Photo: Tony Powell

Female-Empowered Vanity Fair on the Complexities of Humanity & Transcendence of Gender

With few exceptions, it’s music to a journalist’s ear when an interviewee says, “You’re asking my favorite question.” But it’s just icing on the cake when your subject is a feminist playwright whose focus is reclaiming female narratives, and you strike a chord that leads to a thoughtful reflection on gender equity in theatre, driving social change through the arts, and breaking down the walls between millennial audiences and the classics.

“I don’t believe that classics deserve to be museum pieces or laid in some beautiful, unmoving grave,” Kate Hamill tells me. “I think they should be able to run around, and we should be able to draw on those altars with crayon and see what they mean to us.”

Hamill’s interpretation of Vanity Fair, on Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Stage through the end of March, is the only female-written stage adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s epic 1600-page novel. When she started toying with the idea of reclaiming the 1840s text for a 2018 audience and was told it couldn’t be done, she accepted the challenge head on.

“I’m a bit of a brat,” she says laughing, “so the minute someone says, ‘You can’t do that,’  I’m like, ‘I’m going to do it.’”

The playwright creates a 12-year portal into the lives of friends Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley, from when they graduate school at 18 to becoming grown women with children at 30. As the pair navigates their own individual paths in climbing the social ladder within a patriarchal society, Hamill tears down the archetypes of good girl versus bad girl and shows audiences that neither woman is perfect nor particularly condemnable. In fact, women are just human beings like everyone else.

“It’s imaginative and a spectacle, but rooted in truth so you’re not left with just a show,” actress Rebekah Brockman, who plays Becky, says of Hamill’s work. “There’s a pulse behind it and human beings behind it.”

Brockman says there’s a gradual grounding of reality that happens over the course of Becky and Amelia’s friendship as the two experience major milestones together, and credits Hamill with giving the characters more depth.

“You can’t be too quick to judge someone because there’s a reason people make bad decisions. There’s a reason people act the way they do.”

Brockman and Maribel Martinez, who plays Amelia, wax philosophical on the topic across the table from me, finishing each other’s sentences as eloquent phrases pour out of them.

“There’s more to be found in humanity,” Martinez says.

“More complexity,” Brockman continues.

The actresses are elated to be working together on a Hamill play, a feeling intensified by the fact that Shakespeare Theatre’s production is truly a feminist work. The director, Jessica Stone, rounds out the powerhouse female talent at the helm of Vanity Fair.

“I do think it’s really heartening that places like Shakespeare Theatre, which is dedicated largely to classical work, is producing so much work directed by women and made by women,” Hamill says.

Brockman and Martinez share the playwright’s vision for shaping their characters to be more multidimensional and creating a storyline that encourages empathy rather than judgment from the audience.

“I wanted to create a play which challenges you over and over again to challenge your own judgment, because I think when you judge these women it says more about you than it does about them,” Hamill says. “It’s really important to bring that story to DC.”

She hopes that by shifting the narrative to focus on how the women’s bond strengthens over time, audiences will see how Becky and Amelia are able to inch toward defeating the patriarchal system they live within. The playwright is also eager to do away with gender constructs onstage; many of her works promote gender fluidity.

“I’m interested in not only breaking down arbitrary gender roles, but also in creating more interesting work for female artists – I’m always happy to see a woman in a man’s role,” she says with a chuckle. “When you’re an actress, it’s nice to be asked to stretch in that way.”

Hamill played Becky in the original production in New York, giving her unique insight into how she envisions the story unfolding onstage. The current leads are in lockstep with the playwright, describing theatre as an agent for change. Martinez and Brockman say the gender switches in the production highlight the theme of fluidity in companionship, in all relationships even, that we all experience when the curtain closes and we return to reality.

The topic that seems to bond these three artists more than any other we cover in what are truly meaningful, fascinating conversations to me as a woman and lover of the arts is female empowerment in theatre; giving women a seat at the table in leadership roles is what will ultimately make change. Hamill notes that though there are statistically more women than men in theatre school, fast-forward 20 years and of those former students, significantly more men are offered lead roles and directorial opportunities.

“I’m not saying every female story filtered through a male gaze is a bad thing, but it’s a problem when that is the only kind of story we’re getting,” she says.

All three women feel the tides are changing, and they’re encouraged and excited. Though the hill is not an easy climb, the top is in sight and it’s women like them who will get us there.

“All of the different voices that the world has to give,” Martinez says with an infectious optimism in her voice, “we need them in higher positions so that it trickles down and we get all the exciting things that theatre can be.”

Catch Martinez and Brockman in Hamill’s Vanity Fair on the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre stage now through Sunday, March 31. Tickets are $49-$135 and can be purchased at www.shakespearetheatre.org. Learn more about the playwright at www.kate-hamill.com.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Photo: Kahn & Selesnick

Amanda Palmer Gets Deeply Personal with No Intermission

It’s no surprise Amanda Palmer tweeted a video of Rocky’s training montage from Sylvester Stallone’s franchise. This particular one isn’t the most famous – I think him running up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps takes the cake – but the “Hearts on Fire”-led video depicts a bearded Rocky running up a mountain, chopping down trees and shouting “Drago!” Palmer isn’t a boxer, and she’s not prepping to rescue the world from communism in a 12-round bout, but she’s a f–king fighter, and she needed a little motivation this morning.

“To be f–king honest with you, that was the first [song] YouTube gave me,” Palmer says with a snicker. “I woke up with my list of sh-t to do rolling through my head, and I had to lift wood because I’m literally living in the [wilderness] and loading up on firewood. I’m training to fight patriarchy. It’s galvanizing me.”

