Photo: Carol Rosegg
Photo: Carol Rosegg

Trust in The Wiz at Ford’s Theatre

There’s not a moment in Ford’s Theatre’s The Wiz when you’re not exhilarated. From the instance Toto rushes across the stage to the final second Dorothy clicks her heels, the kaleidoscope of characters, colors and music inspires the audience to yelp, cheer, tap their feet, laugh and snap – it’s impossible to sit still when you’re traveling through the Wonderful World of Oz.

The Wiz, the iconic winner of seven Tony Awards, is an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, which unapologetically celebrates black culture through it’s score of blues, soul, gospel, R&B, jazz and pop, in addition to its universal narrative. The Wiz isn’t a story about a young black girl overcoming slavery, extreme poverty or hardships. Rather, the story is about a young girl who happens to be black making friends and finding strength as she attempts to journey home after being whisked away by a tornado into a magical land.

“The beauty of The Wiz is its message that anything we already are is enough,” director Kent Gash explains in Ford’s press release. “Dorothy feels restless and stuck at home, but when the tornado comes through, it absolutely turns her world upside down and changes her perspective. Dorothy discovers she is smarter, more powerful and more interesting than she ever realized. She comes to understand that how she moves through the world can change lives. That is a valuable lesson for us all to celebrate.”

Ines Nassara shines as Dorothy. The moment she sings the first line on “Soon As I Get Home,” we know exactly who this character is. We feel Dorothy’s fear, excitement and resolve to succeed in her mission. At the beginning of the show, she’s still unsure of her bravery. By the time she helps her new friend, the Cowardly Lion (played exquisitely by Christopher Michael Richardson), discover his own strength in “Be a Lion,” you’ll be hard-pressed to hold back tears upon seeing this young woman stand with such power.

Hasani Allen emulates the same charm and lankiness as Michael Jackson in the same role as the Scarecrow, but his “Aw, shucks” sweetness is all his own. For lacking a heart, Tinman, as brought to life by Kevin McAllister, sings with all his soul about the eternal fear we all have about being unable to love, and being unlovable.

While the four leads of the show prove wonderful, The Wiz is a musical that needs a strong ensemble cast. Ford’s production delivers, and when the show reaches its peak after Evillene melts away with “Everybody Rejoice” – an exuberant song celebrating freedom and new chapters – you can’t help but revel in the joy onstage.

This production of The Wiz is a delight for any pop culture fiend. There are call-outs to Jackson 5 dance routines, Alvin Ailey’s masterpiece RevelationsWakanda, Coming to America, Flavor of Love (Flava Flav’s VH1 dating show), Paris Is Burning, Grace Jones, Prince and Purple Rain, and of course, some moonwalking thrown in for good measure.

This is a story about having the courage to trust in yourself – trusting your smarts, trusting your heart, trusting your bravery and, finally, trusting in your spirit.

The Wiz runs at Ford’s Theatre through May 12. For more information about the show or details on times, dates and tickets, click here.

Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; 202-347-4833; www.fords.org

Illustration: Courtesy of Arena Stage
Illustration: Courtesy of Arena Stage

Actor Carlton Byrd on Two Trains Running

In 1992, August Wilson’s Two Trains Running premiered on Broadway. It was, at the time, the latest in his The Pittsburgh Cycle – his take on documenting and portraying Black American life, decade after decade. Two Trains Running explores the 1960s in the rapidly changing neighborhood of the Hill District, a historically black neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; more specifically, in Memphis Lee’s diner – a place soon to be wiped out thanks to something we now know as gentrification. Now, the play comes to the Arena Stage on March 30 amidst a political and social backdrop nearly 50 years after the events of the story. And yet, the events still echo the tumultuous time outside the doors of Memphis Lee’s diner.

Carlton Byrd makes his Arena Stage debut as Sterling, a man recently released from the state penitentiary and in search of work who arrives at the diner eager to ask Risa, the one female character in the play, out on a date. On Tap got a chance to speak with Byrd ahead of his DC performance about the legacy of August Wilson’s work, returning to the DC theater scene and how Two Trains Running still rings true.

On Tap: What’s it like being back in DC’s theatre scene?
Carlton Byrd: It’s great. [The] first time I was in DC was for Woolly Mammoth’s production of Antebellum the day before Obama’s inauguration, so there was a certain energy to the city then. I’m excited for another chance to perform in DC, this time doing my first August Wilson. 

