In 1997 I did a one man play about a drunken Irish theatre critic at the Bush theater in London. St Nicholas! Written by Conor McPherson, which I subsequently performed the following year at Primary Stages in New York on 45th street, and for which I was honored with ‘The Lucille Lortel Award’!
But the previous year the play was premiered at the Bush Theatre in London. The Bush was a small intimate theatre with the audience on three sides. This particular night was a sellout performance. The audience were packed to the rafters.
Now St Nicholas is an extremely intricate complicated and fantastical text. With a sinewy comic thread! It demands an incredible level of Concentrated attention from the player. That evening started well.
But…About 6 minutes into the evening I noticed that sitting on front row…in…the middle…to my right was my ex girlfriend. Who I had recently broken up with. I was a little thrown by this …and wondered why on earth she had chosen that particular, really, quite prominent, seat.
I recovered from this slight ‘hiccup’ and continued, feeling proud of myself that I was not thrown by this ‘obstacle’. So I proceeded with renewed confidence.
After a few minutes, I’d just gotten back in stride when I turned to address my audience stage left and there sitting…in the middle of the left front row was…my ex ex girlfriend. The girl friend previous…to the girl friend…now sitting stage right. In fact these two young ladies were actually sitting…facing…each other. I didn’t panic… but, my anxiety…was, shall we say…mounting.
What on earth was going on? And of course various scenarios began to play out in my mind!
Had they come together?
And as some bizarre joke decided to sit opposite each other?
Or??….were they there by pure coincidence?
My brain became occupied with, what seemed endless permutations on these shifting scenarios. The text of the play, the main purpose of my attention, was drifting in my consciousness. And..ten minutes into the evening….the inevitable happened. I went up! Dried stone dead.
I struggled like a drowning man seeking a life raft. But after..a beat..which seemed a lifetime. I stopped turned to the audience, and said “Ladies and Gentlemen I’m afraid for reasons I can’t entirely explain, I need to start the evening over again! Apologies!” And so indeed I did…and it was truly scary!
“Will I get over the point where concentration abandoned me.”
And…”Will I indeed get through the entire evening….”
The moment where I had lost my way, was looming like one of those huge fences at the English Grand national horse race. Would I get over the fence? The moment arrived… and I lept the fence.. and..proceeded obsessively to the finish. After it was over, I left the stage exhausted!
I sat in my dressing room. There was a knock on my door. It was my ex-girlfriend. “Brian that was wonderful, what an incredible evening.” I was about to answer when there was another knock at the door. Enter my ex-ex-girlfriend “Brian that was wonderful, what an amaz….Oh hello, blank!
I was about to answer when there was another knock at the door. Enter my ex-ex-girlfriend “Brian that was wonderful, what an amaz….Oh hello, blank! Were you in?”
Ex-girl friend, “Yes, were you, wasn’t it wonderful
I sat there in a state of stupefaction! Me “But weren’t you?… didn’t you? ..Um..ah…see..?”
Ex girlfriend “ I was absolutely caught from the moment you came on!
I had been a member of Actor’s Equity for over a decade before making my Broadway debut. The opportunity finally arose in 1995 with a revival of Philip Barry’s Holiday, directed by David Warren at the Circle in the Square. Laura Linney played Linda Seton opposite my Johnny Case. Also in the cast were Reg Rogers as Ned Seton and Kim Raver as Julia Seton. From the first day of rehearsal, I was in a state of euphoria. I had done a number of plays Off-Broadway, as well as in regional theater. But Broadway really did feel different.
Unlike most kids who grow up in Los Angeles, my parents took me to the theater a lot and I can recite every show I ever saw — don’t worry, I won’t. My first was Fiddler on the Roof with Zero Mostel. I was 4 years old and spent most of the play under my seat convinced that the ghost of Golde’s grandmother Tzeitel would reappear to pluck me out of the audience. Despite my terror, I was hooked.
David Warren’s production of Holiday was excellent and, from what I was told, received rave notices. I learned early on in my career to avoid reading reviews like the plague — which is exactly how I view them. Reviews are totally debilitating to an actor. Read a bad one and you can quote it word for word until the day you die. Read a good one and your performance is forever cursed with a voice in your brain saying, “Oh, this is the bit they liked.” I find it much healthier to glean a general “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” from the degree of elation or awkwardness on everyone’s faces the day after Opening Night.
