AUDRA MCDONALD INTERVIEW: “THEATRE CAN’T MISS THIS MOMENT” ·

(Michael Schulman’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 7/26; Illustration by Nhung Lê.)

Audra McDonald came out of Juilliard in 1993, a twenty-two-year-old with a lyric soprano as pristine as sterling silver, and quickly forged one of the most celebrated careers in Broadway history. A year out of school, she was cast as Carrie Pipperidge in a Lincoln Center revival of “Carousel,” in what was hailed as a breakthrough in “color-blind casting,” and won her first Tony Award for the role. More Tonys followed, for “Master Class,” “Ragtime,” and “A Raisin in the Sun.” And then more, for “Porgy and Bess” and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” in which she played a broken Billie Holiday. She remains the only performer ever to win six Tonys and the only one to win in all four available categories.

McDonald’s plan for this summer was to play Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” but, like all live theatre, the production was derailed by the pandemic. Instead, she’s been quarantined at her home in Westchester, with her husband, Will Swenson (her co-star in a 2007 production of “110 in the Shade”), their four children (three from previous marriages and a toddler, Sally), plus their eleven-year-old dog and “about five hundred frogs on the outside,” McDonald said recently. Nevertheless, she has not been idle. In April, she appeared, along with Meryl Streep and Christine Baranski, in a memorable rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch,” as part of an online concert for Stephen Sondheim’s ninetieth birthday. This month, she performed a virtual concert from a space off her garage which she calls the “Chill Room.”

And then there’s the racial reckoning that has spilled over from the Black Lives Matter protests into the theatre world. In June, McDonald co-founded Black Theatre United, along with performers such as Phylicia Rashad, Wendell Pierce, and Billy Porter. At its inaugural town hall, McDonald moderated a conversation with Sherrilyn Ifill, of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Educational Fund. When I reached McDonald by Zoom, she was in her teen stepson’s bedroom; the “Chill Room” was undergoing an emergency chimney repair, and Sally could be heard singing in the hallway. “As much as we try to stay energetic for her, we just can’t replicate a three-year-old’s energy,” McDonald said. “Although we did just find some caterpillars in our garden, and we’re going to watch them turn into butterflies.” Our conversation—about her own metamorphoses, from a demoralized student at Juilliard, where she survived a suicide attempt, to a Broadway eminence to a community advocate—has been edited and condensed.

The theatre, like many industries, has been thrust into a big, belated moment of racial reckoning. As one of the most prominent, if not the most prominent, Black theatre artists in America, how have you been thinking about what your role should be?

You need to do what you can to make more space. Every time that we are able to get into the room, I think it’s your job to create more space. I can’t tell you how many young African-American women, students or whatnot, come up to me and say, “I watched you as a kid, and I remember thinking, If she’s doing Broadway, then I can do it. And I can do it as a soprano. I don’t have to do it in the way that society would mainly see me—a sassy beltress.”

Did you have people like that growing up?

For me, Lena Horne and Diahann Carroll, of course. Ella Fitzgerald. Obviously, she never did Broadway, but that was Ella’s voice. That was no one else’s voice except Ella’s. And, then, Lillias White I just adored. I had the album of “The Wiz,” which I listened to over and over again. I never thought that I would have the career that I ended up having, but I could at least be there. There was at least space to be taken up by Black women.

I’ve always used my voice to call attention to issues that I thought were important. I’ve been on the board of Covenant House for four or five years now, doing work with homeless youth, trying to give them shelter and education and food and dignity. With Black Theatre United, it’s about all of us saying, “We can’t sit on the sidelines. We can lament everything going on, but how can we as a group effect change in some grander way than just on our own?” As Sherrilyn Ifill said in that town hall, “Everybody has to use the tools in your hand.”

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OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND, ‘GONE WITH THE WIND’ STAR, DIES AT 104 ·

(Tim Gray’s article appeared in Variety, 7/26; photo: Associated Press; via Pam Green.)

Olivia de Havilland, one of the last remaining actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age, two-time Academy Award winner and star of “Gone With the Wind,” has died. She was 104.

Her publicist Lisa Goldberg confirmed the news to Variety, saying de Havilland died from natural causes on Sunday at her residence in Paris.

De Havilland’s former lawyer Suzelle M. Smith said, “Last night, the world lost an international treasure, and I lost a dear friend and beloved client. She died peacefully in Paris.”