OT: What drew you to Two Trains Running? Are there any similarities between you and Sterling, the character who you’re portraying? Do you know people like Risa and the other characters in real life?
CB: I was drawn to Two Trains because it’s a great play with great characters done by a great playwright. August Wilson writes in a way that is authentic to the African-American experience in this country. I know dozens of people who are similar to the characters in this play; some of them are in my family. As for myself and Sterling, I find similarities between myself and every character I portray. The work then becomes finding how we are different. That’s where the acting begins. 

OT: Seattle is a very different environment from DC. Does the environment that you’re performing in affect your approach to the performance? How will the DC production be different or similar to the Seattle Repertory production?
CB: I approach every performance the same [way]. It doesn’t matter where I’m performing, within what medium or in front of what group of people. [It] doesn’t matter if my mother is in the audience, some celebrity or a total stranger – the work and my work ethic are the same. Our DC run will be different because we have had time to settle deeper into our characters and learn from each other during our Seattle run. Also, the performance will now be restaged for the round. That’s a big difference.

OT:  How is this play still relevant to today, specifically to a place like DC that’s undergoing massive gentrification? And in the background, we have events like what happened in Charlottesville and the Parkland, Florida school shooting – events also tinged with racial violence and tension. 
CB: The play takes place in May of 1969 in the days leading up to Malcolm X’s birthday. I feel that most Americans like to gloss over Malcolm X’s contributions to empowering black people and providing in many ways the precursor for the Black Power Movement, which has been unfairly demonized through the rewriting of American history. Malcolm’s ideals and the Black Power Movement take center stage throughout the play with the character of Sterling. The play still rings true because many of the same issues are happening today. When the play speaks to specific instances of police brutality, gentrification, racism and the disenfranchisement of black people, it feels like they are speaking about 2018. The play speaks of people in transition; people at a crossroads in their lives. Since the election of 2016, I think our country is in a similar place of transition. And just like our characters, many Americans are tired of simply giving in to various forms of mistreatment – to put it mildly – and writing it off as the status quo. Our characters want to be treated with respect, among many other things. They also want the injustices that have become commonplace in their communities to change as well. I think that sentiment is shared today with the millions pushing for gun reform and the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements. Like our characters, people are expressing their need for change. As was true in the 60s, those in need of change in 2018 are willing to fight, picket and protest to obtain it. 

OT: What is it about August Wilson’s work that still resonates with modern audiences? 
CB: He was a poet and a historian. Great poetry is timeless, and history tends to repeat itself. Thus, by very nature, his plays will continue to be relevant as long as the themes in his plays continue to be present around the world.  

OT: What are you most excited about in bringing this production to DC? What do you want audiences to take away from this performance? 
CB: I’m always excited to perform. That is a blessing in itself. I look forward to doing my best to tell my portion of the story. Hopefully in doing that with the help of my amazing cast, the audience will get what August wants them to get from the performance. I’m simply at service to the work and his words.

OT: Finally, to end on a lighter note: what is your favorite place or hidden gem in DC?
CB: I’m looking forward to attending the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It will be my first time.

Two Trains Running runs on Arena Stages Fichandler Stage from March 30 to April 29. Ticket are available here.

Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

Photo courtesy of Cameron Whitman
Photo courtesy of Cameron Whitman

Big Story, Intimate Setting: Chicago at Keegan Theatre

Pop, six, squish, uh uh, Cicero, Lipschitz! Those six words that are random on their own can be mistaken for non-other than the intro to the seductive “Cell Block Tango” of the infamous musical Chicago. The classic story of passion-induced crime and the lure of fame has made its way to DC at Keegan Theatre until April 14.

For those who may not have seen the musical on stage or the popular 2002 movie, Chicago was written by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. Set in the roaring twenties, the musical follows the story of Roxie Hart who has murdered a cheating lover. Her loyal husband Amos takes the blame for Roxie’s crime, but when he finds out she’s been playing him, Roxie is sent to jail. It’s there that she gets the help of crooked lawyer Billy Flynn and battles fellow convict Velma Kelly for the spotlight.

