Backstage: ‘The Bacchae’ at WSC Avant Bard
It’s debauchery season.
Those glamorous enough to attend the 2012 Met Gala in New York on Monday night chased the shot of the red carpet with a night of dusk-till-dawn after-parties. The White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner was so over the top, Tom Brokaw issued a call to end the celebrity-invite arms race. Last weekend’s Kentucky Derby saw Louisville at its most decadent and depraved. While late fall and early winter are times for family, gratitude and reflection, the spring-into-summer months generally mean one thing: Let the wild rumpus start.
WSC Avant Bard is prepared to do just that with its upcoming production of “The Bacchae,” Euripides’ play about Dionysus (the god of everything your parents told you not to do), wild drunken rites, and the doom that befalls King Pentheus and his mother, Agave, who attempt to abstain from worshipping at Dionysus’s altar.
No party is complete without the perfect playlist, which is where composer Mariano Vales comes in. Vales wrote seven original songs for the show. “There’s some gypsy music in it, some African, some Brazilian, some tango, some alternative rock,” Vales explained. “It’s a mix of all the things that I am or that I listen to.”
The music — written for guitars, violins and an ethnic percussion section (the cajon and djembe) — will be accompanied by soloists and the Greek chorus, whose odes narrate much of the play.
“It’s very violent and very passionate at the same time,” Vales explained, noting that the climax of the story involves a character being ripped apart by a pack of possessed women. The women “had to be like sirens, to tempt this guy into going to his own death.”
The play’s enduring popularity could be summed up in three words, Vales pointed out: “sex and violence — but on a deeper level,” he added. “It’s a play that opens up so many questions about the way you stand before universal notions such as the divinity, and what is right and what is wrong. . . . It’s a play that remains open.”
Thursday to July 1, Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, www. wscavantbard.org, 703-418-4808.
Woolly will Free the Beast
On Monday night, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company announced the public launch of Free the Beast, a fundraising campaign whose goal is to support the production of 25 plays over the next 10 years. It has collected $1.8 million toward its $4 million goal; it has also secured a matching donation for the next $500,000 it raises. The company hopes to raise the full amount by July 2013. The money will be doled out in $400,000 increments over the following 10 years.
The gist of it, said Board President Pete Miller, is to greet artists with “a big bag of yes,” allowing Woolly to greenlight “projects that, in the past, we were excited about but [couldn’t] afford.”
Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz perched on a stool in front of a crowd of about 50 of Woolly’s most dedicated donors to explain that Free the Beast is something the Woolly team has “been talking about since 2005.” He thanked the contributors for “always support[ing] our restless ambition,” ambition he thinks is too often caged by limited time and resources.
Miriam Weisfeld, Woolly’s director of artistic development, moderated a conversation among three playwrights whose work with Woolly is made possible by Free the Beast funding: Mia Chung, author of “You for Me for You,” which will have its premiere at Woolly next season; Aaron Posner, a director and adapter whose take on Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” “Stupid F—ing Bird,” will also debut at Woolly next season; and Robert O’Hara, a company member and author of “Bootycandy,” which he directed at Woolly last year.
O’Hara’s new play, “Zombie: The American,” is tentatively scheduled to hold its world premiere at Woolly in 2014. “I think we have zombies in this city, and they’re running the government,” said O’Hara, whose play “is a blood revenge tragedy set in our culture right now.”
For Chung, Free the Beast will provide funding for her commission and two workshops of her play, one a four-week production with Ma-Yi Theater Company in New York. “It’s a luxury,” she said. “But it also feels like this is the way theater should be made.”
Schaeffer’s degree of risk
On Saturday, Signature Theater Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer will be awarded an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, Kutztown University, in Pennsylvania. Which means, in addition to scoring one of those gowns with velvet stripes on the sleeves, Schaeffer is going to have to give a speech.
“They said, ‘If you can inspire the kids, that would be great.’ ”
Oh. Well. Wish they could’ve been a little more vague.
“I want to talk to them about not being afraid to just go down a different road,” said Schaeffer, speaking by phone from Los Angeles where he was staging his Tony-nominated revival of “Follies.” “If you try to plan everything so particularly about your life, you end up not really living your life. When opportunities arise, you just have to be able to take the risk and go there.”
Schaeffer, who earned his BFA at Kutztown in 1984, knows all about taking a different road: He graduated with a degree in advertising but opted out of the Don Draper route to work in theater instead. Theater “was something I never would have thought of as being my career,” he said, even though he acted in plays and musicals and directed a show for children while he was an undergrad.
“I played Herman in ‘Sweet Charity,’ the guy who sings ‘I love to cry at weddings,’ ” said Schaeffer. “They had me in a skullcap, and I was smoking cigars . . . and in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ I was the rabbi’s son. You had this Pennsylvania Dutch boy playing a young Jewish rabbi’s son, which was pretty ridiculous, too.”
“My family has such a long tradition of going to that school,” said Schaeffer. His grandfather attended Kutztown, as did his dad, his uncle and his nephew. His niece is a student there, as well.