Numerous Hollywood figures paid tribute to de Havilland upon the news of her death. SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris extended her sympathies, saying, “Olivia de Havilland was not only beautiful and talented, she was a courageous visionary and an inspiration to generations. She was a marvel and a legend. Rest in peace.”

The striking brunette won best actress Oscars for “The Heiress” and “To Each His Own” in the late 1940s, and was Oscar-nominated for “Gone With the Wind,” “The Snake Pit” and “Hold Back the Dawn.”

She was known for her sincerity, fragile beauty and beautiful diction, and for bringing dimension to sympathetic characters. When she made a rare foray into villainous roles, she was expert. But the public preferred her as a heroine, which suited her well, since she said it was harder to play “a good girl” rather than a bad one.

Described as “the last surviving star” of “Gone With the Wind” for more than 50 years, after Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard and Clark Gable died much earlier, she rarely capitalized on that fact, staying mostly out of the limelight and preferring to live a quiet life in France.

De Havilland was beloved in France, where she received the prestigious Legion of Honor in 2010 from then President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Thierry Fremaux, the director of the Cannes Film Festival, paid homage to de Havilland on Sunday, noting that she was the first female president of Cannes’ jury in 1965.

“At a time when we question the place of women in cinema, we must remember Olivia de Havilland for her strength in facing off the studios to liberate actors from contracts which exploited them,” said Fremaux. “Strength and courage which she never stopped demonstrating through her career and her life. As for the rest, she was a queen of Hollywood and will also be revered as such in the history of cinema.”

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BLACK PLAYS ARE KNOCKING ON BROADWAY’S DOOR. WILL IT OPEN? ·

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/22; Photo: Adrienne C. Moore, center, in the Public Theater production of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf,” which has its eye on Broadway.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times; via Pam Green.)

Calls for diversity grow louder, and there are shows in the pipeline. But many are being shepherded by newcomers, not the powerful industry regulars.

The slate of shows scheduled to be staged on Broadway next spring — or whenever large-scale indoor theater is allowed to resume in New York — includes just three with Black writers. All of them are jukebox musicals.

But what if theater owners and operators, mindful of this year’s roiling reconsideration of racial injustice, wanted to present more work by Black artists?

Interviews with artists and producers suggest that there are more than a dozen plays and musicals with Black writers circling Broadway — meaning, in most cases, that the shows have been written, have had promising productions elsewhere, and have support from commercial producers or nonprofit presenters.

But bringing these shows to Broadway would mean making room for producers and artists who often have less experience in commercial theater than the powerful industry regulars who most often get theaters.

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CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (87) ·

I felt so pleasantly and comfortably on the stage because . . . [I] centered my attention on the perceptions and states of my body, at the same time drawing my attention away from what was happening on the other side of the footlights, in the auditorium beyond the black and terrible hole of the proscenium arch. In what I was doing I ceased to be afraid of the audience, and at times forgot that I was on the stage. I noticed that it was especially at such times that my creative mood was most pleasant. (MLIA)

ENTERING A PARIS THEATER, WARILY, AND FINDING A WEIGHT LIFTED ·

(Laura Cappelle’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/16; Photo:“Ionesco Suite,” directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota at the Espace Cardin in Paris. Credit…Jean-Louis Fernandez; via Pam Green.)

Audience members seemed to be asking one another, “Are we really doing this?” But the over-the-top physicality of “Ionesco Suite” was worth it.

After three months of coronavirus-related restrictions, the anxiety doesn’t go away readily. Setting foot inside a Paris theater for the first time in late June, I worried that it was too soon. The audience sat on three sides of the Espace Cardin’s smaller stage — with appropriate gaps — and many people looked at one another furtively, as if to ask: Are we really doing this?

Yet about midway through “Ionesco Suite,” a medley of absurdist scenes by the French playwright Eugène Ionesco, something gave. Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota’s production, first seen in 2005 and much revived since, piles on a series of eerily over-the-top characters, and on this occasion, the seven actors contorted their faces as if their lives depended on it. From feet away, their physical freedom was so tangible that I found myself laughing and wanting to cry; a weight was lifted that no amount of at-home live streams could have made lighter.

French artists are relatively lucky. Performers around the world are at the mercy of infection levels and public policy, and the spread of Covid-19 has been curbed enough in France, for now, that all theaters were allowed to reopen from June 22. Additionally, government funding for the arts means that playing to smaller audiences isn’t a ruinous proposition, even though viewers must leave an empty seat between themselves and other groups.