While Chicago has been done many times before and the story stays mostly the same, Keegan’s production will have a more authentic nature to the production. Maria Rizzo, who is playing Roxie, says that while the revival feels very modern with its costuming and the portrayal of the characters, Keegan’s production will feel a lot more like the real twenties.

As Kurt Boehm, who play Billy, puts it, “The revival had a very specific look to it and the dancing is pretty iconic with Fosse’s interpretation, so [we’re] really trying to step back into the time period and go with the vaudeville theme.”

Another element of Keegan’s production that you will not see from many others is intimacy.

“It’s this small space where you can really see so many details of the performer’s emotions and the storyline,” Rizzo says. The set is very spare and it’s just about these characters and the way they’re whittling through the journey that they’re all facing.”

Regardless of whether it’s being performed on a big stage or a small one, a modern interpretation or an authentic one, Chicago has remained a popular musical since it first hit the stage. In addition to the catchy songs and unforgettable choreography, part of its popularity comes from the story’s relevant message to today.

“At the beginning of the show there’s a line that says you’re about to step into a story about greed, betrayal and murder and all of these abrupt and scary things. There’s just so much of that going on in the world,” and it looks at how women are resilient despite these terrible things Rizzo says. “What’s cool about it is it’s not about getting a guy and it’s not about a big, happy ending. It’s about two women and the struggle that is put in front of them and how they fight through it.”

Catch Chicago at Keegan Theatre, running through April 14, 2018. Learn more here.

Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; 202-265-3767; www.keegantheatre.com

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Noura Young Prose Night at Shakespeare Theatre

Young professionals attended Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Noura and enjoyed a post show reception with craft beer and wine. Photos: Trent Johnson

Photo: Courtesy of  Little Fang
Photo: Courtesy of Little Fang

Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music

As a disco ball dropped down from the theater ceiling, an 80s slow jam started to play and couples all around the room could be seen doing that awkward yet sweet middle school slow dance. The catch? We were in the middle of a performance at the Kennedy Center on Tuesday night when our wildly hilarious and eccentric host, Taylor Mac – dressed in drag with giant wings – instructed the audience to get out of our seats and dance with someone of the same sex.

It would be fair to say that most of us were a little uncomfortable – including me – having wrapped my arms around a short woman I had never even met. But Mac was not making us dance with strangers just for the fun of it; judy (sic, Mac’s chosen gender pronoun) had a point to make. It’s the same point that Mac’s whole show A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (1776-2016) was trying to make: the history of the U.S. has long seen those who are different – whether they are LGBTQ, black, Muslim, women, etc. – be shunned and belittled and has seen people look away at the things that make them uncomfortable. Mac’s performance shows you just how ridiculous some of these beliefs from our forefathers’ time are, how some of those beliefs are still around and encouraging the audience to face those things that make us uncomfortable.

A 24-Decade History in its original form is four, six-hour “Chapter” performances: 24 hours for the 24 decades the U.S. has existed with Mac singing a popular song from each year since 1776. In October 2016, Mac even performed the show for an impressive 24 hours nonstop (that’s 246 songs). While the show has been performed in many different configurations, we saw the abridged version, part of the Kennedy Center’s DIRECT CURRENT celebration – a 15-day lineup of shows through March 19 that highlight contemporary culture and looks to build up young, new audiences. Part drag show, part comedy show and part concert, Mac provides full theatrics with numerous costume changes, a full backing band and several audience participation activities (the aforementioned dancing with strangers), all while singing track selections ranging from “Amazing Grace” to Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam.”

My personal favorite, however, was Mac’s rendition of David Bowie’s “Heroes” that saw a marching band come through the back doors of the theater onto the stage. While each song was sung by Mac with fervor, “Heroes” somehow started big and ended even bigger with all the joy of the end of a movie where the guy gets the girl or the home team wins the championship.

Other standout moments included Mac’s costume stylist Machine Dazzle dancing across the stage at various intervals, guitarist Viva DeConcini slaying the guitar, selected males carrying Mac around like royalty and being serenaded to “Only You” and so many more that it would be impossible to list all the moments that stuck in my brain. And in that way, Mac was truly a success, as no one will ever forget a performance like A 24-Decade History and the lessons we learned while swaying with strangers in a sea of slow dancing.

To learn more about Taylor Mac and his numerous projects, click here.

