ADV – Leaderboard

The cast of Smoke & Mirrors' "Black History Museum."

Small Is Beautiful

We asked leaders at some of the nation’s small theatre companies which shows, both large and small, they were most looking forward to in the coming season.

MEGAN CARNEY, artistic director, About Face Theatre, Chicago
Chicago is known for an incredible ecosystem of smaller theatres, and part of the beauty of the community is the way big vision and impact emerge in small spaces. I’m excited about Haven Chicago’s upcoming season, especially the winter production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, directed by their new artistic director, Ian Damont Martin. Haven is known for creating dynamic environmental pieces, and I’m so looking forward to seeing Ian’s vision come to life around this massive play. First Floor Theatre is headed into their eighth season with a great lineup; I’m especially looking forward to Hutch Pimentel’s production of The Juniors by Noah Diaz—a teenage world turned upside down. It seems like a perfect match for Pimentel’s experimental sensibility and high craft with dark pop fantasia. And look out for Sideshow’s production of Pro-Am, written by Brynne Frauenhoffer and directed by Regina Victor. This play, set in the professional-amateur porn scene of Miami, knocked me out when I read it.  It’s part exposé, part revolution. I think this team is going to be stirring up some great conversation.

Amanda Robles, Jennifer Paredes, Natalie Camunas, Crissy Guerrero, and Heather Velazquez in “American Mariachi” at the Old Globe Theatre, produced in association with Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company. (Photo by Jim Cox)

ARMANDO MOLINA, artistic director, Company of Angels, Los Angeles
This year I’ve been following Lisa Loomer and José Cruz González. I’m particularly interested in theatre that speaks to our times and reflects questions and issues that aren’t seen on many American stages. José’s play American Mariachi will be seen at South Coast Repertory and the Goodman this fall. It’s the story of an all-female mariachi band in an all-male music world. And Lisa’s play Roe will be seen in 2020 at the Goodman, but also at ZACH Theatre in Austin. Both plays are set in the ’70s but have dynamic relevance to today’s America. Here in Los Angeles, I’m also a big fan of Playwrights Arena, whose work complements what we do at Company of Angels.

REBECCA AYRES, managing director, Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company, Houston
I’m not super familiar with a lot of theatres outside of Houston, but I’ve always admired HERE in NYC. This year I’m especially excited about Looking at You and Black History Museum, and might make the trip up to see them if my friend will let me crash on his couch. I really like art that confronts issues in society, because otherwise what’s the point? Closer to home, I’ve liked Rude Mechs in Austin since seeing Get Your War On in 2003 or ’4. I don’t know what they’re doing this year but their philosophy against the ideology of scarcity and supporting the arts community is really awesome.

Eric McKeever, Mikki Sodergren, Paul An, and Adrienne Danrich in “Looking at You” at HERE. (Photo by Paula Court)

A.S. FREEMAN, artistic director, Ozark Actors Theatre, Rolla, Mo.
This coming season, I am most excited for the work I’m going to see at Upstream Theater in St. Louis. Upstream is a company that focuses on newly translated American premieres, though that isn’t all they do, and it is run by a gentleman named Phillip Boehm. Over the last 15 seasons, they’ve built a collection of artists and a particular aesthetic that is entirely unique and deeply moving. Within the very cool and varied St. Louis small professional theatre scene, they’re doing the kind of work I would never expect to find outside of New York City or London, and doing it as well as any of the companies located in those major theatrical centers. They’re truly artists first, to the point that even now I still can’t look up what they’re doing this season because they haven’t updated their website. But I know they have things in the works and I’m thrilled about whatever they are.

KATHLEEN A. CULEBRO, artistic director, Amphibian Stage, Fort Worth, Texas
Wherever I go I look for the smaller companies, where they’re less likely to do the things I’ve already seen on and Off-Broadway. Last year during a short vacation in Denver I stumbled across Curious Theatre Company and saw an outstanding production of Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morrisseau, so now they’re on my radar. I’m also a huge fan of a tiny theatre in Cape Cod called Harbor Stage: They produce classics in a way that makes them feel contemporary and vital to our current discourse. In the 2019-20 season, among my peers in the DFW area, a young local playwright, Jonathan Norton, is already making a splash on the national scene, so I absolutely won’t miss his A Love Offering at Kitchen Dog, which consistently turns out brave, original, moving work. Undermain Theatre is also a favorite of audiences who love to think and explore new ideas. If they tackle an Adrienne Kennedy play, I know they will do a great job; her new adaptation of Madame Bovary is already on my calendar. And Cara Mía Theatre and Soul Rep are coproducing Dael Orlandersmith’s My Red Hand My Black Hand, which sounds right up my alley. And that’s just the beginning of the list.

