For show-starved theatergoers, nothing beats a live performance. Even so, much of the pandemic-fueled online offerings coming from local companies continue to prove entertaining and informative.
At 1st Stage, the Tysons, Va.-based acclaimed company, artistic and managing director Alex Levy and associate artistic director Deidra LaWan Starnes, have introduced a series of six free Virtual Round Table Discussions with new segments added weekly through mid-November. Using Zoom, the forum pairs two theater professionals, many with insights into marginalized populations, in hour-long, unmoderated discussions on wildly different aspects of the industry.
“We were trying to figure out a way to continue engaging with audience and artists during the pandemic,” says Starnes. “We have done community conversations as part of productions, and we were looking for something similar but with a different feel. We like the idea of getting artists together virtually to have conversations among themselves.”
Of the half dozen discussions, Starnes names two as closest to her heart: “Redefining the Classics” and “Theatre and Parenting.”
“I’m at a point in life where I’m interested in how classic theater or the concept of classic theater is evolving,” says Starnes who is also an accomplished working actor. “We’re entering a new era that places other plays into the classical theater realm. I’m interested to hear what artists who have worked in that arena have to say.”
As the mother of two children, 20 and 16, who have been a part of her theater career since they were born, Starnes made sure to bring raising theater babies into the conversation.
Parenting round table participant Thembi Duncan, a longtime theater professional, on the boards and behind the scenes, and mother to a 22-year-old aspiring actor, says “I’m excited to talk about the ways theater practitioner parents can make it work for themselves and their families. My daughter benefited from being exposed to my profession, and has ended up going into that profession with no pressure from me. Daily, she was exposed to the joy of self-expression and the way that self-expression can impact the world in a positive way.”
After many years in D.C., Duncan and her wife, now live in Buffalo, N.Y., where Duncan is director of arts engagement and education at Shea’s Performing Arts Center. She advises younger parents pursuing careers in theater to put something reliable in place to support the family. “Theater will be here; it will exist always in some form. If you want to be in theater, you can stay in theater, and it doesn’t have to be on stage — for every actor there are 15 people behind the scenes from administration to production.”
Another upcoming conversation “Waiting for Life to Begin,” a discussion of post-pandemic life, features out director and Ford’s Theatre’s director of artistic programming José Carrasquillo. He recently received a Helen Hayes Award for directing 1st Stage’s production of gay playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “The Brothers Size.”
Via phone from a borrowed bungalow in the wilds of New York state where he’s riding out the pandemic, Carrasquillo shares how he’ll approach the round table: “Not only do we have the pandemic but various reckonings, particularly the racial reckoning, so for me, I’m interested in discussing what kind of theater and work we want to do after we come back.
“We can’t go back to the way things were before for various reasons. But specifically, we need to focus on the stories that we tell and how we as curators of the art that gets put onstage, dismantle racism and creates an industry where equality rules.”
With regard to return, Carrasquillo says that’s an individual decision, adding, “My metric will be whether I as a 59-year-old Latin person will feel safe going into a space. I think the space will have to reassure me that none of my actors or designers will get sick and the staff will not get sick and that audiences will feel safe. I don’t see that happening for myself until the fall of 2021.”
In the meantime, he’s open to further discussion and happy to support 1st Stage in any way he can.
For details go to 1ststagetysons.org.
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