Palmer has been shaking up the music world since 2000 when she and Brian Viglione formed The Dresden Dolls. In the nearly two decades since, she’s produced a variety of music ranging from orchestral mashups to eclectic covers of Radiohead to tributes to David Bowie. With a background in theatre and other forms of performance art, it’s rare that her music stays on the tracks as it typically bleeds into other mediums. Now she’s gearing up for a tour in late March focused on a mixed-medium release titled There Will Be No Intermission, which includes a full-length album, an artbook, videos and live performances with a stop at National Theatre on April 5.

“There was no question I’d take the show on the road,” Palmer says. “I’ve never had a cohesive show; it’s usually been a grab bag. This album, where it came from and what it represents to me, brings with it a kind of accountability where I don’t want to f–k it up. I’ve really had to think hard about how to be a guidance counselor for the audience as far as navigating this material and digesting it.”

Her career is very much built on the personal relationship she has with her audience, and Palmer’s upcoming tour features her most intimate revealings yet with songs about abortion, miscarriages and other powerful vignettes from her life story.

“This record was written in real time and while these things were happening. In a song like ‘Voicemail for Jill,’ I look at it honestly; it took me years to write. I sat down dozens of times, and I found writing about abortion incredibly difficult. You could look at that song and say it took 23 years to write.”

The music on the record and in her performance vacillates from whimsical to serious, dark to witty, political to personal. Despite the wide range of topics and emotions tapped, the piece never feels disjointed and everything is connected.

“You can’t separate the political landscape from the personal experience I’ve had the past few years,” the artist says. “My child was born when Trump became president. I’ll never be able to figure out which was the chicken and the egg, but all those things [led to] a sense of urgency. Even though this is the most personal, honest, inevitable record I’ve made, it feels the most political because the most powerful thing a woman can do right now is tell the truth about an experience.”

The album title represents a clever way of declaring that life never stops. Sometimes there are no breaks in the waves, no pauses for breath and no time to gather yourself in a tough situation. Despite the subtext of the name, the songs are broken up by peaceful interludes of instrumentation.

“There are intermissions – the irony continues,” Palmer says laughing. “They’re the breathing space in between the assaults. I wanted to give the entire album space. I’m really happy; it was a happy accident.”

She did toy with the idea of doing the performance straight through. However, because of the heavy subject matter and emotional relentlessness, she decided to reconsider after a test run where people wandered in and out of where she was rehearsing.

“It’s difficult, and I need to let them leave,” she says candidly. “I’ve tried to address people and no one’s ever angry, but I’ve had to develop a way to warn them about what’s onstage. You don’t go see Halloween 8 and expect a guy without a knife, just like you’re not coming to an Amanda Palmer show and expecting Disney songs and jazz hands.”

Luckily for Palmer, most of her fans are kept up-to-date by the artist herself. She’s constantly finding new ways to interact with the people who have enabled her to be a self-sufficient artist. Through membership platform Patreon and other fundraising methods, she has remained independent as a musician, allowing her art to be beautifully, brutally honest.

“I’ve never separated my evolution as songwriter and performing artist with the conversation I’m having with the rest of the world. If anything, those two things have become intertwined. It’s way less scary. I didn’t want to be an artist separate from a community, behind a wall. I got into making music because I wanted to connect with people.”

Connect with Amanda Palmer at National Theatre on Friday, April 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $39-$54 and available at www.thenationaldc.org. Learn more about Palmer and her tour at www.nointermission.amandapalmer.net.

National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-628-6161; www.thenationaldc.org

Photos: Courtesy of 10 creatives // Illustration: Trent Johnson

The Artistic, The Inspiring and The Fashionable: 10 Creative Female Forces in the District

With a record number of women running for president in 2020 and the largest number of women in a congressional freshman class yet, 2019 is shaping up to be the Year of the Woman in politics. Much less hyped in DC’s media, however, are the strides made by women in the arts. That’s why for our Women’s Issue, On Tap chose to highlight 10 outstanding women from the areas of performing arts, fine arts, wellness and empowerment, and style. From Strathmore’s CEO to one of Rihanna’s stylists, meet the badass ladies responsible for expanding a culture of inclusivity and women empowerment in the city.

PERFORMING ARTS

Photo: Margot Schulman

Photo: Margot Schulman

Monica Jeffries Hazangeles
President and CEO, Strathmore

Monica Jeffries Hazangles began her artistic journey when she first joined choir in elementary school, but focused her vision after falling in love with arts management as a graduate student during her time with the Friends of Chamber Music in Kansas City, Missouri.

From there, she joined American University’s Arts Management program in DC then Strathmore, where she’s served as president since 2011. In September 2018, she added the title and responsibilities of CEO to her repertoire. While serving as the Strathmore’s president over the years, Hazangles formed her personal worldview on the importance of the arts, believing they are “elemental to who we are as people.”

“[The arts] give us expanded ways to express ourselves,” she says. “They elevate, enrich and transform us. It is our job to make them as accessible as possible to the residents of this region and state. If arts are within reach of everyone who wants to access them, we will ensure that generations grow up believing the arts are essential.”

Her advice for finding authority and voice as a woman in the arts is “to demonstrate that there are many ways to lead and to be creative.”

“Women can be extremely effective in demystifying leadership.”

Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

Photo: DJ Corey Photography

Photo: DJ Corey Photography

Rebecca Ende Lichtenberg
Managing Director, Studio Theatre

Rebecca Ende Lichtenberg left Theatre J last October to join Studio Theatre as its new managing director. Although she is only 37, Lichtenberg has already made a splash in DC’s performing arts scene over the past eight years; moving to Studio Theatre gives her the chance to shine on a bigger stage, so to speak.