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

Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

Ford’s The Wiz Remains Relevant

Ford’s Theatre is inviting audiences to “ease on down the road” with a new staging of the Tony-winning musical The Wiz, directed by Kent Gash and playing March 9 to May 12.

The Wiz is a retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the context of modern African American culture, differing from the Judy Garland-led Wizard of Oz movie people know so well.

The musical originally made its Broadway debut in 1975, winning seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and its source material is obviously much older. Still, Gash says, the show is relatable to modern audiences.

“I think it’s always relevant to celebrate home and family, and the love and care in which we bring up our children in the community,” he says. “At a time when all around us we see examples of great cruelty and disrespect, particularly to women, here is a story that has always been about a magical and powerful young girl who goes to a place and helps lots of people get what they want.”

While there is no significant update to the script, the director notes that the design work and creative elements will be teased more for a 2018 audience, with little things such as the way relationships are played out. Of course, Gash didn’t want to mess too much with the script, as The Wiz is a cult classic and traditionalists want to see and hear the songs they love the way they remember them.

“The music of the show has always been great and has never gone out of style,” he says. “It’s the power of great pop, jazz, R&B and the roots of African music. What we are attempting to do is honor the impulses and great creativity of the original production that was led by the genius renaissance painter, choreographer, director [and] costume designer Geoffrey Holder.”

Even theatre lovers may not realize that Holder is the only person in Broadway history to win Tony Awards for both Best Directing and Best Costumes; those Wiz outfits are currently on display near Ford’s at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Wiz is a celebration of African American culture and excellence, and we will pay homage throughout our work to great artists of the Harlem Renaissance, Michael Jackson, James Brown and nightclub culture,” Gash continues. “This show was a revolution on Broadway. As Lin-Manuel Miranda says in Hamilton: ‘Who tells your story is every bit as important as what that story is.’”

Whether one knows The Wizard of Oz or the film version of The Wiz, there’s few who don’t know the story of how Dorothy gets swept away from her Kansas home to the magical world of Oz and meets a scarecrow, tinman and cowardly lion on her way down the yellow brick road to meet the Wizard.

The production features Ines Nassara as Dorothy, Hasani Allen as Scarecrow, Kevin McAllister as Tinman, Christopher Michael Richardson as Lion and Jobari Parker-Namdar as the Wiz. Nassara, a Helen Hayes-nominated actress for her work in Keegan Theatre’s Hair back in 2015, is excited to take on the role of Dorothy.

“It’s always great to see a very brave leading character who is a female and a person of color,” Nassara says. “I think it’s very inspiring and very telling of its time. With all the conversations happening now with Time’s Up and fiery conversations, it’s nice to see a character who is very open to anyone, no matter what they look like or what their story is. She’s very open to help.”

That’s a message that the actress feels needs to be expressed in today’s world – especially to younger audiences.

“Starting at a young age, it’s really important to know that it does take a village and if you see someone else in need, it’s great to lend that helping hand because they will be open to helping you as well. That will help shape the future for when they become adults.”

Nassara says everything in the production is very Afrocentric.

“We visit all of the black styles throughout this show, and there are amazing arrangements that uplift the show and make them more funky. There’s still what people are familiar with but texturized in a way that’s better for our cast.”

Gash says this is a show that people of all ages can see, with a message that will resonate with everyone.

“It’s a story about home and a young girl with a magical ability to help other people and discovers a great deal of who she is by going through this adventure,” he says. “Home is not only a place you leave, but a place you carry in your heart. That combined with a celebration of African American excellence in creativity, design, music and choreography makes this a party everyone will want to take part in.”

The Wiz runs at Ford’s Theatre from March 9 to May 12. Tickets start at $27. Check www.fords.org for details on Under 35 Nights.

Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St NW, DC; 202-347-4833; www.fords.org

Graphic: Trent Johnson
Graphic: Trent Johnson

Old Films At A Theater Near You

Movies arrive and depart. They receive ceremonial hype via trailers and press tours where the actors appear on “best dressed lists” and give quippy quotes about the movie before giving annoyed quotes about the movie, because the questions on these types of things seldom vary. After this gratuitous promotion, the film hits the big screen and, depending on several factors, people watch it while tossing popcorn in their mouths. Rinse and repeat, week by week, month in and month out.

