myth in western Massachusetts and recast the titular hero as a teenage girl. And, à la Los Angeles’s ­Cornerstone Theater Company or Public Works of New York City’s Public Theater, 75 Berkshire residents will help develop and perform the piece alongside professional actors.

Meanwhile NYC’s Clubbed Thumb closes its annual Summerworks new-play fest with Ethan Lipton’s Old West comedy-with-songs, Tumacho, June 27-July 9, directed by Leigh Silverman and featuring Quincy Tyler Bernstine, John Ellison Conlee, and Celia Keenan-Bolger. And one of last year’s Summerworks highlights, Jaclyn Backhaus’s gender-reversed history romp Men on Boats, returns for a run at NYC’s Playwrights Horizons (July 20-Aug 14). —Diep Tran


Nautical themes predominate in the D.C. area this summer. At Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Md., Janet Stanford’s new version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little ­Mermaid runs June 22-Aug. 14, in a coproduction with the Washington Ballet set to feature dance, puppets, and singing. Meanwhile, among the new works at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W. Va., is ­Christina Anderson’s pen/man/ship (July 8-31), about a father and a son on a mysterious sea voyage to Africa in 1896. And Chicago’s Hypocrites will bring their popular hipster version of ­Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance to ­Maryland’s Olney Theatre Center (July 16-Aug. 21). The comic operetta will be performed by a cast of 10 in promenade style, inviting audience members to choose either fixed seats or to sit onstage. Aargh! —Allison Considine


Playwright Jeff Augustin may owe his mother a thank-you note. The Haitian folklore and culture he absorbed from the woman he has called his “single biggest resource” provided him with inspiration not only for Little Children Dream of God, which debuted last year at New York City’s Roundabout Theatre ­Company, but also for his new play The Last Tiger in Haiti, at California’s La Jolla Playhouse June 28-July 24. Though Augustin was born and raised in Miami, it was his mother’s homeland, a former French colony 700 miles to the southeast, that loomed largest in his household. Last Tiger revisits Haiti to witness child slaves, “restaveks,” sharing folk tales on the eve of being granted freedom at the end of Haitian kanaval season. An early title of Augustin’s play included the words Krik? Krak, a back-and-forth phrase that also gave Edwige ­Danticat’s 1995 story collection its name. Call, meet response. —Rob Weinert-Kendt


Caitlin Wise in "Kind of Red." (Photo by John Stajduhar)
Caitlin Wise in “Kind of Red.” (Photo by John Stajduhar)

Summertime may mean a break from school or work, but it need not be a vacation from lively new theatre. In July and August, the Rockies and Southwest offer a number of premieres and newly revised pieces that fit the bill. Up first (June 22-Aug. 28) is Allen Nevins and Nancy Borgenicht’s Saturday’s Voyeur 2016, this year’s installment of what Salt Lake Acting Company calls its “raucous, riotous cabaret” to celebrate “the camaraderie of being a Utah liberal.” Next will be Museum of ­Dysfunction VIII, the latest iteration of the annual new-short-play series at Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company in Houston, June 23-July 2. And running all summer (through Aug. 28) in Colorado is Kind of Red, written by and featuring Creede Repertory Theatre associate artistic director John DiAntonio. In this new farce, a down-on-his-luck musician is visi­ted by St. Lucia, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Lucille Ball. It’s so tasty too! —­Russell M. Dembin

Members of the Asian American Performers Action Coalition at the Beyond Orientalism public forum in NYC. (Photo by Eric Bondoc Photography)
Members of the Asian American Performers Action Coalition at the Beyond Orientalism public forum in NYC. (Photo by Eric Bondoc Photography)

News in Brief

NEW YORK CITY: We’ve got some good news and some bad news. In the Asian American Performers Action Coalition’s annual report, “Ethnic Representation on New York City Stages,” which breaks down the racial makeup of actors hired during the 2014-15 season on Broadway and in 16 Off-Broadway houses, the number of actors of color hired was the highest yet recorded: 30 percent of all available roles. But the specific percentages are still underrepresentative of the national and particularly the local New York population: African-American actors were cast in 17 percent of all roles (African Americans represent 25.5 percent of New York’s population), Asian American actors in 9 percent (versus 12.7 percent of NYC), and—in the biggest disparity between demographics and casting docu­mented—Latino actors were cast in just 3 percent of roles (though they represent 28.6 percent of New Yorkers). The differences are made up by Caucasian actors, who, despite representing only 33.3 percent of New York’s population, took 70 percent of all availa­ble roles. The study also finds that just 10.2 percent of all roles were cast without regard to race (what the study calls “nontraditionally cast”), down from 11.2 percent in 2013-14; indeed, those numbers have remained stagnant over the nine years of data collected by AAPAC. You can read the complete report at aapacnyc.org.

NEW YORK CITY: Speaking of diversity, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the professional union for directors and choreographers, released a “Diversity and Inclusion Statement of Commitment” pledging to promote more equitable hiring practices and to crea­te a diversity and inclusion committee. Part of the SDC diversity statement reads, “While SDC acknowledges the Ameri­can theatre’s longstanding dedication to diversity and inclusion, there remain inequities in hiring.” To combat these inequities, the SDC will take a number of steps, including collecting, analyzing, and sharing data regarding hiring practices in the field for directors and choreographers; creating opportunities for workshops and training sessions on inclusion and diversity for SDC membership; making sure diversity, parity, and equity are considerations when nominating candidates for the board and when hiring SDC staff members; and assembling a diversity and inclusion committee to oversee SDC’s efforts. Read the complete statement at
sdcweb.org.

MINNEAPOLIS: Joseph Haj has begun his first season at the Guthrie Theater with a bang. The theatre’s new artistic director has announced the formation of a three-year, six-prong audience engagement initiative called Level Nine. As part of the program, tickets to all performances at the Dowling ­Studio, the black-box space on the theatre’s ninth floor, will be $9. And each year for the next three years the Guthrie will commission a playwright and a company to be in residence at the theatre. The program will be supported by a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Read more about Level Nine at ­guthrietheatre.org.

SAN FRANCISCO: Crowded Fire Theater has launched the Ignite Fund, which will award up to $10,000 annually to support the growth of, and enhance the working lives of, Bay Area theatre designers and technicians through a competitive grant process. The fund will be distributed with the intention of supporting diversity of race, culture, class, gender, and age in the local design and technical community, with grant amounts ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. The first round of recipients will be announced in August. Visit crowdedfire.org/ignitefund.

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