ADV – Leaderboard

News for May/June 2012

A benefit for Japanese earthquake victims, a program to boost rural American arts, Mike Daisey’s continuing ‘Agony,’ and more.

After the Quake

NATIONWIDE: If New York actor James Yaegashi had been in his hometown of Sendai, Japan, in March 2011, he would have felt the 9.0 earthquake whose epicenter was just 81 miles away in the Pacific Ocean. In the year since the quake—which triggered towering tsunami waves and left more than 19,000 people missing or dead in its wake—Yaegashi has felt the need to take action on his homeland’s behalf, working to put together an international theatre event on the anniversary of the shinsai—the Japanese word for “great quake”—to raise funds to help affected Japanese theatre artists.

In New York, a benefit afternoon and evening titled “Shinsai: Theaters for Japan” was sponsored by a consortium of theatres and featured short, donated works and excerpts by the likes of Tony Kushner, Philip Kan Gotanda, Naomi Iizuka, Edward Albee and Suzan-Lori Parks. Composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim and librettist John Weidman adapted two songs about Japan from their musical Pacific Overtures to reflect the quake and its aftermath.

Meanwhile, at Boise Contemporary Theatre in Idaho, theatregoers took in offerings by playwrights Shoji Kokami and Heidi Kraay, by Idaho Dance Theatre’s Yurek Hansen, and by swordsman Kimbal Anderson, performing embu, a “divine sword-drawing dance that seeks to calm the land.”

In 21 states across the country, some 70 participating organizations, including theatres and colleges, raised around $12,406 from theatre organizations and individuals. That may not be enough by itself to “calm the land,” but it will go a long way toward helping displaced Japanese theatre artists rebuild their art form. Visit

Rocking the CRADLE

BAKERSVILLE, N.C.: After years of railing on his blog Theatre Ideas about the lack of funding for rural arts, Scott Walters, associate professor of drama at University of North Carolina–Asheville, is putting some money where his mouth is. Under the umbrella of a National Endowment for the Arts–seeded organization called the Center for Rural Arts Development and Leadership Education (CRADLE), Walters kicked off a pilot arts program in March in the town of Bakersville, pop. 464, whose slogan is, “Gateway to the Roan, Home to the Arts.” (The Roan is a nearby Appalachian peak, while “the arts” refers in part to the nearby Penland School of Crafts.)

After a serious 1998 flood, Bakersville residents raised $1.2 million to turn a courthouse into an education and performing arts center with a 175-seat theatre. By the end of the yearlong program, Walters hopes to program up to 15 monthly events into the refurbished Mitchell County Historic Courthouse, using a business model he likens to Netflix with a twist: Patrons would pay a $25 monthly fee, from which $5 is deducted for each event they attend.

“The goal is for the theatre component to be focused on the region, so that the plays have some sort of a regional focus or are written by people in the community,” says Walters, who is moving with his wife to the area. Buncombe Turnpike, a bluegrass band that kicked off the CRADLE program with a concert, may contribute a new musical; the band’s show Fresh Preserves has already appeared at Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre.

A winter production of The Woodcarver’s Christmas by North Carolina writers Rebecca Williams and Jerry Pope is in the works, as is the possibility of an educational workshop with solo performer Mike Wiley.

Walters is upbeat about CRADLE’s first berth: “After the flood, they really took the opportunity to reinvent the town. And they have an artistic orientation here.” The opening concert, Walters notes, drew 100 people, while a nearby high school’s musical attracted a reported 400. The local audience apparently outnumbers the town population. Go to

Take It to the BRIDGE

BALTIMORE: Generous Company’s WordBRIDGE program has been launching emerging playwrights for the past 18 years through its Playwrights Laboratory, a two-week-long retreat designed for writers to experiment with their work while enjoying the freedoms from production pressures.

In the past, WordBRIDGE retreats have unfolded in academic settings, including such learning institutions as Eckerd College, Clemson University and Towson University. This June,

however, WordBRIDGE will hatch at Baltimore’s CENTERSTAGE and will use the theatre building for workshops and readings.

“Our partnership with CENTERSTAGE means that, for the first time, the start of a playwright’s career will be rooted in the profession and not the academy,” says David M. White, WordBRIDGE’s artistic director. “This helps us clarify our mission as a professional lab, not an academic training program—which we’ve never been, despite being housed at universities.”