During the run of Holiday, I will admit to a bit of a hitch in my “critical discipline.” One night, a couple of old friends who were not in the business came to see the show. As we walked to grab a late bite at B. Smith, one of them said, “How do you handle bad reviews?” “I don’t read them.” “Yeah, but what about the really bad ones?” Gulp. She didn’t stop there. “Like the one in New York Magazine?” Apparently, the raves were not unanimous. Another life lesson: they never are. John Simon, the legendary chief critic for New YorkMagazine, was universally loathed in the theater community for his viciously clever eviscerations of actors, invidiously centering on references to their physical attributes — or lack thereof. My first stop after supper was the late night newsstand on 8th Avenue to rip through the current issue of New York. I had to laugh out loud when I saw that Laura Linney was a “goddess” (which she is) but that “Tony Goldwyn with his raw, somehow unfinished face, was sadly miscast in the role of Johnny Case.” I have no idea what a “raw, somehow unfinished face” actually is. But that’s what I looked like to Mr. Simon. Like I said, you remember ever word of the bad ones.
John Simon’s snark notwithstanding, the run of Holiday was pure joy. Laura, of course, was magic and so was Kim in her New York debut. Reg Rogers gave a hilarious and heartbreaking performance as their alcoholic brother, Ned.
One night about three months into the run, Reg and I were doing one of our favorite scenes. The entire second act of the play is set in the attic gymnasium of the Seton mansion. My character, Johnny, never leaves the stage while the others enter and exit in rapid-fire succession. We had played the scene a hundred times but, as can happen to the best of us, my mind inexplicably went blank. In theater parlance, I “went up.” Badly. Pace is everything in a Philip Barry play, so my brain freeze gave me the sensation of being shoved off a cliff. Fortunately, what seemed like five minutes probably lasted less than five seconds. Reg saw the panic in my face and looked at me like, “Don’t worry, I got you.” The calm confidence in his eyes somehow coaxed the words to start firing out of my mouth again, as Mr. Barry had written them.
Crisis averted. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, the body has some unpredictable reactions to stress; one of them is commonly known as a “flop sweat.” Not a pleasant experience for an actor decked out in white tie and tails. About thirty seconds after getting the train back on the rails, a surge of heat flooded my face and my fancy suit was instantly drenched in sweat. As each new actor entered the stage, I watched their faces go from puzzled to concerned to horrified. When the lights came down at the end of the act, I descended through a trap door in the stage to the basement below, where the entire company was gathered, along with two paramedics ready to wheel me into an ambulance. Everyone thought I’d had a heart attack. The EMT’s made me lie down on a stretcher and it was no small task to convince them that the only thing I needed was a change of clothes.
The moment that changed my life: I was working with Kathy Borowitz (Wonderful actress and married to John Tuturro) in a patisserie on 72nd and Columbus- I think there’s a sock shop there now. I had just graduated from Northwestern and was trying a summer out in New York. She had just graduated from Yale Drama School. She was so lovely and funny. She would practice her French accent on our customers. She was also rehearsing Cloud 9 down at the public. ( She was amazing).
I had only known of one person who had gone to Yale Drama School… Meryl Streep. To me, the idea of going there was a star that was so out of my reach. Meeting Kathy made me realize that a regular actress like myself could reach for that star. She encouraged me and helped me believe in myself. I auditioned…and I got in! It was the first step to believing in myself and seeing myself succeed and that moment changed my life forever!
(New York, NY) Armie Hammer has withdrawn from the production of The Minutes for personal reasons.
“I have loved every single second of working on The Minutes with the family I made from Steppenwolf. But right now I need to focus on myself and my health for the sake of my family. Consequently, I will not be returning to Broadway with the production.” – Armie Hammer
“Armie remains a valued colleague to all of us who have worked with him onstage and offstage on The Minutes. We wish only the best for him and respect his decision.” – A statement from The Minutes
As previously announced, Steppenwolf’s production of The Minutes by Tracy Letts, directed by Anna D. Shapiro, will return to Broadway in the 2021-2022 season.
In 1990, the year that Anna Campbell would have first performed her protest piece, “Naked Wilson,” at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the word intersectionality was not yet in common usage. The idea that individual bodies can collide with multiple, often overlapping forms of oppression simply because of their race, gender, and sexual identities was not widely acknowledged or understood. For African American women like me, hoping to craft careers in the American theatre, the work of August Wilson presented a special challenge by forcing considerations of race and gender to be viewed exclusively through a passionate and undeniably black male lens. Many late-night sessions examined and reexamined the plays hoping they would reveal themselves to be love letters if we could just break the code. “Naked Wilson” would certainly have been part of those conversations.