Ariana Cook, managing director, Cara Mía Theatre, Dallas
I am always interested theatre highlighting the mixed-identity experience. Right in my own backyard I am excited to catch Loving and Loving by Beto O’Byrne, developed with Meropi Peponides at Bishop Arts Theater, about the historic Supreme Court Case Loving vs. Virginia. Similarly, DNAWORKS in Fort Worth always programs with mixed identity in mind and has recently been named a 2019 MAP Fund recipient for their upcoming mixed-media project, The Secret Sharer. With a beta public performance scheduled for June, I think the play will prove to be transformative as it encourages audience co-creation for this piece about LGBTQQIAA+ youth suicides. DNAWORKS will also be touring The Real James Bond…Was Dominican next spring, and I can’t wait to catch that. Another local company that crafts story through community building, Artstillery in Dallas, will present Generations of Adam, about various forms of trauma, this fall. Last year’s immersive Dirty Turk, about the immigrant experience, was phenomenal, so I am excited to experience Generations of Adam on opening night.

Tia James, and Pete McElligott in
Loving and Loving at the Harold Clurman Lab
Theater and Radical Evolution. (Photo by Kenneth Shook)

Jay Mcadams, executive director, 24th Street Theatre, Los Angeles
I’m excited about the world premiere at L.A.’s Sacred Fools Theater of the musical Deadly, book and lyrics by Vanessa Claire Stewart, music by Ryan Thomas Johnson, directed by Jaime Robledo. It centers around the “murder hotel” of America’s first documented serial killer, H.H. Holmes, whom I first read about in The Devil in the White City. It’s an absolutely fascinating story. Though I’m sure a mass murderer in a period suit will seem somewhat quaint in today’s post-“Dexter” world, I anticipate it will be artfully presented by this experienced team of theatremakers. I’m also excited about the Coterie Theatre’s coming co-production with the University of Missouri Kansas City Theatre of The White Rose: We Defied Hitler by David Meyers, directed by Jeff Church. The Coterie does some of the most daring theatre for young audiences in the country, and this show is about a German college student who led the only act of truly public resistance to the Nazis during the Second World War, which for obvious reasons is very relevant today. I’m really excited to see how Coterie will frame this story for young audiences.

Alex Levy, artistic director, 1st Stage, Tysons, Va.
There’s always so much great work out there it’s hard to choose just a few. Boston Court in Pasadena always has exciting, intimate theatre that stays with you long after the lights come up, and I am so excited that they are producing the world premiere of E.M. Lewis’ How the Light Gets In. Lifeline Theatre in Chicago has been an amazing institution for almost 40 years, and I am especially excited to see Ilesa Duncan and David Barr’s adaptation of Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage. And I have been fortunate to watch Roxie Perkins create art since she was an undergrad at UCLA, so I never had any doubt that she would be an important artist. But even I didn’t know how fast it would happen: Coming off writing the libretto for this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, Prism, Roxie has partnered with Alexa Derman for the premiere of Cutting Ball’s Ways to Leave a Body in San Francisco. Much closer to home, Raymond O. Caldwell has taken the reigns of Theater Alliance in the Anacostia neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Raymond’s vision ensures that the theatre will continue to be a public square that brings our community together for important conversations and social action. I can’t wait to see Raymond partnering with one of Washington’s most exciting artists, Psalmayene 24, to premiere the hip-hop musical The Blackest Battle.

