The playwrights who banded together in 2013 to form The Welders built an unusual mandate into their company’s story: term limits. Not by setting an expiration date for the overall concept — a collective of writers producing their own plays in Washington — or for the entity itself. The idea from the beginning was that the five dramatists, assisted by an administrator, would each be responsible for one Welders show, and then they would all move on.
They had another important task before they departed, however, one that would determine whether their brainchild was truly viable, and not merely a one-off project, designed to nourish their own careers. They had to pick the next group of Welders.
That mission has been accomplished. After meeting with 60 local playwrights and other theater-makers tantalized by what the original Welders have done, the group announced Monday the team of eight practitioners that will replace them. The Welders 2.0 are younger, and bring a wider range of theater-making experiences, but they sound just as energized by the prospect of being their own producers as were the members of Welders 1.0.
“We were looking for groups that had a sense of vision of where they wanted to steer this thing, a sense of cohesion and maybe a touch of humility,” said Gwydion Suilebhan, one of the original Welders, and who led the search. “But the factor that mattered the most was that the group was going to do something new.”
The first group of Welders, consisting of Suilebhan, Bob Bartlett, Renee Calarco, Allyson Currin and Caleen Sinnette Jennings, along with managing director Jojo Ruf, kept their vow of sustaining an active performance schedule. Since the debut production a little more than a year ago of Currin’s “The Carolina Layaway Grail” at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE, the Welders have completed the runs of two additional shows: Jennings’s “Not Enuf Lifetimes” and Bartlett’s “happiness (and other reasons to die).” In the coming months, Calarco will stage workshops of her site-specific “Our National Museum of the Unforeseen Tragedy.” And then Suilebhan will bring the Welders’ first iteration to a close, with a project yet to be named.
Each Welder gets a slot and money to produce their show. (As per the organization’s bylaws, money has been deposited in an escrow account, to give the successors a financial leg up.) The new group was selected well ahead of the original Welders’ leave-taking, which will occur next year, to allow for a substantial learning period.
Suilebhan said he and his fellow Welders have been holding informational meetings and asking interested theater makers to apply in groups. “We had to feel like they understood the significance of what they were doing, that they were acting as stewards of an idea,” he said.
Those new stewards are:
— Brett Abelman, playwright and theater blogger.
— Annalisa Dias, director, dramaturg and co-founder, DC Coalition for Theatre and Social Justice.
— Hannah Hessel Ratner, dramaturg and audience enrichment manager, Shakespeare Theatre Company.
— Rachel Hynes, theater deviser.
— Alexandra Petri, playwright and blogger of Compost for the Washington Post.
–Deb Sivigny, costume designer.
–Stephen Spotswood, playwright.
In addition, Ronee Penoi, formerly of Woolly Mammoth Theatre and the National New Play Network, will take over from Ruf as managing director.
“I hope I grow and evolve as part of this,” said Spotswood, who has had his plays produced locally at Forum Theatre, the Mead Theatre Lab and the Capital Fringe Festival. “I am confident that working with this group is going to make me a better artist if not a better person.”
Dias, who holds a graduate degree in dramaturgy from Catholic University, said she’s “humbled and grateful” to have secured a spot in the group after spending only a few years in the city. “Just to be invited in and join a group that has such unyielding confidence in my voice as an artist, it’s amazing,” she added.
Spotswood and Dias put their heads together after attending one of the information sessions and decided to team up. On Facebook, they posted about applying. The group expanded, they said, as the other future Welders joined the social media conversation.
One of the aspects of their application that the current Welders liked, Suilebhan said, was the diversity of disciplines that were represented. The notion, for instance, of what a costume designer might bring to the stage in a full production seemed to the group an intriguing stretch of the organization’s boundaries.
“Gwydion described the commitment as a part-time job,” said Spotswood, who is also a freelance journalist. “He talked about how the Welders is not about self-production; well, it is about that, but the majority of the time, you are not producing your own work. You are supporting the others, whose work you are also passionate about.”