Pearl Cleage is an Atlanta-based writer whose works include three novels, What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day (Avon Books, 1997), I Wish I Had A Red Dress (Morrow/Avon, 2001), and Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, (Ballantine/One World, August, 2003); a dozen plays, including Flyin’ West, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Hospice and Bourbon at the Border; two books of essays, Mad at Miles: A Blackwoman’s Guide to Truth and Deals With the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot; and a book of short fiction, The Brass Bed and Other Stories (Third World Press). She is also a performance artist, collaborating frequently with her husband, Zaron W. Burnett, Jr., under the title Live at Club Zebra. The two have performed sold out shows at both the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and The National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, Georgia.
She is a frequent contributor to anthologies and has been featured recently in Proverbs for the People, Contemporary African American Fiction , edited by Tracy Price-Thompson and TaRessa Stovall and in Mending theWorld, Stories of Family by Contemporary Black Writers, edited by Rosemarie Robotham.
I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of press about The Thanksgiving Play over the past few years as it became one of the most produced plays in America. So, if you want to know the origin story of the play, please google it. There are many radio, TV and printed interviews where I have answered those questions. This production is different.
I have barely done any theater since Covid shut down our field. I’m fortunate that I also have a career in film and TV that, although significantly slowed, kept me employed over the past year. As the theater field put things online, I happily gave permission for folks to do this play on zoom and other virtual venues. I showed up at a few rehearsals and the talk backs were supportive and enthusiastic. But the truth is, I didn’t watch any of those productions. Not one. I have not admitted that before now. The truth is, I was too heartbroken to watch.
Although I didn’t start in theater, I did start on stage. I love performing, I love watching performances, I love being in a room with people working to touch hearts and change minds. I am a social introvert but put me on a stage, no matter how large or small, and it immediately feels like home. When I tried to do theater work on zoom, I would leave the session more depressed than before I started. I deiced I just wasn’t going to do it. I would do my privileged writing work and wait out the pandemic until my field returned.
Then I got a call from Jeffrey Richards with the opportunity to support one of my favorite organizations, The Actors Fund. I said yes, but I planned to keep my distance and protect my broken heart. However, Jeffrey isn’t a guy who lets you sit on the sidelines. He was calling me for ideas of directors, actors, collaborators. We landed on Leigh Silverman, a director I had only met briefly but admired for a long time. I then tried to pass all decisions on to her, but Leigh is exactly my kind of director, collaborative and fun. Before I knew it I was sucked further in.
Then a Covid miracle happened, Leigh and I zoomed with the delightful Keanu Reeves and he agreed to play Caden. (My teen self was more star struck than I knew I could be, while my professional self tried desperately to keep it together.) Keanu asked me if I’d consider re-setting the entire play on zoom. He immediately started playing zoom ideas for Caden. I burst out laughing and suddenly I was completely on board.
Before I knew it my assistant and I were going word by word through the script, coming up with small but significant changes to place these four familiar characters in a whole new world, so that the audience could be immersed with them instead of having to pretend we weren’t on screen.
The rest of the dream cast fell into place quickly and once again, I was in love. In love with the process, in love with the raw bravery of actors, in love with how designers make everything from nothing, in love with directors’ ability to see everything at once, in love with the awkwardness of zoom (When Heidi lost her internet I got to rehearse a scene with Keanu and Bobby!), in love with theater and the way it can make us laugh and cry and rage and change all in a few moments of time.
I didn’t know it could happen so fast, but this process began to heal my broken heart. Like always, when you watch this play I hope you laugh and enjoy yourself and question everything you thought you knew. I also know that in the past year, lives were lost and changed and we will never be the same, but now that we are on the cusp of recovery for our field, I hope that this wild zoom play at this moment in time will help you start to heal too. I’ll see you online, and then, soon, I’ll see you back in the theater.
Your access code for each play will be sent to the email registered with your Stellar account shortly before each premiere. You must be logged into the Stellar account that you used to purchase your ticket in order to view.
How can I watch the Spotlight on Plays presentations?
