Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Allison Silberberg, the new mayor of Alexandria, as a University of Southern California graduate. Her master of fine arts is from the University of California at Los Angeles. This version has been corrected.
The horse had only one eye.
That’s what director Amber McGinnis Jackson immediately noticed when a staff member at Misty Manor Riding Stable in Marriottsville, Md., led a red-and-white pinto gelding toward her. The horse, named Titan, had a big splash of white on the right side of his face and a deep socket where his right eye should have been.
For anyone familiar with the play “Equus,” Titan’s missing eye was especially startling, and Jackson is very familiar with the work. Her Constellation Theatre production of Peter Shaffer’s 1973 classic, about a young man fascinated by horses but who ultimately blinds them, begins previews Wednesday at Source Theatre.
In preparation for the production — Jackson hadn’t been riding in years, and many of her cast and crew members had never been on a horse — she decided to take everyone on a field trip. On a freakishly warm Sunday in December, they headed to Misty Manor in Howard County, where the employees tried to match their personalities to the farm’s horses.
“We were motivated to do a bit of character study,” Jackson said. “We tried to see how, for example, they responded to human touch.”
After being shown how to tack up the horses with western saddles and bridles, the group spent an hour on the trails, riding over wooded hills and through a river. Back at the stable, the group gave the horses rubdowns and learned more about the grooming techniques the actors would pantomime in the show.
“As theater folks who spend a lot of time in dark spaces with no windows, it was great to get outside and have an adventure,” Jackson said.
Jackson said she was struck by how quickly her cast and crew members bonded with the horses, many of whom came from rescue situations. Titan, for example, had developed cancer and had his eye removed. While on the trails, most riders talked only to their mounts instead of chatting with each other, stroking the horses’ necks during long periods of silence.
“That was fascinating to me,” Jackson said. “It was important that we give people a chance to experience the horses’ majesty.”
On Sunday, Logan Circle residents and theatergoers will have a chance to experience a little majesty themselves — with the emphasis on little — when Constellation partners with Smucker Farms and Peppermint Pony party services to present a Pony Pop Up on 14th Street NW. From noon to 3 p.m., anyone can stop by to meet a miniature horse and a pony. And as Constellation Theatre Artistic Director Allison Stockman proudly notes, they do have the proper permits to have a pony parade on 14th Street, and the theater will clean up the all the pony poop.
Artists who live and work in Alexandria have reason to be optimistic now that the city has a mayor with a master’s of fine arts degree in playwriting.
Allison Silberberg, a graduate of UCLA, was sworn in last week. The Democrat was a surprise winner in last year’s primary, defeating incumbent Mayor William D. Euille after just one term on the city council.
Silberberg entered UCLA interested in theater, but she gravitated toward film and television in graduate school and ending up interning for a film director. After graduation, she was hired as a writer on the sitcom “Mama’s Family.” The show then went into syndication, and many writers who were starting in Hollywood had their careers thwarted by the 1988 writers strike.
Although her career long ago shifted toward public-policy writing and public service, Silberberg says that her degree will influence her work as mayor and that she will be a strong supporter of Alexandria’s arts groups, including MetroStage.
President Obama’s latest appointment to the board governing the National Endowment for the Arts should be a much-needed advocate for American theaters.
Diane Rodriguez, associate artistic director of Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, was recently confirmed by the Senate to join the National Council on the Arts, the board that has veto power over grants recommended by NEA staff members and panelists. She will replace Joan Israelite, a George W. Bush appointee.
At CTG, Rodriguez has had a 21-year career in various roles, including associate producer and director of new-play production and co-director of the Latino Theatre Initiative at the Mark Taper Forum.
“I was speechless when I first received the call from the White House in 2014 and I’m thrilled that the appointment is official,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “I look forward to sitting at the table and representing our nation’s theater artists and companies. And certainly, when I look back at my career which has taken many turns, this will be a major highlight.”
As an artistic discipline, theater has not fared well under the Obama administration. The president’s controversial appointee to run the NEA, Broadway producer Rocco Landesman, famously dissed theater beyond New York. Grant programs funding theater journalism fellowships and productions of classic American plays and musicals were canceled, and the position of NEA theater director was vacant for more than a year until Greg Reiner, former executive of New York’s Classic Stage Company, took the job last summer.
Rodriguez will be sworn in next month and take her seat on the council in March.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.