If you’re a regional theatre, going to Broadway sounds like a dream. But unless you know what you’re doing, taking a show to the world’s toughest theatre market can play out more like a nightmare. It’s tough. And very few can pull it off.
On paper, southern Oregon would seem an unlikely incubator IN THE EXTREME for Broadway buzz. 100 years ago, Ashland, Oregon was (to put it mildly) in the middle of nowhere. It still is. But today nowhere is somewhere – at least in the theatre world. And thanks to Angus Bowmer, a whole phalanx of succeeding individuals, and a good mix of sheer chance and historical luck, Oregon Shakespeare Festival has become a Broadway launching pad. Incredible but true.
While it’s too soon to say for sure, another OSF-hatched American Revolutions world premiere may soon be headed for the world’s biggest stage.
When SWEAT, the new play by Lynn Nottage getting its world premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is gone, Reading (pronounced “red-ing”), Pennsylvania will still be there.
And then what?
Nottage has spent several years visiting Reading gathering material for her play. But she did not want that to be the end of a heightened focus on de-industrializing American towns.
To continue the dialog and also give something back to the town, Nottage has created The Reading Project (again pronounced “red-ing as in the town), a collaboration between Market Road Films, which is run by Nottage and Tony Gerber, and New York’s Labyrinth Theatre Company.
So far you can see a few videos on Market Road Films’ Vimeo that feature some of the voices Nottage heard on her trips to Reading.
But there’s more coming up. And you know with Nottage and Labyrinth involved, you’re going to want to see what they come up with. So watch this space.
Y’all ready to sweat a little, Ashland, Oregon? I hope so. Because it’s going to be hotter than hell in the Rogue Valley on Wednesday. And I’m not talking about the weather.
That’s right. Even though the forecast is calling for 104, there’s going to be something even hotter than that going on beneath the glare of the mid day fire ball on the Bricks in downtown Ashland tomorrow. And that’s the first preview of the world premiere of SWEAT by Lynn Nottage in the Angus Bowmer Theatre at 1:30 PM.
Despite the temperature, just writing that last sentence there sends a cold sweat down my back. Hoo boy. If I could rub Aladdin’s lamp and be granted one wish to be anywhere on earth in any theatre there is seeing any show imaginable tomorrow – I’d be right here in Ashland. No question.
If you’re a theatre fan, and especially if you’re an Oregon theatre fan, there is simply nowhere else to be on Wednesday. Or Friday and Saturday for the next two previews. Or Sunday for the official opening. Or anytime during the next three months as SWEAT runs in rep at OSF.
A new play by one of America’s leading playwrights at one of America’s (and the world’s) great theatres – which just happens to be right here in Oregon? Hello?? That’s like a Ducks game in Autzen Stadium or Sleater-Kinney at the Crystal Ballroom or the Pendleton Roundup on Saturday night (including a bonus visit to the Let’Er Buck Room). It’s BIG stuff. The biggest. In the American theatre today, it doesn’t get much more exciting than a new play by Lynn Nottage.
Especially this play. In this place. At this time.
The latest from OSF’s flagship American Revolutions commissioning program, SWEAT is coming in hotter than a blast furnace at Bethlehem Steel. Written by Nottage and directed by Kate Whoriskey, the show features a galaxy of OSF talent. Here, feast those heat-dazed eyes of yours on this lineup:
Cast for SWEAT
Tracey >> Terri McMahon
Jason >> Stephen Michael Spencer
Cynthia >> Kimberly Scott
Chris >> Tramell Tillman
Brucie >> Kevin Kenerly
Evan >> Tyrone Wilson
Stan >> Jack Willis
Jessie >> K. T. Vogt
Oscar >> Carlo Albán
Whaaaaaaaaaat?? Yeah – see? You with me? If I didn’t have your attention before, surely I do now.
I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty happy to just sit in the audience and see that group walk out on stage and stand there and do nothing. But they’re going to do a lot more than that. It sounds like their task is nothing less than acting out a new story of and for our time.
If the past is prologue, look for this show to sell out once the news hits the wire. Remember what happened to ALL THE WAY and THE GREAT SOCIETY? While there will be other chances to see SWEAT at other theatres later on – no production is ever going to be better than this original one on the home field.