Despite this repetition, not all movies in theaters these days are new. On the contrary, some are quite old, as theaters around the country are playing up the nostalgia factor to give the big screen some added allure. Society’s fascination with the culture from yesteryear is at a fever pitch, as past decades dictate cultural behavior almost as much as the seasons themselves. A few years ago, the 80s were hot, and now it’s the 90s. Like fashion, music and other forms of media, theaters use the past to grip audiences’ interest in all things retro, and while our attention spans are undeniably stunted, interest in “old” movies definitely exists.

Not every theater is tasked with dusting off old reels in search of a piece of history that could drum up interest (it’s all digital these days, but you know what I’m saying). Some don’t even try, but in the DMV, there are a plethora of options including both Landmark Theatres (E Street and West End), AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, Angelika Film Center Mosaic, Suns Cinema and others who throw out retro viewings. While there are staples that continually rack up cash, a plethora of selections are based off restorations available and expert hunches for specific areas.

“I’ve had a booking calendar for E Street since the theater opened, and I’ve tried to notice what gets a good response,” says Ruth Hayler, the film buyer for Landmark’s E Street and West End locations.

“I rely a lot on local feedback from the theater and we just monitor for good responses. For DC, anything with a political slant, like All the President’s Men, we figure will be strong in the area.”

Both theaters have programs built around repertory viewing, such as E Street’s Cine Insomnia and West End’s Capital Classics. For the AFI up in Silver Spring, cinema history is a colossal component of the theater’s programming as a whole as the mission of the institute is to preserve and honor films and film-going heritage.

“Within our programs, we cover a vast array of eras, topics, genres and styles,” says Todd Hitchcock, AFI Silver Theatre’s director of programming. “Our programs exist for audiences to enjoy and appreciate. At the forefront of our planning are the very basic questions: How will this work with audiences, who might these audiences be and how can we engage them effectively?”

Luckily, restorations and anniversaries make easy pitches because these opportunities breathe life into movies that have already had their time on marquees as “new releases.” Despite this, there is guess work involved with picking old movies, because theaters don’t know until they try.

“As we get into each decade, it’s a new audience and new people coming to the shows,” says Mark Valen, a national film buyer for Landmark. “For people in their twenties, well, there are certain old classics from the 70s that might still reach that audience, but the 80s and 90s are really popular now. There’s no real secret formula, other than, ‘If they like this, they might like this.’ It’s trial and error.”

“[The interest] has been around since the 70s,” Valen says. “That’s what Landmark Theatres was founded on. Back then, there weren’t VHS tapes or DVDs, and the only way they could see their favorite films was to go to these theaters.”

In today’s world though, it’s quite literally the opposite; not only do people own their own movies, but they also own their favorite television shows, YouTube videos, books, magazines and any other form of media, often in the palm of their hands.

To get around this, theaters simply adapt. This includes interactive movies welcoming audience participation like Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Room, or costume parties accompanying a special anniversary. Sometimes it’s not even the movie itself that draws the people in; rather, it’s a sense of familiarity or even the recreation of a memory.

“Nostalgia is indeed probably a big factor – not just nostalgia for specific movies, however, but also for the movie-going experience itself,” Hitchcock says. “There’s something magical about watching a hard-to-see silent film with live accompaniment in a beautiful, restored 1938 theater with a group of fellow film lovers while enjoying a glass of wine. It’s an experience that would be impossible to stream online or recreate at home.”

Valen and Hayler both mention that most old movies already carry a certain reputation or gravitas. There’s no guessing or gauging interest on some of these because the proof is there. With additional sensory experiences thrown in, older movies contain factors newcomers lack.

“Part of the attraction of the revivals or older movies is the familiarity,” Valen says. “People are guaranteed to have a good time. Seeing these with audiences brings so much emotion to it, and that’s something we want to keep nurturing in young audiences to keep them interested in this revival of cinema.”

Nostalgia is a powerful drug, whether it’s watching Kurt Russell fight aliens, seeing The Big Lebowski for the seven hundredth time or, perhaps, making fun of the audacity of a movie like Ghost. People like old things, whether it’s their grandfather’s faded clothes, or their mother’s scuffed jewelry. The mementos of the past provide windows into different times, and to a host of young moviegoers, these warm and fuzzy vignettes are valuable, necessary and here to stay.