Still, only a small number of venues have opened their doors. Nearly all summer productions and festivals had been canceled because of the lack of rehearsal time and uncertainty, so many producers have elected to wait until next season.

The Espace Cardin, administered by the Théâtre de la Ville, was first. “Ionesco Suite” was part of “The Wake,” a 48-hour event that comprised performances, concerts and readings at all hours in and around the building. There is no telling who, exactly, emerged from lockdown with a pressing need to listen to Dante’s “Divine Comedy” at 3 a.m., but perhaps that was the point: At last, we could do something unnecessary.

Outside this celebration, small-scale productions are understandably getting the bulk of programmers’ attention. Through the end of July, the Théâtre de la Ville is putting on family-friendly plays with tiny casts at two venues, the Espace Cardin and Les Abbesses, while the Théâtre de Belleville opted to present one-person shows.

Under normal circumstances, all would very likely be overshadowed by more extravagant projects. Theater for young audiences, especially, tends to get short shrift. “Venavi or Why My Sister Isn’t Well,” a penetrating play about grief at Les Abbesses, was first performed in 2011 and has toured extensively since, yet it isn’t nearly as well known as it should be.

Its author, Rodrigue Norman, was born in Togo, and the plot is based on the belief there that twins are sacred beings, feared and celebrated as demigods. The only actor onstage (the highly likable Alexandre Prince) plays Akouété, who dies as a child, leaving his twin sister Akouélé behind.

A soliloquy from beyond the grave sounds grim on paper, but “Venavi,” directed by Olivier Letellier, delicately explores the need for closure after such a loss in terms that the many children in attendance could understand. Since Akouété’s parents don’t acknowledge his death, his sister’s growth is stunted as she waits desperately for him to return from “the woods,” where she is told he has gone.

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FORGOTTEN PLAYS: NO 8 – ‘SAINT’S DAY’ (1951) BY JOHN WHITING ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/20;  photo: Pioneer … John Whiting, right, with CE Webber and Enid Bagnold at the Arts theatre in 1951. Photograph: Bentley Archive/Popperfoto/Getty Images.)

The critics howled derisively but this challenging story of the violence lurking beneath

 Where does it all begin? Is there a moment that marks a radical shift in style and tone in postwar drama? The textbooks tell us that the London premieres of Waiting for Godot (1955) and Look Back in Anger (1956) are pivotal landmarks. I would argue, however, that John Whiting’s Saint’s Day (1951) erected a decisive signpost to the future. Critically trashed in its day and rarely seen since, it contains themes and ideas that were to become staples of modern drama.

The play’s history is extraordinary. It won a new play competition, organised by Alec Clunes at London’s prestigious Arts theatre, to celebrate the Festival of Britain. Staged at the Arts in September 1951, it was greeted with the howls of execration that theatre critics traditionally reserve for anything truly innovative. “Of a badness that must be called indescribable,” thundered the Times. That same paper published a letter from leading theatrical lights – including Peter Brook, Tyrone Guthrie, Peggy Ashcroft and John Gielgud – that passionately defended the play. But the damage was done and although Whiting went on to write other plays, including Marching Song and The Devils, he never acquired a secure foothold in British theatre.

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ALAN BENNETT: ‘AN ORDINARY WOMAN’–A MONOLOGUE ·

(Bennett’s monologue appeared in the London Review of Books, 7/16.)

 An ordinary kitchen. Gwen, a middle-aged wo­man, talks to the camera.

He​ pulled up his trousers.

‘You are nice to me,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t have shown it to anybody else.’

I said, ‘Well, I hope you haven’t been doing.’

‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Not much chance of that. No demand at the moment.’

He’d come home from school looking a bit down and retreats upstairs to his room and doesn’t even bother to raid the fridge, by which I take it something’s amiss. He plays his music for a bit and I’m ironing when he comes down barefoot and sits at the table watching me, which is an event in itself. Suddenly he gets up and says, ‘Mum, I’m going to show you this, but it’ll be the last time you’ll ever see it.’

And he undoes his trousers and pulls down his shorts.

He said, ‘Now, what’s that?’

Well, it was nothing. I couldn’t even see where he meant until he points it out, just a bit of a spot. Only it was the other I couldn’t get over. I hadn’t been keeping track and I don’t know when I last saw it exactly, but he can’t have been much more than twelve. And he’s only fifteen now but you wouldn’t know.