The Spring Season is available to stream exclusively on Stellar Tickets. You can watch in several different ways:
Desktop or Laptop Browser: Stellar streams work on most browsers on both Mac and PC computers. We recommend Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox for the best viewing experience. To view on a browser, just come to this page at the event time and select “Livestream” to start the stream.
Mobile Browser: Viewing on a mobile browser works the same as viewing on a desktop browser. Just come to this page at the event time and select “Livestream” to start the stream.
Stellar Tickets Mobile Apps: You can download the Stellar Tickets app for iOS or Android to watch your stream on your mobile device.
How can I watch it on my television?
Download the Stellar app to view the presentation on a TV:
Each Spotlight on Play presentation will be available for 96 hours following the initial premiere time of 8:00PM Eastern Time. You are able to watch the show at any time during this window. Please note that on-demand access will not become available until after the live event has fully streamed. If you miss the premiere, the on-demand video will become available a few hours following the event. Once the time frame expires, there will be no encore performances and the presentation will be unavailable for streaming.
If I’m not able to watch the premiere, can I see it later?
Yes! Each title will be available for 96 hours following the initial premiere time. You must watch the show before this time frame expires.Once the time frame expires, there will be no encore performances and the presentation will be unavailable for streaming.
I purchased multiple tickets. How do I transfer the additional tickets to my friends?
Tickets can be transfered by accessing “My Tickets” in your Stellar Tickets account. Then, click on the event page you’d like to access and scroll down to where it says “Your Tickets.” You will see “Transfer ticket” on the right side of the screen. From there, you can select the ticket you want to transfer and type in the email address of the new recipient. They will receive an email from Stellar Tickets, which may go to their promotions folder on Gmail.
How long is each show?
Run times vary between 90 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes. Longer presentations will include a brief intermission.
Can I watch outside of the US?
Yes, you are able to watch outside of the US.
What is the refund/exchange policy?
There are no exchanges or refunds for the Spotlight on Plays Spring Season. This is a series of charitable benefit performances and we greatly appreciate your generous contribution to The Actors Fund.
How is this benefitting The Actors Fund?
Founded in 1882, The Actors Fund serves all professionals—and not just actors—in film, theater, television, music, opera, radio and dance through programs that address our community’s unique and essential needs.
Your generous donation to The Actors Fund will help provide everyone in the performing arts and entertainment community with emergency financial assistance, affordable housing, health insurance counseling, supplemental employment, addiction and recovery services and so much more.
Will these readings be captioned?
Yes, there will be an option to turn on subtitles.
If my whole family wants to watch the presentation, do we each need our own ticket?
No, only one livestream ticket is needed per household, not per individual.
March is Women’s History Month and it is a time when women who paved the way are recognized for their accomplishments. Dessie Moynihan is the perfect person to recognize as she changed the face of senior management at the Shubert Organization in 2006 when she became the first woman to be named a vice president. “I’ve seen Shubert grow from a very private company that had been family run to a multifaceted corporate organization. As time went on there was another female vice president appointed–in Human Resources–and in the past 5 years a number of women have risen to the director level, which is really great. I see a change in the world and I see a change at the company. Leadership has embraced it, so it’s not as singular as it once was,” Moynihan explained.
Reflecting on her responsibilities as Vice President of Creative Projects, Moynihan stated, “My department looks for material for Shubert to produce, invest in and book into our theatres. Part of that is putting money into plays and musicals that other people are producing. Part is thinking about what should go into our Broadway houses. Part of it—the really fun part—is being in a project from the very beginning and seeing it through to opening. Right now with Neil Meron we’re developing the new musical ‘Some Like It Hot’ by Matthew López, Amber Ruffin, Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman, directed & choregraphed by Casey Nicholaw. It’s been a delight. And I’m lucky enough to work with Bob Wankel, our Chairman and CEO, on both bookings and productions.”
Breaking down the booking process, Moynihan explained, “We keep up with what is going on in theatre in New York, across the country and around the world. We go to London to have meetings and see shows. Most of my interaction is with the producer. He or she will say, ‘I have this new musical, I’m doing a reading and I’d love for you to come see it and give us a theatre.’ There’s a long list of productions that want to play Broadway but the list of available theatres is short and has been for several years. It’s complicated by the fact that some shows have been quite successful and they take their theatre ‘off the market’ for a long time: ‘Phantom of the Opera’ has been playing for over 30 years, ‘Chicago’ over 20, and there are several other long-runners. In our smaller theatres we tend to book limited-engagement plays. If we know a show will run for 16 weeks, we can book a second show for the same season. Overall it’s a complicated puzzle with many factors, including making sure we have our houses lit, that we give new producers a chance and that we host a diverse range of material and voices.”