“It’s kind of like time tripping,” Hayler says. “You can get immersed in the movie and experience what was then. It’s about widening your experience and watching something from a different day. It broadens your outlook.”

For more on AFI & Landmark’s repertory films, visit their websites.

AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center: 8633 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.afi.com/silver/

Landmark Theatre E Street Cinema: 555 11th St. NW, DC; www.landmarktheatres.com/washington-d-c/e-street-cinema

Landmark Theatre West End Cinema: 2301 M St. NW, DC; www.landmarktheatres.com/washington-d-c/west-end-cinema

Check out On Tap’s retro viewing picks for March below:

The Big Lebowski on March 9 at AFI Silver Theatre
Rocky Horror Picture Show on March 9-10 at Landmark E Street Cinema
Clueless on March 10 at Suns Cinema
A Streetcar Named Desire on March 14 at Landmark West End Cinema
Predator on March 19 at Angelika Film Center Mosaic
Wargames on March 28 at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema – One Loudoun

Hold These Truths

Stage And Screen Events: March 2018

THROUGH SUNDAY, APRIL 8

Hold These Truths
Based on a true story, Hold These Truths investigates one of the darkest moments in American history through the experience of Gordon Hirabayashi, a University of Washington student who fought the U.S. government’s order to relocate over 100,000 Japanese descendants into internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. After refusing the government’s order, Hirabayashi embarks on a 50-year journey to explore the relationship between his pride for his heritage and his loyalty to the U.S. Constitution, which leads him down a path to understanding America’s triumphs and facing its failures. Various dates and times. Ticket prices vary. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

MONDAY, MARCH 5 – MONDAY, MARCH 19

DIRECT CURRENT
Dubbed as a “two-week celebration of contemporary culture,” DIRECT CURRENT combines dance, art, film, music, drag, video games, activism and more to uplift original American artists in disciplines across the board. From orchestral video game music to a DIY instrument-making workshop, this festival has such a wide array of events and performances you’ll have a tough time choosing between them. While the John F. Kennedy Center is the main hub of activity for DIRECT CURRENT, other venues around the city will also open their doors to support this mass appreciation for contemporary arts, so be sure to check their website before going out. Various locations, dates and show times. Ticket prices vary. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

SUNDAY, MARCH 11 – MONDAY, MARCH 12

WOMXN on Fire Festival
Keegan’s Boiler Room Series, a programming initiative to promote original performances, will host its second annual WOMXN on Fire Festival to celebrate Women’s History Month. Thirty-six local artists who identify as women will have their opportunity to showcase their work with 10-minute plays and full-length solo shows during this two-day festival. Sunday at 11 a.m. Monday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, MARCH 13 – WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22

The Winter’s Tale
A tale of jealousy, prophecy, broken hearts and flourishing romance comes to life in The Winter’s Tale, directed by six-time Helen Hayes Award-winner Aaron Posner. Equipped with Luciana Stecconi’s exceptionally whimsical set design, this play from Shakespeare’s First Folio will take you back to times of lost princesses, handsome princes and magical spells that save the day. For special performances of The Winter’s Tale, check out Folger Theatre’s website. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $35-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 East Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14 – SUNDAY, MARCH 18

Three World Premieres
Choreographers Gemma Bond, Marcelo Gomes and Clifton Brown bring their personal history and experiences as dancers to life in Three World Premieres, presented by The Washington Ballet. Each dancer will choreograph and perform their own interpretation of what ballet and dance means to them. This triad of performances supports The Washington Ballet’s mission to support newly commissioned works and the evolution of ballet. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $25-$118. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

FRIDAY, MARCH 16 – SUNDAY, MARCH 18

That Part is True
A group of activists planning to overturn an oppressive authoritarian regime face betrayal within their ranks and a great unraveling of their cause in That Part is True, written and directed by Madeline Farrington. With parallels to today’s political climate and yearning for justice in marginalized communities, specifically people of color and queer folks, this play touches common sore spots in current society such as police brutality and underrepresentation. After a weekend of That Part is True, you’ll leave the theater with the perfect saying for a snarky sign and a hankering for activism. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15, or $12 if you bring your Fringe Button to the box office. Capital Fringe: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.capitalfringe.org