Studio Theatre’s Queen of Basel, showing from March 6 to April 7, focuses on empowering women by flipping the script on a play rooted in misogyny. The play is a modern, Latinx-focused retelling of Miss Julie, which tells the story of a woman who kills herself because a man told her that was the only way to escape the burden of their premarital rendezvous. Playwright Hilary Bettis’ version, complete with actual female character development, is sure to be devoid of the outdated, sexist themes of the original.

“Hilary’s take on [the play] is born from how sick the misogyny of his original made her feel, so she actively counters that with a production that is a Miss Julie without unexamined misogyny,” Lichtenberg says. “That’s why we’re proud to present Queen of Basel. It’s a take on Miss Julie that is empowering, told from a prismatic Latinx perspective, and most importantly, is unexpected.”

For dates and tickets to Queen of Basel, visit www.studiotheatre.org.

Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

Photo: Courtesy of Arena Stage

Photo: Courtesy of Arena Stage

Seema Sueko
Deputy Artistic Director, Arena Stage

Seema Sueko says in the grand scheme of things, she does theatre to build successful communities; but there is a deeper, underlying layer of her passion.

“Nothing beats the excitement and electricity of being in a rehearsal room with fellow artists and discovering the truths of a character’s arc or the truth of a piece of text,” she says. “We are discovering what it means to be human. It is powerful and it is humbling.”

Sueko’s current production, The Heiress, runs until March 10 and has some juicy bits of truth in store for the audience. Playwrights Ruth and Augustus Goetz based The Heiress on Henry James’ novella Washington Square, the inspiration for which he found through a piece of gossip. After Sueko finished assembling the design team for the play, she noticed she had unintentionally hired a cast of people who all identified as women, which she thought fit perfectly.

“Once I realized that, I could see how all-female design team allows us to build on the legacy of growing empowerment of this story from gossip to stage.”

The Heiress runs through March 10. For information regarding showtimes and tickets, visit www.arenastage.org.

Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

FINE ARTS

Photo: Courtesy of Marcella Stanieri

Photo: Courtesy of Marcella Stanieri

Marcella Stranieri
Illustrator

Marcella Stranieri has always loved to draw. She’s kept a journal of her thoughts, ideas and drawings ever since she was little, and often finds loose scraps of paper covered in doodles and observations in her pockets and bags.

“These two idiosyncrasies, drawing and writing, collided with each other a few years ago when I quit smoking,” the DC-based illustrator says. “My hands were itching for cigarettes all the time. It was driving me nuts, so I started drawing out my ideas instead of writing them to keep my hands busy. I loved it so much, so I decided to start an Instagram for them.”

Now, her Instagram page @marcella.draws has more than 46,000 followers and is still growing. She finds inspiration for her sarcastic pen and paper line drawings in her daily experiences with friends, family and strangers alike. She’s found a lot of support from both men and women on Instagram and has noticed men commenting that they relate with her drawings, even the particularly “girly” ones.

“I like that people are slowly realizing that the default relatable thing does not have to be masculine. Men can relate to women the same way that women have been relating to men for the past few millennia.”

To see the latest artwork from Stranieri, follow her on Instagram @marcella.draws, and visit her website www.marcelladraws.com.

Photo: Courtesy of Lauren Brown

Photo: Courtesy of Lauren Brown

Lauren Melanie Brown
Founder, Fashion Grunge

Freelance photographer Lauren Melanie Brown created Fashion Grunge, an online platform dedicated to art, fashion and music of the 90s grunge era, in 2008 when she was living in New York City.

“The era of blogs was starting, and I was uninspired in my day job and wanted a place to talk about my favorite era of music and fashion,” Brown says. “Now Fashion Grunge has become an international platform for artists to contribute work and music related to the grunge aesthetic as they see fit. It’s great to get so many global perspectives while also tying in nostalgic culture.”

As a woman of color, Brown says she’s always trying to uplift marginalized voices and experiences on her platform.

“I always encourage people of all identities to contribute to the Fashion Grunge platform, whether it’s in traditional images or essays to express inner thoughts. I think visibility is the key for appreciating and educating about minorities. I consciously use my reach online to show not just a singular notion of what you can be and express.”

To read Fashion Grunge, visit www.fashiongrunge.com. For more information about Brown, visit www.laurenmelaniebrown.com.

Photo: Courtesy of Tati Pastukhova

Photo: Courtesy of Tati Pastukhova

Tati Pastukhova
Co-founder + Managing Director, ARTECHOUSE

Nearly a decade ago, Tati Pastukhova and Sandro Kereselidze created Art Soiree, a DC-based organization dedicated to uplifting and curating contemporary artists and their work. As technology advanced, the pair quickly realized the lack of space for artists who work with new wave digital mediums. That’s where ARTECHOUSE comes in. The “art space dedicated to showcasing experiential and technology driven works” also houses the first augmented reality bar in the U.S.

“Technology has expanded our abilities as humans to interact with what we are given and that includes our imagination and expression in arts,” Pastukhova says. “The new forms of art that will emerge through technology will allow viewers to be a part of the storytelling and of the creative processes, enabling them to curate their own experience of art, unique to themselves.”

In early spring, ARTECHOUSE will feature an installment titled “In Peak Bloom,” showcasing works of art based on DC’s famous cherry blossoms from an all-female cast of creators.

“We believe in treating everyone equal and part of that is not creating a differentiation or highlighting one individual or group over the other. It is important to highlight [the fewer number of women in arts and tech] in hopes of inspiring the current and future generation to enter these fields.”

To learn more about Art Soiree, visit www.artsoiree.com, and for more information about ARTECHOUSE, visit www.dc.artechouse.com.

