There won’t be an ice age at Woolly Mammoth anytime soon. The theatre company’s new artistic director, Maria Manuela Goyanes, is DC’s latest creative transplant from New York. She’s bringing a decades-long theatre career and her first-generation, Latinx-American perspective to champion Woolly’s inclusive mission and edgy productions.
While artistic direction usually entails reviewing performance options for the upcoming season and executing creative decisions, my interview with Goyanes was one of her many scheduled meetings during the first few weeks in her new role. On our call, intermittent laughter made its way between her words. She answered immediately and honestly – and without taking herself too seriously. But Goyanes is absolutely serious about her passion for Woolly and what it means to succeed the company’s co-founder, Howard Shalwitz.
On Tap: What do you think has really prepared you for this role?
Maria Manuela Goyanes: Does anyone ever feel really prepared? [Laughs] I think I stand on the shoulders of giants, there’s no question [about] that. I think one of the things that makes me uniquely connected to Woolly and [our] mission is that I have both the experimental, innovation side with the work that I did with 13P [Thirteen Playwrights, Inc.], which is a playwrights’ collective, coupled [with] having been at the Public Theater for 15 years.
OT: What aspects of a story are you immediately drawn to when selecting productions for the upcoming season?
MMG: I’m looking for two different things. The first is trying to push the art form, so plays that are really interesting, exciting or new – pushing the aesthetics [or] experimenting with an idea in terms of structure or language. But then on the other side, I’m also really looking for something that is going to be challenging or provocative to an audience. The reason why I feel so aligned with Woolly Mammoth – I’m really pinching myself, I’m the luckiest person in the world to have this job – is because I am a huge fan of all of the writers that Woolly has [featured].
OT: What’s different about your perspective and influence at Woolly compared to your predecessor, Howard Shalwitz?
MMG: I love Howard, and this has been the smoothest transition probably in the history of American theatre. But I will say, I am a short Latina from New York! [Laughs] What I experience and how I walk through the world is very different from Howard. I think that my perspective is going to stem from my own life and what I care about. Who gets to tell what story? Does it really reflect the world around us? Is it pushing the boundaries of theatre and what people expect? How can we make the biggest impact?
I’m really excited about the mission statement of Woolly. It’s about galvanizing artists and audiences. “Galvanizing” is so powerful and aspirational, and something for us to live up to and attempt to make happen for every single one of our shows and every single one of our experiences.
OT: I’m also a first-generation American, and it’s exciting to interview someone with this identity who is making an impact.
MMG: It’s important for me that people know I do identify as a first-generation American. It’s a big wave, a big change happening in the American theatre and culture right now, and my hope is that the people who are leading these arts organizations all across the country are going to start to reflect the diversity of the country. I know that I am part of that wave, and I feel that responsibility and the excitement about that too.
Maria Can’t Live Without
Her husband and partner Dave
He keeps everything real for me with his witty sense of humor.
This is how I stay in touch with everyone I love, especially my family in NYC, Spain and the Dominican Republic.
Some of the most transformative experiences of my life have been in theatre. I believe in the power of theatre to deeply impact our lives and shape our relationship to the world around us.
I love connecting people and artists, creating events and works of art, and generally making sh-t happen. It’s in my bones. The possibilities are endless!
Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother
I began meditating because of her books. Her words ground and center me. I actually bought 100 of her books to give as gifts to my favorite people. You know I like you if you get a Pema Chödrön book.
OT: Why is it important to be a leader in the DC theatre scene?
MMG: I am just now getting to know the DC theater scene. I just had a great dinner with [Arena Stage Artistic Director] Molly Smith, who is the bomb. Everyone has been so welcoming and generous with their time and words, so it’s made me really excited to be here and get to know everybody. It feels like a really tight-knit community, which is exciting too. I’m going to be doing a lot of listening and getting to know the artistic community [and] the people in our audience, and understanding what it is about DC’s arts and culture [scene] that might be missing that we need to tap into. Woolly stands for being alternative to the mainstream, and the mainstream is starting to do more provocative plays. How can Woolly stay at the vanguard and leading edge of provocative, challenging and explosive work?
OT: Tell me about Woolly’s October production of The Fever by theatre experimentalists 600 HIGHWAYMEN.
MMG: It is a [performance] that the audience actually has to participate in to create. I think there’s some people who think of that interactivity as really scary. There is nothing difficult, embarrassing or confessional about what [the audience does]. It is actually about the power of the collective and our humanity and responsibility toward each other. It’s beautiful. It’s nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced and I’m so excited to bring this to Washington, DC right now. It’s not just about changing minds but also changing hearts. What this piece is attempting to do is lead from the heart before leading from the head, and that is a really interesting thing to experiment with.
The Fever runs from October 23 to November 4. Tickets are $20-$35. Learn more about the daring production, and the rest of Woolly’s
2018-2019 season, at www.woollymammoth.net.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; 202-393-3939; www.woollymammoth.net