The Shubert Organization owns and operates 17 Broadway theatres, but its profits go the Shubert Foundation, a charitable organization. Since its establishment in 1977, the Foundation has awarded over $505 million to not-for-profit theatres, dance companies, educational institutions and arts-related organizations throughout the United States. Last year, $32 million was awarded to 560 performing arts organizations. “One of our priorities at the Shubert Organization is to ensure that we can contribute to the fantastic work the Foundation is doing, especially in this time when so many non-profit companies will be in such dire straits.”
The pandemic has definitely affected Moynihan’s work. “Every company, every person in the industry has been impacted by this. Shubert’s income was drastically reduced. We own Telecharge, but for the past year very few people have been buying tickets. We had to make severe cuts. My routine is very different. Not being able to go to readings, workshops and productions has been difficult. I watch things online, but it’s just not the same experience. I check in with producers to see if their plans have changed and how their shows are progressing. With our own projects, like ‘Some Like It Hot,’ we are proceeding with the development process.
The focus for everyone right now is the future,” Moynihan remarked. “Communication with our audience is going to be even more important. New Yorkers will be there right at the start, then domestic tourists and then international travelers. It’s impossible to predict exactly what people will want to see when this is over. But I think it will need to make a statement, to speak to the truth of being a human being or to be terrific entertainment. Hopefully there are shows that do all those things! I think that’s what people are craving–to be moved, to laugh, to be brought to tears.”
“The thing that’s great about Broadway is that it really is a community. Even though there is competition among producers and creatives, there is a feeling, especially with the Broadway League, that we’re all in this together. I’m hoping that when we relaunch, there is going to be a burst of excitement and we can get back onto the regular Broadway season with the Tony Awards in June. Having been through this weird year, everyone is feeling, yes, there is a way forward,” Moynihan declared.
Moynihan’s path to where she is today was an interesting one. While growing up in Manchester, New Hampshire she didn’t get bitten by the theatre bug until she was a member of the Drama Club in High School. Her theatre teacher told her if she wanted to do theatre, she needed to go to Hunter College in New York City. She only applied to Hunter, got in, headed for New York City without knowing anyone. “It was 1973. I got a room at a YWCA on the East Side,” she recalled. She left New York the next year, but came back for graduate school, receiving her M.A. in Drama and Dance and a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from NYU. “They were academic degrees, as opposed to acting and directing. But they gave me a knowledge of the history of the craft. I learned how the discipline evolved. If someone said ‘I want to do a Brecht play,’ I knew who Brecht was and his theories,” Moynihan explained. “I was also an Assistant Editor at ‘The Drama Review,’ a quarterly publication, and that trained me in the ways to think about performance and write about it.”
While at NYU she worked at Circle Repertory Company in the PR/Marketing department, headed by Richard Frankel, who would go on to be a Broadway producer and general manager. “PR is a very high pressure environment and I learned an incredible amount about the process. Because of that I was then able to get a job at Ensemble Studio Theatre, again in marketing. It was a smaller organization; there weren’t walls between departments. I was able to move from Marketing to Literary, where I felt most comfortable. As Literary Manager I worked with member artists who were creating projects and assisted Artistic Director Curt Dempster with developing shows for the main stage. That was one more piece of the puzzle that was helpful when I got to Shubert,” Moynihan said.
From 1988 to 1995 Moynihan worked at The Shubert Foundation, starting as the Program Assistant processing applications and eventually moving up to Program Director, where her responsibilities included meeting with applicants, seeing productions, and preparing material for Executive Director Vicki Reiss. Being a multi-tasker, Moynihan also taught theatre history and dramaturgy for the first five years of her time with the Shubert Foundation.
The Shubert Foundation proved to be vital groundwork for Moynihan to move forward. “It was from the Foundation, getting to know all of those theatres across the country and what they were doing, that made for a natural transition to the creative side. In 1988, the landscape of the American theatre was very different from what it is today. Non-profits usually didn’t take their work to Broadway themselves. If a show was successful, a commercial producer would come by and move it. ‘A Chorus Line’ changed all that. It originated at The Public Theatre; but instead of giving it to someone else, the Public raised the money and moved it to Broadway. It was a risk but it turned out to be a giant hit. And it demonstrated a theatre could produce a show commercially, retain artistic control and have money flow back to nurture the core mission. So suddenly there was a ton of new work being generated by theatres across the country. At Shubert, there wasn’t a department dedicated to tracking that or looking for material for us to produce ourselves. I was in the right place at the right time. Because I was at the Foundation, worked in non-profit theatre and had the educational background, I was the person who was selected to start Creative Projects department in 1996,” Moynihan recalled.