Adds CENTERSTAGE artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah: “I see this partnership as one of the many steps toward making CENTERSTAGE, and Baltimore, even more exciting centers for new-play development.” This June, the six selected playwrights—Dipika Guha, Cynthia Hardeman, Kevin McFillen, Adam Pasen, Greg Romero and Stephanie Swirsky—will draw inspiration from Charm City’s downtown, parks and arts district. Visit

Use as Directed

PASADENA, CALIF., NEW YORK and CLEVELAND: Director-related laboratories are popping up around the country this summer. The 13th annual Directors Lab West, May 19–26 at the Pasadena Playhouse, continues the practice of bringing together young directors, choreographers and master artists for a week of workshops, panels, roundtables and symposia. The lab is free and open to applicants from around the world. (Lincoln Center Theater’s East Coast original, which inspired Directors Lab West, will take place July 9–28, with other iterations in Chicago, Aug. 5–10, and Toronto, May 31–June 3).

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Public Theatre, in partnership with Joan Yellen Horvitz, a couture designer and longtime friend of the theatre, has hatched a directing program of its own. Unlike its peers, the Director Fellows Program is a yearlong residency providing mentorship, study and play production for lucky helmers. The inaugural fellows are Pandora Robinson and Renee Schilling, who will each receive $3,000, along with full underwriting of their academic study and artistic activities during the fellowship year. Visit and

Boss Plays

CHICAGO: Bruce Springsteen may hail from New Jersey, but one of his finest albums is named after a Middle American state. The songs on 1982’s Nebraska, which feature everyday characters dealing with hardscrabble circumstances and life choices, inspired Chicago’s Tympanic Theatre Company to pair 11 playwrights with 10 directors and create a Boss-worthy theatrical event titled Deliver Us from Nowhere: Tales from Nebraska. Each 10-minute play takes a song as its jumping-off point: Justin Gerber’s Man Will Mettle, directed by Brian Ruby, is inspired by the album’s title tune; Adam Webster’s Resurrecting Beauty, directed by Amanda Jane Dunne, by “Atlantic City”; Chris Bower’s When You’re Dead, directed by Kyra Lewandowski, by “Mansion on the Hill”; Bob Fisher’s Winning Ugly, directed by Chris Acevedo, by “Johnny 99”; Scott T. Barsotti’s The Stray, directed by Allison Shoemaker, by “Highway Patrolman”; Drew and Daniel Caffrey’s Gospel Hour, directed by Aaron Henrickson, by “State Trooper”; Mary Laws’s The Drive, directed by Michael Carnow, by “Used Cars”; Ted Brengle’s Daughters of Necessity, directed by Joshua Ellison, by “Open All Night”; Randall Colburn’s Happy. Happier Then., directed by Jamie Bragg, by “My Father’s House”; and Joshua Mikel’s Dead Dogs, directed by John Ross Wilson, by “Reason to Believe.” The playlets spin through May 20 at the Right Brain Project in Chicago. Go to

A Place for Us

LOS ANGELES: Where did such emerging playwrights as Stephen Karam, Austin Winsberg, Adam Cochran, Chad Baker and Victor Kaufold get their first productions? As part of the Blank Theatre Company’s annual Nationwide Young Playwrights Festival, founded in 1993 to give professional stagings to work of teens under age 19. Blank founding artistic director Daniel Henning said his festival was inspired by seeing productions by the likes of a teenaged Jonathan Marc Sherman at the New York–based Young Playwrights Inc., back in the 1980s. While that organization has since taken a more educational direction, the Blank’s L.A.‑based festival has “grown stronger by staying with the model of professional production.”

Highlights of the two decades at YPF have included Sky’s End, an original musical by Joe Drymala, subsequently mounted as a Blank mainstage production; Kaufold’s The Why, also fast-tracked to the main stage, where it received an Ovation nomination; and last year’s Spider-Man: Turn On the Lights, an impish parody by Adam Brodheim of the infamous Broadway show.

“It’s been a career-launching experience for many writers,” says Henning. And a confidence-boosting one: The plays are cast with heavily credited film and TV performers. Henning recalls one star-struck young playwright who discovered an actress from one of her favorite films was acting in her play. “What that said to this young writer about her work and herself, at 17 years old, was, ‘There is a place for you in the world.’” YPF’s 20th anniversary edition, featuring a dozen plays culled from an estimated 175 submissions, runs May 31–June 17 at the Stella Adler Theatre in Hollywood. See

Space Stories

NATIONWIDE: Spring is a time for purchases, facelifts, relocations and renamings. In San Francisco, American Conservatory Theater added another venue with the purchase of an historic movie house, the Strand Theatre. Renovation is scheduled for next year, with a planned 2014 opening of a 300-seat theatre, a mixed-use space for classrooms, rehearsals and cabaret performances, and a small restaurant.

Meanwhile, in Rahway, N.J., the new Hamilton Stage for the Performing Arts is under construction, with a scheduled opening this fall. The 199-seat proscenium venue is expected to house two theatre companies, two dance companies and other performing arts groups, as well as the Hamilton Stage Studio School.