ARTECHOUSE: 1238 Maryland Ave. SW, DC; www.dc.artechouse.com

WELLNESS + EMPOWERMENT

Photo: Wendy K. Yalom

Photo: Wendy K. Yalom

Kimberly Pendleton
Women’s Empowerment Coach

As a women’s empowerment coach and women’s studies professor at the University of Maryland, Kimberly Pendleton helps women realize their full potential through online and in-person courses, workshops and programs. She started her personal business of women’s empowerment coaching when she was finishing her PhD. Now, Pendleton helps over 200 clients from around the globe to strengthen their personal relationships, find out who they are and drop baggage.

“My premium program UNCOVER has helped women recover their relationships, find love and most importantly, feel at home in themselves,” Pendleton says.

UNCOVER, a 10-week program focusing on inner awakenings through embodied practices and coaching exercises, has a $1,237 price tag, but Pendleton says the high cost of service is supportive of the “high level of energy and training” that goes into her work.

“I do believe in paying women for their labor and valuing their knowledge, especially in areas that bring soft skills and social/emotional intelligence to the forefront. I also have seen that when women invest in themselves at an edge that makes them feel a little nervous, they show up for themselves in a different way and experience more rapid transformation.”

Pendleton also offers some complimentary services including #MeToo workshops, an e-newsletter and Roadmap to Romance, a free week of video trainings on self-love, empowerment, and relationships available at www.roadmaptoromance.com.

For more information about Pendleton and the services she provides including UNCOVER, visit www.kimberlypendleton.com.

Photo: Courtesy of Leah Beilhart

Photo: Vanessa Baioni

Leah Beilhart
Founder, Behold.Her

Leah Beilhart wanted to be a professional soccer player, but that all changed after one service trip to the Czech Republic from Germany.

“It was the first time I saw a photograph of myself and cried,” she says. “The amount of sweat, mud and joy across my face was priceless. It changed my life and made me decide that I wanted to give that same pleasure to another human being.”

Over the next several years, Beilhart built her portfolio, reputation and skills as a freelance photographer before landing in DC.

“Portraiture became my main game and eventually the catalyst for Behold.Her when I found myself in DC wanting to create an environment where women could feel carefree and less filtered.”

Behold.Her, now in its third year, began as a portraiture and conversational series, but soon blossomed into a project series captivating a community of women and celebrating its diverse racial, cultural, religious and sexual orientation backgrounds.

“The biggest things we focus on is self-worth. We want women to focus completely on listening and sharing. Self-development takes a lot of energy. Most women leave emotionally depleted, but at the same time re-energized to approach life a little differently or feel less alone.”

Beilhart says Behold.Her is working toward a Self Worth Conference at the end of the year. Each quarter of 2019 will have its own theme: self-worth, sexuality and consent, money and guilt, and finally, community and relationships. All four themes will be combined at the multi-day, self-focused conference for women.

For additional information about Beilhart, visit her website at www.leahbeilhart.com. For details about Behold.Her and its various programs and conferences, visit www.beholdher.co.

STYLE

Photo: Alison Beshai

Photo: Alison Beshai

Frederique Stephanie
Freelance Stylist + Consultant

From Belgium to the Middle East, France to Ireland and England to DC, Frederique Stephanie has trotted the globe as a freelance stylist and public relations consultant. Freddie, as her friends call her, has worked as a stylist for celebrities like Rihanna, Drew Barrymore, Alexa Chung, Lily Allen and Pixie Geldof. But the biggest highlight of Freddie’s career was working on the Adidas Originals campaign featuring David Beckham, Snoop Dogg and Noel Gallagher, among other big names. Style is important to Stephanie, and always has been. And while she is definitely stylish, she says she’s not a fashionista.

“Style is a better word,” she says. “It is a reflection of my unique complexity as a human being.”

Stephanie decided to move across the Atlantic when she saw the growth potential for the DC creative market. She says her success in the nation’s capital comes from her unique background and perspective.

“I’m a black girl with Caribbean roots raised in Paris, but who spent most of her life in London. The DC creative scene needs more variety and different point of views. The city is changing and so will the industry standards as people start pushing boundaries.”

Now working as a PR consultant for Eaton DC, a collective of culture, media, hospitality, wellness and progressive social change, Stephanie says it’s “one of the most significant projects [she’s] ever worked on.”

“[Eaton DC] is the perfect platform because of what it stands for and the impact it already has on the city. They are doing incredible work, which is essential in the current [social and political] climate.”

To see what’s stylish to Frederique Stephanie, follow her on Twitter @frederique_s, and check out her blog, www.thepopuphouse.com.

Photo: Matt Spivack

Photo: Matt Spivack

Jai Lescieur
Stylist + Creative Director

Jai Lescieur recently moved to DC from London where she began her career as a styling manager and creative consultant. She worked on a variety of projects that included assisting on a shoot for Vogue China, working on a documentary about David Beckham, customizing outfits for a British TV show and getting published in British Vogue. Now, Lescieur works closely with Lauren Melanie Brown at Fashion Grunge and continues to freelance as a stylist.

“I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what DC has to offer and I am excited to continue exploring the city,” she says.

Her love for fashion and art stems from a childhood spent in Mexico City, where her mother would dress up even when she wasn’t going out and her father would wear pants tailored from curtains just because he loved the fabric so much. Now that she’s grown, Lescieur finds inspiration from powerful women like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Michelle Obama who are exploring different kinds of fashion while in the public eye.

“I love how they are changing the conversation of how women are viewed by what they wear. Although some people will always unfairly criticize powerful women for what they wear, these women are showing that fashion can also be a symbol of their empowerment.”

For more information about Jai Lescieur, visit her website at www.jailescieur.com or follow her on Instagram @jai_stylefactory.