The cast of “The Blackest Battle” in rehearsal at Theater Alliance. (Photo by Natalie Graces Tucker)

Gemma Whelan, artistic director, Corrib Theatre, Portland, Ore.
Any play by Annie Baker is a treat; I’m really looking forward to The Antipodes at Shaking the TreeCoHo Productions is teaming up with Theatre Diaspora to produce The Brothers Paranormal by Prince Gomolvilas. It’s exciting to watch the diversification of theatre and representation across Portland theatres large and small. Profile Theatre’s exciting season, juxtaposing work by Paula Vogel, Lynn Nottage, and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, promises to be electric. These playwrights are exemplary in their own right—we love the idea of programming them in a two-year conversation with each other and seeing what sparks fly. And Milagro’s The Corrido of the San Patricios by Beto O’Byrne is about Irish soldiers who defected from the U.S. army to fight on the Mexican side during the Mexican-American War. Corrib is a collaborator on the project, and we’re excited to dip into this story, well known in Ireland and Mexico, but not so much in the U.S.

Erika Cuenca, associate artistic director, Off the Wall Productions, Carnegie, Pa.
This upcoming season in Pittsburgh, I’m really excited about the newest immersive work from Bricolage Production Company, Project Amelia: Take Control, conceived by Michael Skirpan and created by Bricolage in partnership with Probable Models. Bricolage’s immersive works have been incredibly satisfying audience experiences. When I think back on productions I’ve been able to attend, it isn’t just about remembering the story and the great work—it feels like reflecting on a personal life event. It is theatre that expands and resonates.

Michelle Mulholland, managing director, Golden Thread Productions, San Francisco
Productions at small theatres are a heroic feat! To survive, small theatres have to make the most of their resources. It takes a village. In fact, sometimes it takes two villages. Crowded Fire is one of the great small theatres in San Francisco and one of the best at producing collaborative projects. I may be a bit biased, as their next season includes a co-production with us, the world premiere of At the Periphery by Sedef Ecer, a magical tale of migrants in Istanbul’s gecekondu neighborhoods looking for hope and home against all odds. They are also producing Isaac Gomez’s The Displaced, a gentrification horror story directed by Crowded Fire artistic director Mina Morita. And a number of Bay Area artistic directors have recently taken on leadership at national theatres: I am excited that Lily Tung Crystal will be at Theater Mu in St. Paul, Minn., and that their next season will include a co-production of Lauren Yee’s Cambodian Rock Band with the Jungle Theater, which features the groovy surf stylings of Dengue Fever! When theatre and rock ‘n’ roll get together, that’s my sweet spot. And I always love to see new work by playwrights we know at Golden Thread, like Nahal Navidar, who was featured in our ReOrient 2015 Festival of Short Plays. Silk Road Rising will be producing the world premiere of Navidar’s My Dear Hussein, the surrealistic tale of a four-year-old Iranian girl amid the carnage of war.

Joe Ngo, Brooke Ishibashi, Abraham Kim, Jane Lui, and Moses Villarama in
“Cambodian Rock Band” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. (Photo by Jenny Graham)

Philip Lehl, co-artistic director, 4th Wall Theatre Company, Houston
I’m most looking forward to the entire season at Rec Room, right here in Houston. Their artistic director, Matt Hune, has chosen a season of plays made up of titles we wish we’d produced. Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children leads off the season, Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves closes it, and in between is the first Houston production of any play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (Appropriate). We’ve been fans of Jacobs-Jenkins at our theatre for quite a while now, but every time we get close to programming one of his plays, we get defeated somehow (size of cast or rights availability being the culprits). Hune is also moonlighting, directing Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses at our place, and I’m really looking forward to that too!

Mary Kate Burke, artistic director, and Ella Wrenn, managing director, Cape Fear Regional Theatre, Fayetteville, N.C.
We are excited by the 2019-20 season of the Justice Theater Project in Raleigh, N.C., whose vision is to “connect, inspire, and impact our community through engaging performing arts outreach, education, and advocacy.” They have themed their upcoming season From Monologue to Dialogue, a poignant theme as we approach 2020 and all it entails for American politics. The season will float through a number of different spaces, including a church, two universities, and an art museum. Of their six-show season, we are especially excited about Inherit the Wind, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, and the closer, the Gershwins’ Of Thee I Sing. These shows promise vibrant entertainment as well as huge opportunity for community conversation and growth—two elements of theatre at its richest and most effective.