Elsewhere, the National Pastime Theater is moving Uptown—that’s the name of the Chicago neighborhood to which this 20-year-old company recently relocated, in an unused Masonic Hall in a historical-registry building. NPT will inaugurate the new 3,000-square-foot, 300-seat space with the May 4 premiere of Michael Sokoloff’s A Bend in the Road, helmed by artistic director Laurence Bryan.

In New York, the classics-focused Pearl Theatre Company will take over the West 42nd Street space formerly occupied by the Signature Theatre Company (now in posh new digs down the street). The Pearl signed a 20-year lease at the new venue, which seats 160. Previews begin in October for a production of the play The Marriage of Figaro.

Finally, in Los Angeles, Actor’s Co-op rechristened its Crossley Terrace Theatre the David Schall Theatre, after the Christian-oriented theatre’s co-founder, who died in 2003. Visit,, www.,,

Amendment’s Last Stand

FAIRFAX, VA.: “Not every good idea has to last forever,” reasons Rick Davis, a professor of theatre at George Mason University and executive director of the Hylton Performing Arts Center. Davis recently retired another title: artistic director of the now-defunct Theater of the First Amendment, which folded in March after a too-ambitious season, programmed in farflung independent spaces outside the umbrella of the university, stretched its resources and audiences too thin. “This theatre left behind something worth celebrating, but not something worth struggling to sustain,” Davis said.

TFA had its start in 1990 as part of George Mason’s theatre program, and it “grew faster and bigger than we could have anticipated,” said Davis. At its peak, TFA had an annual budget nearing $500,000; a search in the late 1990s for an off-campus producing partner never panned out, and since then, Davis said, the company “led a kind of hybrid existence, partly at the university, partly at other venues. That probably wasn’t sustainable.”

Highlights of TFA’s production history include Nathan the Wise, a serendipitously timely post-9/11 revival of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s 18th-century plea for inter-religious tolerance; Dianne McIntyre’s dance-theatre exploration of the Farmville segregation walkout of 1951, Open the Door, Virginia!; and last fall’s Can’t Scare Me, the Story of Mother Jones, Kaiulani Lee’s ode to the legendary labor organizer.

One silver lining: TFA’s staff consisted of George Mason theatre faculty, so no one lost their livelihood as a result of its closure (some part-time staff were let go last December). Putting a sanguine spin on it, Davis said, “We’re going to see if we can constructively reinvent what we did with TFA within the structure of our theatre program.” More online at

Wise Folly

ANN ARBOR, MICH.: In 2007, local Ann Arbor residents Stan and Robin Mendenhall built a folly—a decorative building—in their backyard near the garden. Designed by a local architect, the folly is three stories tall with a 14-by-14-foot base. “We’ve had performances in the past, most often by folk singer Annie Galt,” says Stan Mendenhall.

This year the Mendenhalls have decided to put their folly to further use: They have issued a call to artists interested in building performances around the folly for a summer solstice party, which will occur on June 23rd, the first Saturday after the solstice. The Mendenhalls are soliciting original works of about 30 minutes in length, and have been accepting proposals since March. Stan Mendenhall notes that the initial response has been slow: “Aren’t people usually complaining about the lack of funding for the arts?” he deadpans.

According to the appeal for proposals, which local professional company Performance Network Theatre has helped to circulate, a significant amount of funding is available; Mendenhall estimates available funds will be upwards of $5–10,000. It would be a folly not to apply; interested artists may do so until May 10 via

‘Agony and Ecstasy’ Version 2.0

NATIONWIDE: When monologuist Mike Daisey released the transcript of his hit solo play The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs to the public on Feb. 21, making it available via a restriction- and royalty-free download, no one expected that less than a month later, it would be at the center of a media firestorm over how much of the piece—a dual-narrative rumination on the cult of Apple and on the terrible working conditions in Chinese factories that make its products—was true and how much was fabricated.

Media attention was sparked by Daisey’s fraught back-and-forth with the public-radio show “This American Life,” which first excerpted Agony and Ecstasy in an exceedingly popular January broadcast, then devoted an entire episode in March to fact-checking and retracting the previous episode. Meanwhile, the play itself has continued a kind of second life. Daisey himself is scheduled to take it to HighTide Festival Theatre in Suffolk, England, May 5–6; to the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., May 25–June 5; and to Washington, D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, July 17–Aug. 5.