Stage and Screen: March 2019

THROUGH SUNDAY, MARCH 24

Blood at the Root
Blood at the Root is the story of what happens when a black student chooses to occupy a primarily white space in her high school, driving hate, violence and chaos among her classmates. The play, inspired by the Jena Six court case in Louisiana, examines the link between bias, justice and identity and asks audiences to consider what is lost when implicit biases shape our view of – and adherence to – justice. Written by Dominique Morisseau, the play is described as moving, lyrical and bold. Various dates and times. Tickets $40. The Anacostia Playhouse: 2020 Shannon Pl. SE, DC; www.anacostiaplayhouse.com

FRIDAY, MARCH 1 – SUNDAY, APRIL 14

JQA
The latest offering from award-winning playwright Aaron Posner, JQA is an imaginative and thought-provoking story that illustrates conversations between John Quincy Adams, who was known for his integrity, statesmanship and arrogance, with other American leaders including Frederick Douglass, Andrew Jackson and his own father John Adams. Described as provocative, haunting and hilarious, JQA received an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. Various dates and times. Tickets $92-$115. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. NW, DC; www.arenastage.org

MONDAY, MARCH 4 – SUNDAY, MARCH 24

Confection
The newest offering from New York-based Third Rail Projects is an immersive, multisensory dance and theatre performance staged throughout the Folger Reading Rooms. Inspired by the richness of the Folger Library and the lavishness of the 17th-century aristocracy, the performance examines the power of appetite and desire. Directed by Zach Morris and Jennine Willett, Confection is a story of opulence and consumption that not only invites audiences into the Folger’s magnificent Reading Rooms, but also invites them to enjoy bite-sized treats made by local pâtissiers. Various dates and times. Tickets $40-$60. Folger Shakespeare Library: 201 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

FRIDAY, MARCH 8 – WEDNESDAY, MAY 22

Into the Woods
Ford Theatre’s Into the Woods is a darkly funny reimagining of several beloved fairy tales from the minds of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. The play follows a baker and his wife on a quest to break a witch’s curse, which leads them into the woods where they cross paths with timeless characters like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and a pair of lovelorn princes. The play has won Tony Awards for score and script, and this Peter Flynn-directed rendition promises to inspire both laughs and introspection. Various dates and times. Tickets $28-$81. Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; www.fords.org

SATURDAY, MARCH 9 – SATURDAY, APRIL 6

Hands on a Hardbody
Featuring a score by Amanda Green and Phish’s Trey Anastasio, Hands on a Hardbody tells the story of 10 Texans competing to win a new truck. The contest is hilarious and hard-fought, and characters learn that perseverance, determination and hope can lead them to their American Dream. The play has been described as a quintessential American musical, and features a diverse cast of characters highlighting the intersectionality of the American identity. Set to a score featuring blues, country and R&B, Hands on a Hardbody is a quirky play that promises to enliven the District in its regional premiere. Various dates and times. Tickets $62. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, MARCH 14 – SUNDAY, MARCH 24

The National Geographic Society Environmental Film Festival
The Environmental Film Festival returns to the District for its 27th year. Sponsored by National Geographic, featured films tackle important environmental issues like overfishing and climate change in addition to presenting visually stunning tales of adventure like the Academy Award-nominated Free Solo, which follows Alex Honnold’s free climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan. The festival includes 11 days of documentary film screenings at more than 25 venues. Details on the films, schedule and tickets are available online. Tickets $12. Times and locations vary. National Geographic Society Environmental Film Festival: Various locations in DC; www.DCeff.org

MONDAY, MARCH 25

Bon Iver & TU Dance’s Come Through
In the first event of the Kennedy Center’s DIRECT CURRENT season highlighting contemporary culture, Bon Iver and TU Dance’s collaboration Come Through fuses genres and mediums. Over a soundtrack featuring new music from two-time Grammy winner Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, nine-member dance troupe TU Dance will mix varied styles such as classical ballet and modern dance. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $49. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

TUESDAY, MARCH 26 – SUNDAY, MARCH 31

A Bronx Tale
Directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks, A Bronx Tale has been described as Jersey Boys meets West Side Story. Set in 1960s New York, the musical tells the story of a young man who must choose between his father’s love and his ambition to be a “made man” in the mafia. The score is comprised of 60s-era doo-wop, and the play contains several ensemble dance numbers. A Bronx Tale features numerous actors and actresses from its time on Broadway, and offers audiences opportunities to laugh, cry and tap their feet. Various dates and times. Tickets $54-$99. National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.org

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Finding Neverland at National Theatre Hooks DC with its Cuteness

The talented company behind Finding Neverland is making a short but sweet stop at the historic National Theatre in DC. British playwright and screenwriter James Graham’s work comes to life with charming music, a dash of romance, heaps of comedy and adorable children. Though some theatre-goers may believe this musical focuses solely on the beloved Peter Pan, it’s less about pirates and fairies, and more about the inspiration behind the story’s famous playwright, J.M. Barrie, portrayed by a charismatic Jeff Sullivan.

Sullivan enchants the audience immediately with the opening monologue/introduction in Act I, and his gentleness and playfulness with the young actors is fun to watch. One of the easiest things to enjoy about this show is the connection between Mr. Barrie and widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four sons.

Sylvia’s son Peter, Barrie’s inspiration for the Peter Pan character, begins as the most mature of his brothers, portrayed as book-smart with a no-nonsense attitude. However, Peter eventually begins to indulge in the silliness that his siblings and Mr. Barrie provide. Collectively, these five characters hammer in the main theme of imagination with the performances of “Believe,” “Play” and the entirety of “The Dinner Party” scene, which gave the audience a good laugh, from the stuffy characters’ behavior to messing with a toupee.

It’d be foolish not to mention one of the musical’s main scene stealers, Charles Frohman, Barrie’s demanding producer, played hilariously and gruffly by Conor McGiffin. McGiffin doubles as Captain James Hook as well – the character who stems from the dark side of J.M. Barrie’s personality. Both characters McGiffin plays are loud, obnoxious and comedic, so all eyes and laughs are on him when he’s center stage.

