Raymond O. Caldwell has been named the new artistic director at the Anacostia-based Theater Alliance, a company that has been known under outgoing artistic director Colin Hovde for its socially conscious, stylish works.
Theater Alliance has been a resident company of the Anacostia Playhouse since 2013. It has raked in top Helen Hayes Awards several times in recent seasons with such shows as “Still Life With Rocket,” “Word Becomes Flesh,” “The Wonderful World of Dissocia” and “Black Nativity.” Hovde, 38, announced his departure in July and in the new year will transition to part-time duties through the end of this season.
The troupe hired a consultant for a search and decided on Caldwell, 34, who has been the company’s associate artistic director since January. This winter he is slated to direct Dominique Morriseau’s “Blood at the Root,” about high school and hate speech (based loosely on the 2006 “Jena Six” case). Caldwell also is a director and lecturer in theater at Howard University, where his productions have ranged from “The Trojan Women” to “Anything Goes” and Lynn Nottage’s “Fabulation.” He will give up that post to head Theater Alliance.
“There were a variety of perspectives,” board chair Molly Singer says of the applicant pool, which included candidates from New York and California. “We felt the perspectives, ideas and energy Raymond brought were the strongest.”
Caldwell will be the second African American man to head a professional theater troupe in the D.C. region. Michael J. Bobbitt runs Glen Echo’s young-audiences company Adventure Theatre MTC.
“It’s a huge deal,” Caldwell says, adding that part of his mission will be “to demonstrate that African Americans are not monolithic.”
Caldwell was born in Germany to an African American father and a German mother. He lived with his mother in Germany until he came to the United States to live with his father and attend American high school. He studied acting at the University of Florida and, during graduate work at Ohio State, he broadened that to include new-works development and community outreach.
Caldwell was with Arena Stage’s community engagement division for six years, and he has worked internationally, including a stint in India with a street theater troupe creating a project on gender violence. The partnerships and activism Hovde has led at Theater Alliance is something Caldwell wants to expand.
“As we move into the era of social change theater,” Caldwell says, “the next step is really immersing in community engagement and community work.”
“He makes me want to follow him,” says Hovde, who has run Theater Alliance since 2011 and will move on to a freelance directing career. “A year and a half ago, we brought Raymond on to curate the Word Becomes Action Festival, and then the conversations that we had shifted what we were doing already.”
Theater Alliance typically produces the festival and three shows annually on a $400,000 budget. Caldwell will choose the troupe’s next season of plays.
“I do not think Raymond is a protege of Colin’s,” says Singer. “He has an artistic vision in his own right. That’s what is going to be exciting.”