At Kennedy Center’s New Visions/New Voices, unique works for youth go beyond child’s play


From left, Manu Kumasi, Lauren Du Pree, Paige Hernandez, Mark Halpern, Thony Mena and Jefferson Russell were among more than 50 Washington-based actors performing at the Kennedy Center’s New Visions/New Voices. (Margot Schulman)
May 20

Rosemary Newcott came to Washington last week to go shopping for new plays. As the artistic director of theater for youth and families at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre, she’s always looking for innovative works aimed at young audiences, and the place to find them is New Visions/New Voices, a biannual event held at the Kennedy Center. The conference could be described as a theatrical sample sale, with the designers available for onsite consultation. Some of the top theaters in the country came, but sorry, general theatergoing public: You weren’t invited to see these plays. At least not yet.

Newcott was one of nearly 400 theater professionals who attended this year’s New Visions/New Voices. In addition to looking for new plays, she was one of eight directors who had a script chosen for a workshop. Those projects were selected from 85 submissions that also included potential translations, ideas for devised dramas and audience-participation theater for toddlers. Seriously.

“Some of the most innovative work happening in theater is happening in theater for the very young,” Newcott said.

The scripts, chosen by the Kennedy Center and a panel of jurors, included one that Georgia playwright Pearl Cleage wrote after taking her 12-year-old grandson to see “Charlotte’s Web” and realizing he was too old for talking pigs. Newcott submitted the script to New Visions and has a run of “Tell Me My Dream” planned for spring 2015.

“It’s an opportunity for us to workshop the play at the Kennedy Center,” Newcott said. “We are going to hear all kinds of responses about how this play can grow. . . . You know that there are going to be these great actors, so you know there’s going to be very high performance quality.”

The Kennedy Center had hired more than 50 Washington-based actors for a week of rehearsals and readings, including leading ladies Holly Twy­ford, Nancy Robinette and Sherri Edelen. Thony Mena, a 2011 University of Maryland graduate, was among the young actors doing New Voices for the first time. With only a few years of professional acting under his belt, he was excited to be featured in an ensemble of veterans.

“I got to work with Jefferson Russell,” Mena said. “I call him ‘the Godfather.’ ”

Zoning odyssey for Shakespeare

Another week, another Washington theater that needs to sort out some zoning matters before it can embark on an expansion project.

This month, Keegan Theatre received the zoning variance required before it could expand its Dupont Circle building in a residential district. Now, Shakespeare Theatre is beginning its own bureaucratic odyssey to proceed with a mixed-use redevelopment project. The theater wants to buy 501 I St. SW, which is owned by the now-defunct Southeastern University, and consolidate its administrative offices, rehearsal studios, actor housing and costume-and-prop shops under one roof. Those facilities have been scattered across the District, Maryland and Virginia.

The theater has tried to buy the rehearsal and administrative building that it leases on Barracks Row, “but the owner doesn’t want to sell,” said Chris Jennings, Shakespeare’s managing director. Given the booming restaurant scene on 8th Street SE, Jennings fears his rent will continue to rise. Also increasing: hotel costs for out-of-town artists. Buying property and building elsewhere appears to be the long-term solution.

Last week, Shakespeare announced the Alexandria-based commercial developer Erkiletian Real Estate will be its partner on the I Street project. Jennings said that the theater was thrilled that Erkiletian won the bid, calling the company’s owners “longtime theater supporters.” He emphasized, however, that “this is not a done deal.” Not all the financing is in place, and the theater has just begun the rezoning process.

Unlike Keegan, which had been operating in violation of zoning codes and had to plead its case before the Board of Zoning Adjustments, Shakespeare faces a series of meetings to seek input from the community and a Zoning Commission hearing, a process that should take eight to 10 months, said Joel Lawson, associate director of development review for the city. Ultimately, the theater needs to get its mixed-use development plan approved for a residential district, rather than a zoning variance for the entire property.

“It’s a much more positive process,” Lawson said. “Shakespeare has proposed some very exciting things.”

A Constellation of tunes

As Constellation Theatre prepares to close its critically lauded run of “The Love of the Nightingale” at Source theater, patrons who saw the show may be wondering, “Can I listen to those hauntingly beautiful tunes at home?”

Why, yes, you can, because multi-instrumental genius Tom Teasley recorded the soundtrack. CDs are available at the theater and through CD Baby, and may soon be downloadable on iTunes. Teasley, who calls himself a world percussionist but also plays plenty of flutes, pipes and mouth organs, has provided live music at several Constellation plays and the Folger Theatre’s production of “Conference of the Birds.”

In 2012, he released “All the World’s a Stage,” featuring highlights from “The Green Bird,” “Oresteia” and other Constellation shows, but this is his first complete soundtrack recording.

Ritzel is a freelance writer.

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Lifestyle