Moynihan commented, “I had no idea what my future would be. I didn’t have a strategy. I am amazed that my path has been such a wonderful journey. I’m just one of the luckiest people in the world. I am incredibly grateful to the people who helped me and pushed me and gave me opportunities: Richard, Vicki, Bob, Curt, Jerry Schoenfeld, Bernie Jacobs, Phil Smith. I owe them–and many more–a great deal.”
Speaking to young women who want to be a part of the theatre industry, she said, “There are places for you. The most important thing is to seize every single opportunity. Every networking event—do it. Contact someone and say, ‘I heard you speak on a panel, can we have coffee or can I talk to you for 10 minutes?’ Find a company, a production, a play that speaks to you and try to meet the people behind it. I’ve found that people are usually very generous about sharing their advice and experience because someone helped them. Be prepared. Put your best foot forward. Connect in any way you can. Because you never know where that connection is going to lead.”
Linda Armstrong is a theatre critic with the New York Amsterdam News, Theatre Editor for Neworldreview.net, A&E Editor for Harlem News Group and has written for Playbill Online, had a Theatre column “On The Aisle” for Our Time Press, Network Journal Magazine, Show Business Weekly Newspaper, Headliner Magazine, Theatre Week Magazine, Black Masks Magazine, and The New York Daily News.
Broadway’s Best Shows is proud to present Spotlight on Plays, a starry series of livestream readings of Broadway’s best plays to benefit The Actors Fund.
With Debbie Allen, Ellen Burstyn, Bobby Cannavale, Kathryn Hahn, Kevin Kline, Eric McCormack, Audra McDonald, Mary-Louise Parker, Phylicia Rashad, Keanu Reeves, Heidi Schreck, Alia Shawkat, Heather Alicia Simms, Alicia Stith, Meryl Streep, and many more.
The “Spotlight on Plays” presentations premiere on Stellar at 8PM ET / 5PM PT. Following the live premiere, presentations will be available to watch anytime on-demand for four days ONLY after its premiere.
THE THANKSGIVING PLAY By Larissa FastHorse Directed By Leigh Silverman Starring Bobby Cannavale, Keanu Reeves, Heidi Schreck and Alia Shawkat
Premieres Thursday, March 25th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET– available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, March 29th at 6:00PM ET
Larissa FastHorse’s wickedly funny comedy finds a troupe of terminally “woke” teaching artists scrambling to create a pageant that manages to celebrate both Turkey Day and Native American Heritage Month. “A delicious roasting” (NY Times) of the politics of entertainment and political correctness, The Thanksgiving Play puts the American origin story in the comedy-crosshairs.
ANGRY, RAUCOUS AND SHAMELESSLY GORGEOUS By Pearl Cleage Directed By Camille A. Brown Starring Debbie Allen, Phylicia Rashad, Heather Alicia Simms, and Alicia Stith
Premieres Thursday, April 8th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, April 12th at 6:00PM ET
Pearl Cleage’s “funny and hopeful” (Georgia Magazine) comedy is all about aging gracefully and gorgeously. Anna Campbell, now 65, sparked controversy when she bared it all on stage years ago. When a theatre festival asks to re-stage the work with a younger actress in her role, dramatic and comic fireworks ensue.
WATCH ON THE RHINE By Lillian Hellman Directed by Sarna Lapine Starring Ellen Burstyn and Carla Gugino
Written and set during the rise of Hitler’s Germany, Watch on the Rhine is a play about an American family, suddenly awakened to the danger threatening its liberty. Hellman’s powerful drama won the 1941 New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
Premieres Thursday, May 13th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, May 17th at 6:00PM ET(date subject to change)
THE SISTERS ROSENSWEIG By Wendy Wasserstein Directed by Anna D. Shapiro Starring Kathryn Hahn
Three very different sisters reunite after a lengthy separation and discover humanity, respect, and love in this definitive serious comedy about sisterhood.