The Disney magic, if you will, appears through the dreamy production and set design features, such as light projections, shiny fairy dust and twinkling starry nights. Some of J.M. Barrie’s imagination/dream scenes in the musical involved members of the company impressively choreographed in sync with both the music and the projections, which added to the musical’s creative strengths. A favorite subtlety of mine was seeing the cloud scenery change as time went on.

The entire cast is full of bright energy that keeps you smiling  throughout. There’s even a live dog that plays the Llewelyn Davies’ pet who gives the audience “oohs,” “aahs” and “aaws” at every appearance.

In addition to the show being a visual masterpiece, it’s clear the cast means business when it comes to the elegant singing moments, especially Sullivan’s graceful tenor voice married with Ruby Gibbs’ (the female lead character, Sylvia) stunning, lyrical vocals. Even the terribly precious young boys shine in perfect harmony during their performance of “We’re All Made of Stars.”

From the humor to the heart-warming and emotional moments, Finding Neverland is a musical that will resonate with any audience. See the musical at DC’s National Theatre now through Sunday, March 23. Tickets available at www.thenationaldc.org.

National Theatre DC: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.org

Photo: Courtesy of Tap Dogs Photography

Tap Dogs kicks off US tour with Kennedy Center Performances

Originating in Newcastle, Australia, a steel town outside of Sydney, the Tap Dogs fuses an industrial grittiness and precise choreography. The show has been touring the world since the mid 1990s, and is in the U.S. for the next several months. Justin Myles, one of Tap Dogs’ leads, toured internationally with STOMP for seven years, and has choreographed and performed in numerous settings the world over. Both Tap Dogs and DC are close to Myles’ heart. During a rare bit of downtime, he spoke to On Tap about the show that inspired him to dance professionally – a show so exuberant, so expressive and energetic that performers must wear custom boots because traditional tap shoes cannot handle the intensity of the choreography.

On Tap: You’re from the area, aren’t you? And you’ve performed at the Kennedy Center before, what’s it like?
Justin Myles: I was born in College Park, and moved to southern Maryland as a child. Since then I’ve lived in DC, and in Baltimore for a while. I’ve been travelling since the early 2000s, [so] coming back to DC is great. [The city] has always thrived musically, and it has spread into the dance community. There’s so much history in the Kennedy Center, and it’s always a very awesome time. Audiences in DC are stellar; they’re warm, welcoming and ready to be entertained.

OT: Can you tell me a bit about your role in the show?
JM: I play Rat. He wears a backwards cap, nags the other characters and generally provides some comic relief. We all have our own character roles, extensions of who we are in real life. The whole show has comedy wrapped around it, but at the end of the day, we all go to work. It’s rock meets construction meets tap meets comedy.

OT: What’s the cast like?
JM: The cast is great. It’s half Australian and half American, guys ranging from 21 to 38 years old. We have Tap Dogs’ creator Dean Perry’s son Reed Perry playing the role of The Kid. There’s a variety of experience levels, but an incredible level of energy across the board. [Tap Dogs] is powerful and impactful, people will be blown away.

OT: Tell me about your introduction to the show.
JM: I love the show. I fell in love with the show in my teens, at the point in my life when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. [Tap Dogs] showed me tap dance can be strong, professional and powerful. It kicked me in the right direction.

I saw [Tap Dogs] on VHS and live. I saw it live and fell in love with it, then I had it on VHS and watched it all the time. I went to New York to audition for the show in my teens, I think I was 16. They said I was too young, but I held on and finally got into it when I was old enough.

OT: What is the staging like for the show?
JM: The six original cast members in 1995 all grew up in a big steel community, and did tap dancing. So they built Tap Dogs out of the concept of steelworkers tap dancing and built the set around a workman’s set. There are different platforms we dance on made of metal and wood, ladders, scaffolding, two musicians playing in band towers and more.

OT: What appeals to you about performing in Tap Dogs?
JM: In my work I try to fuse everything I’ve learned over my career. The show has a percussive drive, but Tap Dogs is also very rock n’ roll driven. There are no top hats and canes – that’s not all tap is.

Tap Dogs will be performed at the Kennedy Center, February 21-24. Showtimes and ticket prices vary. Tickets available at www.kennedy-center.org.

The Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: DJ Corey Photography

“The Master and Margarita” Paints Unique Picture of Soviet Union

The Constellation Theatre Company took a dramatic shift in their current season with their newest addition, The Master and Margarita.

Based on a novel by Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov and adapted by Edward Kemp, the story was penned in the Soviet Union during Joseph Stalin’s regime. The plot follows the love affair of a playwright, known as The Master (played by Alexander Strain), and a married woman, known as Margarita (played by Amanda Forstrom).

Throughout the production, both characters and audiences grapple with a religious discourse that propels this daring and risqué play.

In an effort to avoid any spoilers, let’s focus on why you should see the performance.

It’s a romantic dramedy that will transport you to a time where censorship was a common method of oppression. The fact that it’s based in the Soviet Union, proves that these atrocious acts are still in affect today. However, in this tale the oppression is one of a comical nature, where you may find yourself rooting for a group you otherwise wouldn’t agree with.

Another is the included magic show that will dazzle even the biggest skeptic. Nicely coupled with a dance and song, the Devil and his crew shine in their spot-on red sparkling 1920s flappers’ attire. It’s moments like these that make you truly wonder what the secret behind a magician is.

Next, we have the poetic love language that causes all hearts to croon. One thing the Russian literary greats have certainly perfected is professing their adoration for loved ones. The streams of decrees fallen on willing ears captivate. This may leave you envious, wishing you too had the words to properly declare your love. Perhaps the only thing missing is a strong Russian accent.

