Seth Rozin’s ‘Human Rites’ at InterAct Theatre: Invigorating, crackling, provocative

 

When Westerners decry the practices of other cultures, and campaign for change, they may mean well. But are they really spreading enlightenment, or shame? Who gets to decide whether an initiation rite is barbaric or an exemplary form of bonding? Are there any cultural absolutes, or are all cultural norms equally valid?

This constellation of questions animates Seth Rozin’s crafty and invigorating one-act play, Human Rites, the third production of InterAct Theatre Company’s 30th anniversary season.

Rozin, the company’s producing artistic director, has wed crackling dialogue with provocative ideas and believable characters. And Human Rites gets the Philadelphia premiere it deserves, with Barrymore Award winner Harriet Power directing a trio of stellar actors: Kimberly S. Fairbanks, Barrymore Award winner Joe Guzmán, and Barrymore Award nominee Lynnette R. Freeman.

Inspired, in part, by the life and research of anthropologist Fuambai Sia Ahmadu and a controversial paper by University of Chicago cultural psychologist Richard Shweder, Human Rites is not for the squeamish. Rozin’s case study for examining clashing cultural perspectives is the practice variously referred to as female circumcision or female genital mutilation (the more loaded term). As one might expect, male circumcision also finds itself in the crosshairs, along with abortion, slavery, and assisted living.

Rozin gives all three of his characters strong, persuasive arguments. No one here is a villain, although Fairbanks’ dean does stumble into self-righteousness. You may remain skeptical – I am –of the notion that cultural practices can’t be fairly judged by outsiders. But you will likely leave the theater engaged in the debate.

To read the full article, please visit philly.com .

Tammy Ryan’s essay “(Women’s) History Matters” published on HowlRound


How Many Plays Can You Name?
For many years as an adjunct professor of playwriting, I never felt a responsibility to introduce my students to “the canon” of dramatic literature. I was a teaching artist, not an academic, and while I would talk about plays being produced locally and nationally, often bring in a scene to illustrate craft, and recommend plays and playwrights I thought my students should read, I resisted including plays on my syllabus. The focus was on play writing, not play reading. This seemed to work for most of my career, since I taught in a conservatory where I could assume the students already knew what plays were. When I started teaching in a university’s English department about five or six years ago, though, I encountered students who’d never experienced a play before. Clearly my old methods were not going to work.

Around the same time, an email from History Matters/Back to the Future dropped into my inbox with an invitation to participate in their One Play at a Time initiative. Registering meant agreeing to teach one play written by a woman playwright from history to my class, and, if I signed up, my students would be eligible to submit to the Judith Barlow Prize. If one of them won, they would get $2500—and I’d win $500. This got my attention, and I began signing up every semester.

I started by teaching Susan Glaspell’s brilliant 1916 one-act play Trifles, which was surprisingly effective in presenting the elements of dramatic writing I covered in class. My students’ work got better, but over time I noticed another shift. Every semester, I’d ask them how many women playwrights they could name. The first time I asked the question, most of my students knew of only a few, like Lillian Hellman and Lorraine Hansberry, and their limited knowledge didn’t seem to bother them. But, as the years have passed, I have noticed that even if my students can’t name many, they are aware that there are plenty of women playwrights, and they should know more of them.

Last fall, when I asked the question to my students (full disclosure: these were the theatre majors), they filled up two dry-erase boards with the names of women playwrights they knew of or had heard of. We’re less than two years away from 2020, and though we aren’t likely to reach full gender parity by then, maybe something in the zeitgeist is moving us in the right direction?

One Play at a Time
The mission of History Matters/Back to the Future is “to promote the study and production of women’s plays of the past in colleges and universities and theatres throughout the country and encourage responses to those plays from contemporaryplaywrights.” (Italics are mine.) The brainchild of Joan Vail Thorne, History Matters came out of a response to the 2009 Emily Sands Study at Princeton University, which examined gender bias in the theatre and confirmed discrimination against female playwrights. Thorne, a veteran regional theatre director, playwright, librettist, and teacher, came of age during the regional theatre movement, which, Thorne reminds me in our interview, was spearheaded by two women: Margo Jones and Zelda Fichandler. “Of course, everyone was enraged and sad,” Thorne told me, speaking of the study, “but we’d heard this before.” In 2002, Suzanne Bennet and Susan Jonas had conducted a study for the NYS Council of the Arts that had revealed the same profound disparity between professional productions written by men versus women on the American stage. Thorne was angry, but she didn’t want to wallow in it. “We were always lamenting,” she said, and her instinctive resistance to lamentation led her to seek out something to celebrate instead.

Thorne and her colleagues—academics and theatre artists—found plays, and a lot of them, written by women who’d been forgotten across decades and centuries. Thorne describes these writers as “young radicals, with tremendous passion,” who were writing plays that “even when they were commercial were about something important.” The plan wasn’t to just blow the dust off old plays; Thorne hoped to connect young playwrights with these works, inspiring them to write their own equally powerful plays. One Play at a Time was launched, and the competition’s prize—named after Judith Barlow, the editor of Plays by American Women, which reintroduced playwrights from 1900 to 1930s and again from 1930 to 1960s to the public—comes with a generous purse, signaling to young writers that their work is worthy of compensation.