He said, ‘Are you sure?’

I said, ‘Michael. It’s a spot, love, that’s all it is,’ and I got him some stuff to put on.

He gets his trousers up sharp.

He said, ‘Don’t tell Dad.’

‘Why should I tell Dad? Why should I tell Dad anything?’

‘And don’t tell our Maureen.’

‘As if,’ I said (which is what he’s always saying).

‘I don’t want my private parts mulled over by my sister.’ He’s getting some pie from the fridge.

I said, ‘Wash your hands.’

He said, ‘You said it was nothing.’

I said, ‘It is nothing but wash your hands.’

*

It’s an aerodrome we go to, disused. We shouldn’t but he’s only fifteen so it would be illegal anywhere else, and I’m not altogether sure it’s legal there, but it’s off the road and he’s desperate to start driving. His dad’s not keen but he doesn’t have the patience to teach him anyway.

I nearly killed him though today. There was a lad gunning his motorbike about and Michael nearly went into him, scraped him. It was my fault. I should have been looking in the mirror. He scarcely touched us, this lad, and just belted off, only I had my hand gripping Michael’s leg I was so shocked. And he was trembling. He said, ‘Mum, let go my leg.’ I said, ‘I hope it hasn’t scratched the bodywork.’ He said, ‘It’s my bodywork I’m bothered about, let go my leg.’ Anyway, there was only a tiny mark on the bumper. I couldn’t hardly see it, only I said I’d tell Dad it was me that was driving.

I’d brought a flask, so we sat there on this runway having some coffee. I said, shouted actually, with having his music on, ‘Is this what they call “quality time”?’

And he nods, though whether at me or the music I couldn’t tell. And then he’s looking at his phone.

Later on, Maureen saw me checking the bumper. She said, ‘Is that a scratch?’ 

‘No, it fucking well isn’t,’ Michael said. ‘And anyway Mum was driving.’

He winks at me. And I wink back, only I can’t wink so just screwed my face up.

He looks more than fifteen.

Thinking about it afterwards, I didn’t see the bike because I was looking at Michael’s hands on the wheel and thinking how much nicer they are than my hands.

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FORGOTTEN PLAYS: NO 7 – ‘SKYVERS’ (1963) BY BARRY RECKORD ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/12;  Riveting drama … from left, David Hemmings, Chloe Ashcroft and Phillip Martin in Skyvers at the Royal Court. Photograph: ANL/Rex/Shutterstock.)

Reckord’s unflinchingly honest social document pinned down the flaws in a UK education system that consigned an underclass to a dead-end future

Why are there so few good plays about school life? A handful have achieved iconic status. Alan Bennett’s The History Boys (2004) was once voted the nation’s favourite play. Terence Rattigan’s The Browning Version (1948) is a moving study of despised teacher. Nigel Williams’s Class Enemy (1978) captures the anarchy of an inner-city school. But, good as Williams’s play is, it is more than matched by Barry Reckord’s Skyvers (1963). The piece had a fierce champion in the late Pam Brighton, who directed a superb revival in 1971, but it remains curiously little-known.

Reckord’s story is significant. Born in Jamaica, he studied at Cambridge, became a teacher and then a full-time writer who, as Yvonne Brewster has said, “laid a foundation for later emerging Caribbean playwrights such as Mustapha Matura, Michael Abbensetts and Alfred Fagon”. All found a home at the Royal Court in the 60s and 70s, but it was Reckord who paved the way.

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QUEER KIDS, NERDS AND SWORD FIGHTS: IT’S THE HOT SCHOOL PLAY ·

(from The New York Times, 7/2; Photo: The New York Times; via Pam Green.)  

This is a narrative about youngsters who make up tales. This is a narrative through which ladies wield swords, queer youngsters are cool and nerds rule the earth.

This is a narrative about “She Kills Monsters,” and those that find it irresistible.

Qui Nguyen’s spirited play about discovering your actual and metaphorical households, in addition to your self, by means of Dungeons & Dragons did nicely sufficient when it premiered on the Flea Theater in 2011 — Eric Grode referred to as it a “deceptively breezy and somewhat ingenious comedy” in The New York Times. The play ran, closed, and Nguyen moved on, most notably to his acclaimed semi-autobiographical breakthrough “Vietgone,” and writing gigs for Disney.