Lastly, we have a talking cat and pig. Honestly, what more could you desire?

Frankly, while one of the many premises of this intricately layered play focuses on the plight of Pontius Pilate days before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the ensemble manages to keep things light and airy. Scenes often leave the audiences to ponder the appropriate reaction to the moments carefully played out in this intimate theater. It’s a complex story and if you’re not listening carefully, you could easily miss a key factor.

Fortunate for all, returning director Allison Arkell Stockman pleasantly produces a revolving door of antics to keep even the most effortlessly distracted person’s eyes glued to the stage. There’s a striptease, decapitated heads, non-revealing “sex” scenes, and, again, a talking cat and pig.

The Master and Margarita is showing through March 3 at Source Theatre. Tickets are $29-$45 and can be purchased at constellationtheatre.org.

Source Theatre: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; 202-204-7741; constellationtheatre.org

Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Modern Shakespeare: Richard the Third at STC

“Now is the winter of our discontent.”

The opening line of Richard the Third would have you believe that all hardships are over and only good days are to come. But as theatergoers attending Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) upcoming production of Richard the Third will soon realize, anything but peace lies ahead.

Directed by David Muse for STC and running from February 5 through March 10, Shakespeare’s Richard the Third follows the titular role of Richard on his ambitious quest for the crown. A spiteful megalomaniac, Richard (Matthew Rauch) will stop at nothing until he sits on the throne, and thus invites the audience into a world of murder, villainy and even dark fun.

“Yes, Richard does horrific things in this play,” Rauch says, “but my hope and David’s [Muse] hope, I think, is that at least for the first part of the play, the audience reaction will not be ‘Oh, what a terrible person,’ but ‘Oh, isn’t he just deliciously evil’ and it’s terrible, but it’s fun to watch.”

Rauch emphasizes that just because the title of the play is Richard the Third, it doesn’t mean the story is only about him.

“It’s very easy with a face on the poster and the title of the play, for people to think there’s only one person involved,” Rauch says. “The truth is there’s about a hundred people involved and all of them are crucial.”

Some of those crucial people are the women around Richard, including his mother the Duchess of York, Margaret of Anjou and Queen Elizabeth. Rauch points out that while Richard can brilliantly manipulate people and events, these particular women don’t bend easily to his will and disprove the outdated notion that Shakespearean women are damsels in distress.

But a fourth woman equally as important to the play’s development, Lady Anne of Neville (Cara Ricketts), is the person who perhaps best understands Richard.

“Richard sees himself in [Anne] and she sees herself in him, in a way that she probably feels like she may break through to him,” Ricketts says. “He pretends it’s a possibility and she falls for it.”

Bust because Anne is ultimately manipulated by Richard, this doesn’t make her simple.

“My Anne is not a pushover,” Ricketts says. “There’s nothing soft about these women. The foundation for these characters has never been soft women.”

Ricketts adds she is ready to play Anne the way an audience 70 years ago may not have let her.

“During the 50s, you had preconceived notions about what a woman was in terms of society so that’s what you got,” Ricketts says. “Now I’ve got a chance to let loose the girdle and make it rip, so that’s what I’m doing while respecting what that character is.”

These preconceived notions of Shakespearean women are not the only ideas cast and crew hope prove outdated. Perhaps one of the most famous scenes in the play is the “wooing scene” where Richard interrupts Anne’s mourning of her father-in-law.

Rauch stresses that while many feel the scene is “creepy” and Richard comes off as “sexually predatory,” this is not the way they plan to portray Richard.

“The only event that needs to happen in the scene is that Anne consents to come to Richard’s house. Nothing else is implied in that scene or on the page and my hope is that it will not come off as sexually creepy,” Rauch says. “David [Muse] and I were never interested in a Richard who was sexually predatory, not because it’s not politically correct, but because we didn’t believe there was anything in the text that supported that.”

Changes in the character’s tones will not be the only noticeable differences in STC’s Richard the Third production. About 40 percent of the original text – mostly obscure English history – has been cut for a streamlined production.

“The Shakespeare Theatre is, I would argue, literally the best classical theater in the United States,” Rauch says. “They know how to do this here and they have created such a web of support.”

Rauch adds that despite the play’s age, audience members will find a lot of similarities between the 500-year-old story and modern society.

“[This is] a story about a deeply complicated, manipulative, brilliant person who rises to power and the people who are complicit in his doing so,” Rauch says. “All you need to do is read the front page of the New York Times to find parallels to that story.”

See Richard the Third at Shakespeare Theatre Company from February 5 through March 10. Runtime is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets start at $44. For more information, click here.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Stage and Screen: Winter 2019

THROUGH SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 9

The Baltimore Waltz
It’s hard to blame someone diagnosed with the fictional “Acquired Toilet Disease” from going all out in the pleasures of the skin. With the fatal illness starting the timer leading to her impending doom, unmarried school teacher Anna heads to Europe with her brother Carl so she can live a little – complete with lots of food and sex. Meanwhile, Carl becomes entrenched in a bizarre espionage scheme meant to discover a cure for his not-long-for-this-world sister. You might be wondering, “Why did you mention a trip to Europe when Baltimore is mentioned in the title?” Well, about that… Various dates and times. Tickets $50. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, JANUARY 29 – FRIDAY, MARCH 10

Nell Gwynn
Coming from humble beginnings, an orange seller eventually finds her way to the stage where she immediately becomes a household name. Upon Nell Gwynn’s successes, she manages to make a fan out of King Charles II. Eventually, the royal leader of England brings Gwynn to court as a favorite mistress. From there, the story about this amazing woman takes off. Various dates and times. Tickets $42-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 30 – SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17