Premieres Thursday, May 20th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, May 24th at 6:00PM ET(date subject to change)
OHIO STATE MURDERS By Adrienne Kennedy Directed by Kenny Leon Starring Audra McDonald
Ohio State Murders is an unusual look at the destructiveness of racism in the U.S. When Suzanne Alexander, a fictional African American writer, returns to Ohio State University to talk about the violence in her writing, a dark mystery unravels.
Premieres Thursday, June 3rd, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, June 7th at 6:00PM ET(date subject to change)
DEAR ELIZABETH By Sarah Ruhl Directed by Kate Whoriskey Starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline
Based on the compiled letters between poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, Dear Elizabeth maps the relationship of the two poets from first meeting to an abbreviated affair— and the turmoil of their lives in between.
Premieres Thursday, June 17th, 2021 at 8:00PM ET – available to stream on demand for four days ONLY through Monday, June 21st at 6:00PM ET(date subject to change)
Before she became a costume designer, Dede Ayite studied behavioral neuroscience, and the two disciplines aren’t as different as they might sound.
“Part of my training [in college] was focused on understanding psychology, and the process of research and uncovering gave me skill sets that come into costume design,” she says. “I’m trying to go past what you’re seeing on stage to add depth and layering to the character. What makes them come alive? What moves them? What breaks their heart? I love finding ways to express that, and to my mind, it all translates to costumes.”
The breadth of Ayite’s expressive power is reflected in the current race for the Tony Awards, where she has two nominations for Best Costume Design of a Play. On one end of the aesthetic spectrum, she’s been recognized for her work on Slave Play, Jeremy O. Harris’ formally audacious satire about interracial couples who enact plantation fantasies to work through their sexual and personal baggage. On the other, she’s also been nominated for the revival of A Soldier’s Play, Charles Fuller’s drama about the murder of a Black soldier in he 1940s.
With Slave Play, she knew her clothes had to match the heightened world of the script. In the first scene, for instance, the audience doesn’t know that the characters are modern people pretending to live in the antebellum South. “I wanted to drop little hints, so that we didn’t get ahead of the satire,” Ayite says.
That’s why, when the character Kaneisha entered wearing a slave costume, it read as “traditional” from the neck down: a dirty blouse, a cloth skirt, and a well-worn apron. “But I also threw a head scarf on her that was a bold blue color,” Ayite notes. “During that time, a slave wouldn’t be wearing such a vibrant head wrap, so that shifted it enough to make us aware that something was a little off.” Similarly, she added lacy black gloves to another character’s plantation mistress outfit, hinting at the sexual fetishes she would reveal later.
With a more realistic show like A Soldier’s Play or David Mamet’s American Buffalo, which Ayite will design for its upcoming Broadway revival, the costumes have to do just as much storytelling, but it has to be almost invisible. “Those are the hardest kinds of shows!” Ayite says, laughing. “A pair of jeans is never just a pair of jeans. You’re sorting through potentially 50 pairs of jeans to find the one that moves the right away and has the right tone and color.”
In A Soldier’s Play, all the characters wore similar military uniforms, but Ayite was still able to reflect their individuality. “I personalized their uniforms through several distressing techniques: sweat, wear and tear, the degree to which a uniform has been cared for,” she says. “Did a particular uniform have a crease because that soldier was adamant about always looking sharp? Or did it fit a tad looser based on that soldier’s relationship to their role in the military?”
Currently her preparations for the American Buffalo revival have her thinking about how Donny, a junk shop owner in 1970s Chicago who will be played by Laurence Fishburne, might present himself. “I want to honor where he is and what survival means to him,” she says. “He might not be dressed in something from the time period of the play. He might be dressed in a garment from a slightly earlier time period — a time when he was at the height of who he thought he was. He might be dressing as the person he used to be.”
This deep thinking is crucial to Ayite’s work. She explains, “The first read of the script is the most important to me, because after I read a play for the first time, I give myself a moment to tap into my immediate emotional reactions. I make a point to hold that somewhere in my mental space. I’m always hearkening back to it to make sure I then can capture that for an audience member.”
In some ways, that first read of the play is the closest Ayite will ever come to being an audience member for the production herself. Acknowledging her own first reactions helps ensure that her designs keep the audience in mind. “I want to remind myself about what happened to me when I read it,” she says. “If there was wonder, how do I create wonder? I want to take audiences on that type of journey through specific choices with the clothes.”