“She Kills Monsters,” in the meantime, had simply gotten began. In the intervening years, it has blossomed into considered one of America’s hottest exhibits, with 797 productions (carried out and deliberate) between 2013 and subsequent 12 months. Of these, one was an expert revival, 144 had been by beginner firms and a whopping 652 had been performed on faculty and school campuses.

“We’re coping with themes that each excessive schooler, each school scholar confronts in some unspecified time in the future, whether or not or not it’s this concept of the underdog or familial wrestle or sexuality or gender,” mentioned Kelly Trumbull, who’s co-directing a web based manufacturing slated for July 12 on the University of Pittsburgh, the place she is a educating artist. (The dwell 7:30 p.m. webcast is free; the present will stay accessible for a small price till July 26.)

In the present, the teenage Tilly dies early on in a automotive crash and her older sister, Agnes, should take care of not simply with grief however with how little she knew about her sibling: studying a pocket book left behind, she learns that Tilly was a role-playing aficionado, as an example, and that she had a girlfriend in her recreation world. (The presence of sturdy feminine characters is one other large issue for the present’s reputation on campuses, as ladies are usually overrepresented in drama departments.)

These topics don’t fly in every single place, however obstacles have solely energized followers of the play. DeAnna Tart, who runs the theater division at Trinidad High School in rural Texas, needed to overcome many hurdles earlier than she might enter her manufacturing of “She Kills Monsters” within the 2017-18 version of her state’s University Interscholastic League contest.

“It could be very comedic, nevertheless it’s additionally very tragic,’’ she mentioned by phone. “It dives into sexuality, which some folks deem controversial even for top school-age college students, sadly.’’

Once her principal gave her the greenlight, Tart needed to observe the competition’s parameters, trimming for size and enhancing out some curse phrases, whereas preserving the present’s integrity. “And we gained the state championship,” she mentioned. “It was fairly superior.”

Nguyen, 43, is delighted by the eye the script has obtained, even whereas sounding a little bit nonplused.

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DIXON PLACE: THE HOT FESTIVAL—THE NYC CELEBRATION OF QUEER CULTURE ·

JULY 6 – AUGUST 1, 2020

 

Theater, dance, music, literature and homoeroticism for the whole family! Since 1992, it remains the longest running festival of its kind in the world. 

 

In support of LGBTQ+ people of color, a portion of donations & ticket sales will be donated to: Ali Forney CenterAudre Lorde Project, Black Visions CollectiveDestination TomorrowGays Against GunsINCITE!Marsha P. Johnson instituteNational Black Justice CoalitionNY Transgender Advocacy GroupThe Okra Project and more.

 

The HOT Festival is made possible w/public funds from NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs w/the City Council and NY State Council on the Arts w/the support of Gov Andrew Cuomo & the NY State Legislature; and donors like you.

 

WEEK 2 SCHEDULE

 

 

 

MON JUL 13, 2020 6:30 PM

PREMIERE ON YOUTUBE

HAND WASH

Jeff McMahon

Frenemies share a fret-over via Zoom. Social Distances (camera-close): new short works written & directed by Jeff McMahon.

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TUE JUL 14, 2020 7:00 PM

LIVE ON ZOOM

A Socially Acceptable Breakdown

Patrick Roche

Acclaimed poet Patrick Roche blends storytelling, poetry, dance and comedy, challenging us to find connection and laughter through our many breakdowns.

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TUE JUL 14, 2020 8:30 PM PREMIERE ON YOUTUBE

Experiments & Disorders Goes Virtual

Sur Rodney (Sur) and Bishakh Som

Fiction, nonfiction, poetry & performance texts by the most adventurous, cross-genre established & emerging writers.

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JUL 16 – 25, 2020

LIVE ON ZOOM!

Spanking Machine

written & performed by Marga Gomez

directed by Adrian Alexander Alea

In “Spanking Machine” GLAAD Award-winning writer/performer Marga Gomez shifts across gender, latitudes and generations in a darkly comic memoir about the first boy she ever sloppy-kissed and how it made them gay forever. “His real name was Agamemnon Perez Jr. but he shortened it to “Scotty” because he thought Agamemnon sounded too Cuban.” By turns funny and disturbing, Gomez recounts growing up brown and queer in Washington Heights, sadistic nuns on poppers, tender vampires, childhood misdemeanors, parental post-nasal drip, fear, assault and suppressed memory. The 70-minute show will blend Marga performing live from her “virtual stage” with footage from Spanking Machine’s final invited dress rehearsal before the pandemic.

 

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