Anna Johnson, artistic and managing director, Cadence Theatre Company, Richmond, Va.
My all-time favorite small theatre is Company of Fools, located in the mountains of Hailey, Idaho. I lived in Idaho for 13 years and worked with their company as an actress. They embrace an organic and collaborative process for creating work and choose stories and educational programs which inspire people and speak to the heart. Cadence wouldn’t exist today without the leadership and artists from Company of Fools guiding us and supporting us along the way.

“Bright Half Life” by Tanya Barfield, at Company of Fools in 2017. Pictured: Liz Morgan and Sophie Hassett.

Rob Neill, artistic director, New York Neo-Futurists
I am really excited to see what happens this season at the Brick in Brooklyn, now that Theresa Buchheister is taking over that dynamic space. I am always fascinated and captivated by the ensemble-devised work the Assembly, 600 Highwaymen, and the TEAM create. I look forward to Ma-Yi’s upcoming new musical, Felix Starro, and what New Georges, Play Co., Waterwell, and the Mad Ones do next. I also believe that the Debate Society is developing Buddy Cop 6, which I will run to; they create such beautifully quirky worlds rooted in realism. The scale and physicality of the work that Pig Iron does fascinates me, and I am going to try to get to Philly to see Subterranean. In Chicago, in addition to what the Neo-Futurists there are doing, I love the energy and originality in the work of Oobleck, Strawdog, and A Red Orchid. And I hope to catch what new and fun is cooking at Sacred Fools when I next go to L.A.

Laurie McCants, ensemble member, Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, Bloomsburg, Pa.
I intend to experience the work of theatres whose communities are far more diverse than mine—travels I hope to take not only as a theatre artist, but also as an American citizen. The Water Project is an ongoing exchange between Tucson’s Borderlands and Cleveland Public Theatre, exploring the questions connecting them, as embodied in their two rivers. The piece has had one site-specific performance so far, in the Santa Cruz’s riverbed. Further workshops along the Cuyahoga are promised; I hope to catch one. Freedom Rider, set in 1961, is the story of young people, both Black and white, who embark on a journey that still reverberates in our nation’s struggle for social justice. This world premiere at Crossroads Theatre Company in New Jersey is being created by a terrific team: Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, Murray Horwitz, Nathan Louis Jackson, Ricardo Khan, and Nikkole Salter. What Do the Women Say: Roots & Reflections is Golden Thread’s annual celebration of International Women’s Day, showcasing the work of leading Middle Eastern women artists at the crossroads of tradition and experimentation. And Bones, Bingo, and Blackjack is the theme of Native Voices at the Autry’s 9th Annual Short Play Festival of works by Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and First Nations playwrights.

Bari Newport, producing artistic director, Penobscot Theatre Company, Bangor, Maine
I have a deep affection for the many vibrant, distinctive, exhilarating small theatre companies in Atlanta—Horizon and Actor’s Express being two which are absolutely beloved to me. But I’d like to bring attention to Theatrical Outfit and their world premiere production of Daryl Lisa Fazio’s Safety Net. This play was first brought to my attention by a colleague at Florida Repertory Theatre, where it was recently part of the Rep’s PlayLab development series. It’s the story of a female fire captain in a small Southern town that is at war with opioids. As her spitfire of a mother tries to conjure stability with bundt cakes and Bible verses, a friend from the past drifts back into their lives and each woman finds herself at a tipping point between what is safe and what saves. This new work is obviously provocative and timely for communities all over the country. Penobscot will stage its second production next March, and both productions will star the playwright Daryl Lisa Fazio.

A reading of “Safety Net” at Florida Repertory Theatre’s 2019 PlayLab Festival. (Photo by Joseph Dafeldecker)

Moe Yousuf, associate artistic director, Target Margin Theater, New York City
One thing that’s been on my mind since I saw a work-in-progress showing is Zoey Martinson’s The Black History Museum… According to the United States of America, which premieres at HERE this fall. I love the programming at HERE, which is always innovative and prescient in the most challenging ways. I love that every season I look at the artists whose work HERE is presenting and I go, “Who the fuck is that? I’ve never heard of this person. How come I’ve never heard of them? I have to go!” It’s like everyone is looking in one direction and Kristin Marting, HERE’s artistic director, is looking in another. So when I get bored or tired or cynical or just want to give up, I go see something at HERE.

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ADV – Billboard