SATURDAY, MARCH 17 – SUNDAY, MARCH 18

Srishti Layankari
For a diverse performance and an exploration of Indian dance and mythology, head to Dance Place for Spilling Ink’s premiere of Srishti Layankari. This dance drama project approaches spirituality and Newton’s law of conservation of energy through the story of a Hindu goddess who has the power to create and destroy. Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 4 p.m. Tickets are $15-$30. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21 – WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25

 Translations
While students at an Irish-language hedge school are studying the basics of Greek and Latin literature in 1833, British soldiers “arrive to map the country, draw new borders and translate local place names into the King’s English,” according to Studio Theatre’s website. With the addition of an English-language national school that students must attend full-time if attending at all, languages and cultures contrast, thus creating relationships but also rousing violence. Written by Ireland’s prestigious Brian Friel and directed by Studio’s Belfast-born Associate Artistic Director Matt Torney. Various dates and show times. Tickets $20-$69. Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

FRIDAY, MARCH 23 – SUNDAY, APRIL 15

410[GONE]
Parallel storylines in 410[GONE] follows a young woman as she deals with her younger brother’s suicide and his own journey in the Chinese Land of the Dead, which resembles a disco or an arcade. With dark themes, hilarious moments and strange human interactions, this Rorschach Theatre production is ultimately “a positive affirmation of the complexity of the human experience” and will have you contemplating the more complicated sides of life and death on your drive home. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $20-$30. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

Photo: National Building Museum
Photo: National Building Museum

Building a Story: The Architecture and Design Film Festival Comes to DC

The Architecture and Design Film Festival kicks off on February 22 at the National Building Museum. Founded in 2008 by architect Kyle Bergman, the festival is about more than showcasing beautiful buildings and the architects behind them.

“We look for an interesting and engaging design story as well as a human story; that’s our sweet spot,” Bergman says. “As architects and designers, we talk to ourselves all the time, but film allows that dialogue to go broader and wider.”

Frank Gehry Maggie's Center.

Frank Gehry Maggie’s Center.

That’s certainly true of this year’s lineup. Building Hope: The Maggie’s Centres (2016) is a perfect example of a film with more than one story to tell.

“Was it in essence a film about cancer, or a film about architecture? Obviously, the answer had to be that it was about both,” says the film’s director, Sarah Howitt.

In 1993, a cancer patient named Maggie Jencks was informed that she only had three months left to live and had nowhere to go to process the news but a plastic chair in a hospital corridor. She dedicated the final year of her life to founding care centers for cancer patients that are beautiful, welcoming and comforting – a far cry from that cold hallway.

Howitt worked hard to make sure both the human and design sides of the story were represented:

“Using moving drone and gimbal shots to show the buildings off at their best, and the words of the buildings’ users under some of those shots, helped to strike the balance and bring both strands of the story, literally, under one roof.”

Howitt says making the film changed the way she thought about how architecture affects our daily lives:

“I really had never thought about architectural spaces in such a profound way before, and I’d certainly never been in buildings as special as these ones. ‘Special’ modern architecture for me was always something applied to iconic buildings, not buildings meant for ordinary people just to spend time in, and certainly not on the grounds of a hospital.

She also added some thoughts on how the Centres moved her even as she was filming:

“I still find myself drawn to the Maggie’s Centres. As a filmmaker you often try very hard to be something of a dispassionate observer. Of course, the truth is so much complicated than that. Working with the Maggie’s Centres charity though, you cannot fail to care about the work they do. I hope any viewer will appreciate the work they do and tell others about them.”

Building Hope isn’t alone in its innovative and people-focused approach to telling design stories; Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (2016) is a true David-and-Goliath story about a fight for the soul of New York City itself.

Jane Jacobs was a reporter and the author of seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The film looks back at her campaign to protect what are now some of New York’s most iconic neighborhoods from power-hungry urban planner and “master builder” Robert Moses, who sought to build a road through the heart of Washington Square Park.

“I saw the book in a bookstore in Greenwich Village, so I bought it and immediately saw why the book has never been out of print since 1961; it makes you see a city differently,” says the film’s director, Matt Tyrnauer. “The power and effect of that book was extraordinary and Jacobs’s activism combined with her brilliance as an observer and chronicler of the city was not well known, so seemed like a ripe subject for a documentary.”

The guiding principle of Jacobs’s book and her community activism was that cities are made by the people who live in them – not bureaucrats.