Shame
An adaptation of a documentary may not seem all that enthralling at first. However, the subject matter of Mosaic Theater Company’s Shame is more than enough to draw you in as it tackles the challenges facing Israelis and Palestinians who choose to work with one another despite significant hurdles. The story focuses on several examples of this predicament and integrates several mediums, including Facebook messages, tweets and telephoned threats. Various dates and times. Tickets $15-$35. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4 – SUNDAY, MARCH 3

BLKS
Spurred by a scare, Octavia decides it’s time to forget about any troubles or trepidations and have a raucous night on the town with friends. Joined by companions June and Imani, the three depart into the city for an epic night. But the evening becomes more than a hardcore party session, as the trio encounter strange characters, outrageous events and endure a true test of their friendship. Poet and playwright Aziza Barnes wrote this play, which celebrates queerness and sisterhood as the friends wrestle with universal factors such as truth, love and the struggle of adulthood. Various dates and times. Tickets $20-$51. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5 – SUNDAY, MARCH 10

Richard the Third
Power as an addiction is not only a trope in real life, but a common theme for villains in a number of stories – and perhaps the most famous is the power-hungry king from Shakespeare’s Richard III. Fueled by a bottomless well of ambition, the ruthless and cunning man continues to reach for more, more and more in his quest for power. By the play’s end, no one in the audience will be rooting for his lust. This is the study of what makes a villain, and few put on better performances than Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC). Various dates and times. Tickets $44-$102. STC’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7 – SUNDAY, MARCH 3

El Viejo, El Joven y El Mar (The Old Man, The Youth, and The Sea)
A new play by Irma Correa, El Viejo, El Joven y El Mar tells the story of a renowned Spanish philosopher who runs into a fisherman, general and journalist. He speaks with each of them about their different beliefs regarding freedom, reason and faith; all the while, the old man is planning his escape from the Spanish island of Fuerteventura. Though the play is based on historical events, the subtext is heavily rooted in today’s society. The play is in Spanish with English subtitles. Various dates and times. Tickets $48. GALA Hispanic Theatre: 3333 14th St. NW, DC; http://en.galatheatre.org

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14

Story District’s Sucker for Love: A Valentine’s Day Special
No need to get mushy on Valentine’s Day when you can laugh at the misery of others, right? Okay, admittedly that sentence was a little Seinfeld-ish, but on the day dedicated to love, heart drawings and chocolates, Story District’s Sucker for Love provides an alternate mode of entertainment. Instead of a candlelit dinner with expensive wine, head to Lincoln Theatre to hear true stories involving sex, love, breakups, makeups, dating and anything else you can fit into the genre of Valentine’s Day. Show starts at 7 p.m., tickets $35-$45. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.storydistrict.org

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 16 – SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17

Urban Bush Women’s Hair & Other Stories
Through personal narratives crafted in living rooms, communities and kitchens, Hair & Other Stories is dance theatre that blends conversations with movement to challenge existing – and sometime archaic – American values. The Urban Bush Women company is always on the cutting edge of delivering pieces that fit within the contemporary dance genre while also highlighting the cultural history and spiritual traditions of the African-American and African diaspora. Saturday night opening party starts at 8 p.m. Sunday afternoon performance starts at 4 p.m. Tickets $15-$100. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

Photo: Courtesy of China Arts and Entertainment Group

Follow the Legendary Silk Road in Xuanzang’s Pilgrimage

A new form of performance is coming to the Kennedy Center this month: the national concert drama. DC theatergoers are invited to experience Chinese culture with Xuanzang’s Pilgrimage on January 25-27, featuring the 80-piece China National Traditional Orchestra and 24 performers onstage.

The 100-plus group will perform writer, director and composer Jiang Ying’s interpretation of Buddhist monk Xuanzang’s journey across China via the Silk Road on a pilgrimage to India. The production is part of China Arts and Entertainment Group’s cultural exchange program, Image China, and relies heavily on instrumentalists to carry the concert drama. The musicians play characters, breaking the boundaries between the stage and the music, with many roles designed to be interchangeable to help guide and promote the development of the story.

“[Our] comprehensive and dynamic interpretation has never been seen before by American audiences,” Jiang says.

The production’s intricate design and use of multimedia technology “makes the play more colorful than the traditional drama,” she continues, “which will definitely give the audience a more perfect artistic experience that goes straight to the ear.”

Jiang’s production captures the hardships and dangers Xuanzang experienced during his 17-year expedition from Chang’an to Tianzhu while on his quest to discover religious texts that had not yet come from India to China. Ultimately, he obtained the scriptures from the West.

“I aim to convey a positive energy through this drama – a spirit of perseverance and obstinacy for ideals and beliefs,” Jiang says.

Though the drama focuses on Xuanzang’s Buddhist experiences, it also explores the wisdom and compassion of Buddhism and promotes positive energy. The overarching theme in the story is the spirit of progress – Xuanzang is not afraid of the difficulties that come with developing firm ideals and beliefs.

“It is not only of historical significance but also of practical significance,” Jiang says, reinforcing the importance of progress in the production. “This is the common spiritual wealth and strength of all mankind.”

Jiang’s large-scale, multimedia experience offers a lens into China’s music culture with unique wind instrumentation – the zither, Chinese harp, dulcimer and eagle flute are featured, among others – to help highlight amicable cultural exchange in Chinese history along the legendary Silk Road.

“National instrumental music is the soul of this kind of drama,” she says. “My intention was to introduce Chinese instruments that were just imported from the Silk Road in a [historical] series. It’s because of the combined strength of each component that this concert drama is perfectly presented.”

Catch a performance of Xuanzang’s Pilgrimage at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Friday, January 25 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, January 26 at 1:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., or Sunday, January 27 at 1:30 p.m. Tickets start at $70. Learn more at www.kennedy-center.org.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org