The Woolly Mammoth engagement is significant, partly because that’s where he “birthed” the play in workshops in summer 2010, and had a hit run there in 2011 before the play’s high-profile run at New York’s Public Theater—and also because Woolly’s artistic director Howard Shalwitz has emerged as one of Daisey’s staunchest defenders, despite voicing concerns about Daisey’s “deception.”

Daisey is sure to revise the work for these script-free, always-changing performances. But independent theatre artists who downloaded that free transcript in February with plans to perform the play themselves are doing their own revisions, like hackers recoding their favorite apps. Cody Daigle of Acting Unlimited Inc. in Lafayette, La., whose first performances of Agony took place the weekend after the “American Life” retraction episode, had to scramble to keep up with events as they unfolded.

“We had 24 hours, basically, to respond,” said Daigle. What he did over four performances was to reshape the show into two parts—the first a trimmed-down version of Daisey’s transcript, the second a mix of material from news reports about the fact-checking controversy, including a performance of part of the uncomfortable on-air face-off between Daisey and “American Life” host Ira Glass.

Eric Seale, artistic director of Actors Guild of Lexington in Kentucky, plans a similar approach with his May 10–20 performance. “At some point in the play, I would just drop the pretense that I’m Mike, and I would then speak as me,” said Seale. “I would tell the story of the controversy and explain why we felt it was important to go ahead with the piece anyway.”

Why, indeed? As Daisey and others have pointed out, he hardly needed to embellish the facts about U.S. consumers’ beloved electronics products, which are made under often onerous, life-threatening conditions abroad. Seale, like Daisey a chastened Apple “fanboy,” worries that “because Mike got a few details wrong, people will think everything is now hunky-dory, and there’s no problem in China or Brazil or anywhere our stuff is made. That attitude really bothers me, and that’s why we’re doing the show.”

Courtney McLean, whose Hacktor’s Collective will stage a similarly revised and remixed six-actor reading on April 13 at the Hack Factory, put it this way to the Huffington Post: “The bottom line is that we should all consider the entire lifespan of our purchases, from the hands that put the gadget together to the moment we unwrap it in our homes.”

For his part, Louisana’s Daigle marveled at Daisey’s “open source” tactics. “The way he’s released the script for other people to perform, but also tell their own stories around it, is very serendipitous. It ensures that this piece won’t disappear. Now you can make it the beginning of a conversation rather than the end result.”

MacLean agreed. “Daisey is asking us to think about where our devices come from, and now we, as audience and producers and fans, are being asked to think about where our theatrical pieces are coming from.” —Rob Weinert-Kendt

2-Way Time Machine for 60 Teens

NEW YORK CITY: Representatives of 30 regional theatres will convene in New York City this June to celebrate, but not one of them will be old enough to drink. The event is the fourth annual National High School Musical Theater Awards, known as the “Jimmys,” in honor of the awards’ sponsor, legendary Broadway theatre owner James M. Nederlander.

To qualify, more than 54,000 students from more than 1,000 high schools nationwide compete in regional awards program. One actor and one actress is selected by each participating regional theatre; they are then sent to New York to study, rehearse and perform in the awards ceremony, to be held this year at the Minskoff Theatre on June 25.

The 60 students will spend five days at New York University, attending seminars with Broadway veterans such as Tony winners Len Cariou and Sutton Foster, and culminating in a performance like no other. Audiences at last year’s ceremony delighted at the sight of five thoroughly competitive modern Millies, as well as the unique chance to witness a pair of Finches perform “The Brotherhood of Man” from How to Succeed in Business…, backed by two Bakers from Into the Woods, two Curlys from Oklahoma! and four Tevyes from Fiddler on the Roof.

Watching the show is “like a time machine that brings you back,” says Van Kaplan, executive producer of Pittsburgh CLO and president of the Jimmys. In partnership with the Nederlanders Alliances, Kaplan spearheaded the program, which is modeled on Pittsburgh’s Gene Kelly Awards for excellence in high school musical theatre. Since the inception of the Kelly Awards in 1991, 29 other theatres have begun to sponsor competitions, from the Rising Star Awards at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey to the Globe Honors at the Old Globe in San Diego, Calif.

Participating organizations report that the competitions haven’t just created opportunities and raised the bar for young thespians, but have benefited their local communities. “There’s never a question of spending money on football helmets,” says Kaplan, “but now the increased visibility the awards bring is causing local school districts to invest more money in arts programs.”Participation also cements a relationship between young audiences and regional theatres. Unlike the Kelly Awards, in which judges visit participating schools to see the shows, the Old Globe has students audition at the theatre itself, just like the pros. According to Roberta Wells-Famula, the Globe’s director of education, the Jimmys are “helping to build the future of American theatre.” One Finch and Tevye at a time. —Marc Acito

Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. Please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!

ADV – Billboard