It’s only on for three months as it is. Only a few thousand people can see it.
And you definitely want to be one of them.
So buckle down, Ashland. And get ready. Maybe bring a fan or an ice cube or something.
Because the drama is coming. And it’s going to be hot stuff indeed.
Ever since it was announced on March 14, 2014 that a new play by Lynn Nottage would be coming to Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, I’ve been counting down the days. A new play by this savvy and supremely human writer is a cause for celebration – even when the material she may be dealing with is some of the toughest and heaviest there is.
If you saw RUINED at OSF in 2010, you know what I’m talking about – the kind of unbearable heightened intensity that a playwright like Nottage can imprint into your brain. Forever.
The kind of drama so real and powerful it caused an audience member to jump on stage to try to stop what was happening.
Well, she’s at it again and the project this time sounds about as relevant and important as it could possibly be. The countdown until opening night is rapidly dwindling toward 0. And the closer it gets, the better it sounds.
You heard it here first: Get ready for that big whooshing sound that says SOLD OUT! Robert Schenkkan’s epic LBJ plays ALL THE WAY and THE GREAT SOCIETY at Seattle Rep are just about to ignite and become what every theatre and playwright dreams of – a full blown cultural phenomenon that captivates a city’s population and rises to the very top of the national must see list.
It’s not a Seahawks game, or a Fleetwood Mac concert, or a marathon performance of Wagner’s entire RING cycle. But it’s turning out to be just as popular in Seattle.
One week after opening, Robert Schenkkan’s play ALL THE WAY, which covers LBJ’s first year in office, has already laid low the former Seattle Rep box office record. It’s impressive, but we’re just getting started.
As LBJ himself might have remarked in trademark blunt style: You ain’t seen shit.
Meaning – the show is only beginning to build. After uniform rave reviews and a few weeks of visibility all over the Seattle media (my Google alert on the show seems to crank out multiple emails an hour at this point), ALL THE WAY is just about to go completely, unreservedly, irreversibly nuclear. And then THE GREAT SOCIETY, part 2 of the cycle (which was sold out all summer in Ashland BTW), will follow suit.
But this blockbuster hit didn’t pop out of left field with no warning. It’s the result of a perfect storm of factors (some years in the making) that have all come together to create one of the most exciting theatrical events Seattle has ever seen.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced plays for its 80th anniversary 2015 season today.
As always, the most exciting aspect of any OSF season is finding out what newly commissioned world premieres are in store. With the country’s largest acting company at the ready, and strong producing partnerships stretching from Ashland all the way to Broadway, OSF is uniquely positioned in the American theatre eco system to nurture and champion important new plays. The question then becomes – which writers get the nod?
From OSF’s American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, a visionary, ten year (2008-17) initiative which aims to commission up to 37 new plays about moments of change in American history, the news this year is fantastic. Though AmRev’s track record to date has been mixed, it is thrilling to learn that 2015 will feature a world premiere by the astonishing Lynn Nottage (@LynnBrooklyn).
Dodging the artistic dead ends of whimsy, wackiness, “magical realism”, and manic profanity that entrance so many of her contemporaries in the American theatre, Nottage is the real deal and writes plays that matter. As good playwrights must be, she is an activist deeply engaged with the world. A new work by this talented Brooklynite is national news, and Oregonians are extremely lucky to be among the first to see it.
“I am truly excited to return to OSF with the world premiere of my new play, SWEAT,” Nottage said recently. “With the outstanding support of OSF, I have spent the last two years visiting Reading, Pennsylvania, examining how the de-industrial revolution of the late 20th and early 21st century is reshaping the American narrative. The play is inspired by interviews that I conducted and my observations of a once thriving city that is now grappling with how to reclaim its lost identity.”
The play is set at the end of the last millennium. A group of close friends share everything: drinks, secrets, love and laughter. But their world is upended by a shake-up at the steel plant where they work and an unspeakable act that has repercussions over two generations. SWEAT is actually one of several plays Nottage is writing based on her experience and interviews in Reading. As previously noted here, the playwright recently received a $50,000 grant from the Joyce Foundation to undertake her research for this play. Find out more on her web site.