“Thousands upon thousands of individuals going about their own business come together in this kind of chaotic order to make the city; it’s not the urban planner sitting in their office,” says Tyrnauer. “Cities tend to plan themselves if you let people do it.”

Tyrnauer says we can learn a lot from Jacobs:

“Her activism was very thoughtful and very well-plotted. It took a long time to gain results, but she was dogged and relentless,” he says. “She had several significant successes against an entrenched, egotistical and imperious bureaucrat in Robert Moses, who seemed to be an insurmountable foe before Jacobs came along.” It’s an inspiring story for inarguably turbulent times.

Photo: Alamy

Photo: Alamy

The National Building Museum is an ideal setting for a festival celebrating architecture, but it does present a few challenges: namely, the acoustics in its iconic Great Hall. The essential question for Kyle Bergan (again, the festival director) was:

“How do we show a film there in a good way, because the space is so grand? The solution? Wireless headsets, creating a drive-in movie theater vibe: visitors who haven’t bought tickets can still watch the film without sound, adding a new dimension to the museum experience during the festival. The festival will also feature a lounge where attendees can view short films and even try on a VR headset – seeing a new way to experience the world around us and the buildings where we live, work, and play.”

Bergman says that at the end of the day, the festival is about bringing the untold stories of architecture and design to people who wouldn’t otherwise get to experience them. “It’s not just [about] coming to see the films,” says Bergman. “It’s engaging with people and creating a dialogue.”

The festival runs through February 25. For tickets and showtimes visit: www.nbm.org

National Building Museum: 401 F St. NW, DC; 202-272-2448; www.nbm.org

Photo: Ben Schill Photography
Photo: Ben Schill Photography

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Gets Opera Treatment

How do you make a writer like William Shakespeare even more dramatic? You turn his work into an opera. Full of comedy, romance and fantasy, the Virginia Opera’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream allows audiences to experience Shakespeare’s classic play of the same name through a new lens.

The well-known story about a fantasy world in which a fairy king and queen have a dispute that breaches the human world, causing chaos to ensue, was adapted for the opera in the 1960s by Benjamin Britten. Though Britten’s version is almost word for word the original Shakespeare play, this opera production has cut certain sections to fit a musical style and keep it from running too long.

Building on Britten’s work, the Virginia Opera’s production – at George Mason University Center for the Arts this weekend – will have English supertitles so audiences can better follow along. The performance is broken into three categories, which Virginia Opera’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor Adam Turner calls sound worlds: the fairy world, the human world, and the rustics or mechanicals.

“Each of them has their own individual sound, and you hear [the characters’] inner thoughts,” Turner says. “You hear the psychological motivations or underpinning emotions that they maybe can’t express with text. That all comes out in the music.”

This is the first time in the Virginia Opera’s 43-year history that the company has performed Britten’s opera. Turner says part of his decision in picking this production was to find something new and exciting to offer audiences.

Beyond that, the Virginia Opera wants to expand its audience to younger generations and “take operas outside the opera house,” adding that when he comes across younger people, he urges them to give opera a try.

“There’s really nothing like the live, acoustic version that you experience in a theater.”

Not to mention, he says, if younger generations don’t become invested in opera, then it may not last.

“I think people take for granted that it’s always going to be there, but it’s something too important to our culture – to our hearts and minds – to let go.”

The Virginia Opera has worked to reach younger audiences by rebranding themselves and making opera more accessible, a job Turner has taken the reigns on. These changes include an updated website, an enhanced social media presence and affordable ticket prices.

The company also has a statewide education and outreach tour that introduces opera music to kids all over Virginia, one of the biggest opera education programs in the country, and an emerging artist program that looks for new talent to nurture.

Turner hopes the Virginia Opera will stay healthy and thrive while introducing younger generations to opera, thus erasing any preconceived notions they may have.

“I think once you’re in the opera house, you see that not everyone is dressed in a tux or a fabulous gown. People of all shapes, sizes [and] creeds come together to hear this incredible music live and in person.”

See A Midsummer Night’s Dream at George Mason University Center for the Arts on Saturday, February 17 at 8 p.m. or Sunday, February 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $54.

George Mason University Center for the Arts: 4400 University Dr. Fairfax, VA; 703-993-8888; cfa.gmu.edu