To read Tammy’s essay in its entirety, please visit http://howlround.com/women-s-history-matters

France-Luce Benson featured in fifth season of The New Black Fest at the Lark

France-Luce Benson

The New Black Fest and The Lark, two theater organizations dedicated to celebrating and advocating for stories that explore the intersection of art and social justice, are proud to announce the fifth annual The New Black Fest at The Lark. This week-long event is aimed at showcasing diverse and provocative work in a festival of Black theater artists from throughout the Diaspora, and will feature talkbacks, a panel event, and staged readings of four plays-in-progress. The festival will take place April 9-13, 2018, and will include works by 2017 Djerassi Writer in Residence France-Luce Benson (Deux Femmes On the Edge De La Revolution), 2018 Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award recipient Donja R. Love (soft), 2015 Princess Grace Award-Winner Jonathan Payne (Brother Rabbit), and artist, activist, and The New Black Fest alum Liza Jessie Peterson (Sistergurls and the Squirrel) who has performed excerpts of her one-person play The Peculiar Patriot in over 35 penitentiaries across the country.

The theme of this year’s festival, Black Love, Black Space, and Solidarity, was conceived by Keith Josef Adkins, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of The New Black Fest, in response to the world’s continued shifting. The festival will kick off with a panel discussion on this theme, moderated by Adkins, and featuring Keith A. Beauchamp (Filmmaker, The Untold Story of Emmet Louis Till), C.A. Johnson (Playwright), Dominique Morisseau (Playwright, TV Writer, Actor, and Social Justice Activist), and Quentin Walcott (anti-violence activist, educator, and facilitator).

“As the worId continues to shift and reshape, I found myself asking: ‘what now?'” said Adkins. “After communing with some really smart and compassionate people in the community, the answer was clear: commit ourselves to Black love, Black space, and solidarity. What does that look and sound like today?”

Adkins’ focus on community cuts to the heart of why The New Black Fest and The Lark have sustained this collaboration through to its fifth anniversary.

“The Lark is honored to continue our partnership with The New Black Fest,” said Lloyd Suh, Director of Artistic Programming at The Lark. “Keith’s approach to curating a robust conversation around urgent new plays is grassroots advocacy at its most potent. These plays and playwrights, in conversation with The New Black Fest and Lark communities, provide an extraordinary opportunity to explore the varied ways that theatermakers can challenge the present moment and uplift visionary ideas.”

“The New Black Fest is an exciting venture of bringing Black artists and arts to the forefront of the American Theater conversation,” added Morisseau. “Steeped in the ancient activism of the Black Arts Movement, but also cloaked in a new pedagogy that breaks old tropes and makes space for new identity consciousness, The New Black Fest is one of the nation’s leading creative platforms for contemporary Black artists. And I’m here for all of it.”

For more information about the artists, initiatives and plays of The Lark, please visit: www.larktheatre.org.

Read the full article from Broadway World here

Neil Berg to Collaborate on Broadway Musical of Salman Ahmed’s Life and Feature Junoon Songs

Salman Ahmed’s dream of a Junoon reunion, which is shared by millions of Junoon fans, may not materialize just as yet. In a recent interview with GEO, Junoon vocalist and front man Ali Azmat – without whom a reunion cannot happen – categorically denied any such thing. “This news surfaces at least once every month. There is no reunion happening,” was Azmat’s curt response when contacted. Salman Ahmed, however, reiterated that it was happening, adding that Ali just did not want to talk about it yet.

While speculation on that front continues, it can be confirmed that Salman Ahmed is headed towards more international fame. Lyricist and composer Neil Berg, who’s produced musicals for Broadway (The Prince and the Pauper, The 12, Grumpy Old Men: The Musical) apparently read Salman Ahmad’s autobiography and life story of becoming a Pakistani rock star and forming South Asia’s most successful rock band Junoon as well as starting Vital Signs. Neil Berg has signed a contract with Salman based on his autobiography to produce a musical for Broadway. What more, Neil Berg & The Broadway All Stars invited Salman as a special guest to sing ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon Live onstage in front of a packed NY audience. He got a standing ovation!

Read the full article from The News here.

Ogunquit Playhouse Announces Premiere of GRUMPY OLD MEN

The legendary Ogunquit Playhouse is thrilled to produce five spectacular musicals for its upcoming season that includes … the U.S. premiere of the hilarious new musical Grumpy Old Men.

We have also been following the development of the brand new musical version of Grumpy Old Men and are delighted and honored to produce the U.S premiere of this hilarious new production for Playhouse audiences this season.

Season ticket subscription packages are on sale now and the only way to guarantee the best seats for the best price to these five exciting shows! Prices start at only $247 for a five-show package and $147 for a three-show package. Gift certificates and Flex Passes are also on sale online and through the Box Office. Individual tickets are on sale exclusively for Ogunquit Playhouse members beginning Tuesday, February 20. Individual tickets sales begin Monday, February 26 with prices starting at $52.

Fasten your seat belt, it’s going to be a grumpy ride! The Ogunquit Playhouse is proud to produce the U.S. premiere of the new musical-comedy, Grumpy Old Men: The Musical – on stage August 8 to September 1 and just in time to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the classic 1993 Warner Brothers film starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Ann-Margret. This hilarious new show was penned by Dan Remmes, with music by Neil Berg and lyrics by Nick Meglin. Two aging neighbors, Max and John, have been feuding for more than fifty years until the beautiful and charming Ariel moves in across the street -raising the rivalry to new heights! Don’t miss this laugh-out-loud story of family, friendship, love and romance in a fresh new musical that’s guaranteed to delight!

Learn more here from Maine Broadway World!