“So much of writing now is about pleasing the powers that be, because the playwrights are dependent on the beneficence of the theaters.”
“Theater can give three-dimensions to two-dimensional stories.”
“A play can be like an injection—it can poke the needle directly into you and infuse you with life and humanity.”
“My plays often begin with an idea that haunts me. I’ll wake up in the morning thinking about it. With RUINED, I was haunted, and I had no idea it would have the impact it did.”
“For some reason, black male stories have found more of a space on film and television now, but as an African-American woman writer, our stories remain frightening or alien and are not invited to be part of the mainstream conversation, even though we’re a key part of shaping American culture. You take out black American women from American culture and a lot of white babies don’t get raised. We were at the forefront of the suffragette movement, the civil rights movement, but somehow black women get removed from the conversation. That’s what I’m looking at in BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK—the history of omission.”
“The issue that is pressing for me right now is poverty. I feel as though the class divide is getting larger and larger, and for me it’s a deeply personal story. I have friends who existed in the middle class for years and now can’t feed their families. And when you’re in your twenties or even thirties there’s a certain level of resilience, but when you’re in your forties or fifties, and you’ve been working twenty-five years at the same job and that job’s suddenly removed and you don’t have any options, what are you going to do? That’s increasingly the narrative of America, and it’s being ignored.”
So put SWEAT by Lynn Nottage, which opens in OSF’s Bowmer Theatre in July 2015, on your calendar.
What else is on in 2015 in Ashland?
Eugene O’Neill’s marathon LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT will play in the small Thomas Theatre. There’s a new musical with a book by Jeff Whitty (and music by the Go-Go’s). There’s some Shakespeare (three plays identified so far). Mary Zimmerman is directing GUYS AND DOLLS. And there’s one play yet to be announced.
And strangely, OSF is staging the clunky 19th century melodrama that nearly drove Eugene O’Neill’s father, actor James O’Neill, insane after he performed the lead role 4,000 times over 30 years – THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Dumas. But maybe this play was necessary to give us Gene.
Full list below.
ANGUS BOWMER THEATRE
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING by William Shakespeare (February 20 – November 1)
GUYS AND DOLLS Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, book by Joe Swerling and Abe Burrows (February 22 – November 1)
Directed by Mary Zimmerman
FINGERSMITH Adapted by Alexa Junge from the book by Sarah Waters (February 21 – July 12)
Directed by Bill Rauch
SECRET LOVE IN PEACH BLOSSOM LAND by Stan Lai (April 15 – October 31)
Directed by Stan Lai
SWEAT by Lynn Nottage (July 29 – October 31)
PERICLES by William Shakespeare (February 26 – November 1)
Directed by Joseph Haj
LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT by Eugene O’Neill (March 25– October 31)
Directed by Christopher Liam Moore
TBA, to be announced in late Spring 2014 (July 7 – November 1)
ALLEN ELIZABETHAN THEATRE
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA by William Shakespeare (June 2 – October 9)
Directed by Bill Rauch
HEAD OVER HEELS Book by Jeff Whitty, music and lyrics from the catalog by the Go-Go’s (June 3 – October 10)
Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO Adapted from the book by Alexandre Dumas (June 4 – October 11)
These are the ones in your own personal shrine. When someone asks about the great shows you have seen over the years, you probably have a list close at hand.
Far from fading, your memory and impressions of an outstanding show are likely to remain sharp for life.
RUINED by Lynn Nottage at OSF in 2010 was one of those shows. The world of Mama Nadi and her girls in a brothel in war torn Congo came so fully alive, it was unforgettable. Late in the play, when Christian beautifully proposes to Mami Nadi, “Why not us?”, and she brokenly wails a two word response, no audience could ever be more devastated – or touched.
With those five words from two characters, Lynn Nottage creates more poetry than many playwrights will in a lifetime.
Nottage, who won a Pulitzer for RUINED, a story about women living through war in the Congo (which was given a soaring, unforgettable production at OSF in 2010), is working on a new play about Reading, PA, currently ranked as the poorest city in the US. Similar to her approach for RUINED, to prepare for which the playwright and director Kate Whoriskey traveled to Africa to interview rape survivors, Nottage has interviewed residents in Reading.
You can bet she’ll give us something interesting and well worth our time.