NORTH ADAMS, MA — Sundance Institute’s Theatre Program will support three ambitious new works for the stage, and their four women creators, at this year’s two-week Theatre Lab at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). The Lab, which runs from November 10 to November 24th, will feature the concentrated and abundant time and resources, including individual casting from a dedicated acting company and daily rehearsals, that has long been a signature of Sundance’s Labs.
Christopher Hibma, the Theatre Program’s interim Director, said “This year’s cohort represents women at the vanguard of creativity and performance — not only the women who create these works, but the entire artistic community of women artists around them. MASS MoCA is an inspiring setting for this creative endeavor, and contemporary art, nature, rigor and community will define our time together.”
Recent and upcoming productions of works supported at the Theatre Lab at MASS MoCA include Back to Back’s The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes, set to run at Under the Radar this coming January; Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, currently on a national tour; and Teeth, recently staged as part of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s Annual Festival of New Musicals. The Sundance Institute Theatre Program is supported by an endowment from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, with generous additional support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Perry and Martin Granoff; Luma Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; John and Marcia Price Family Foundation; The Shubert Foundation, Inc.; The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust; Wyncote Foundation—Leonard Haas; Richenthal Foundation; The Carrie Louise Hamilton Foundation; and Francena T. Harrison Foundation.
The projects selected for the Theatre Lab at MASS MoCA are:
Written by Eisa Davis
Music Direction by Eisa Davis
Utilizing song, electronic sound, movement, and everyday objects, The Essentialisn’t examines the specific expectations around black women and performance, expectations that come from our history of captivity. What do you do on a stage after centuries of ritualized resistance to commodification has been stereotyped, co-opted and commodified as well? Davis and vocalists Justin and Jade Hicks reanimate modernist figures from the Harlem Renaissance to imagine the art of black presence with a fresh awareness of sovereignty.
Eisa Davis was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her play Bulrusher, and wrote and starred in the stage memoir Angela’s Mixtape. A Herb Alpert Award recipient in theatre, Davis wrote for both seasons of Spike Lee’s Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It. She has appeared in The Secret Life of Bees, Kings, Preludes, Passing Strange, The Looming Tower, Succession, House of Cards, The Wire, and is an Obie winner for Sustained Excellence in Performance. Her original albums of music are Something Else and Tinctures.
Musicians: Jade Hicks and Justin Hicks
I Hear You Shaking, Grand Mother! (working title)
Written by Lina Abyad
Late at night, the three sisters have arrived hastily to Beirut: their niece has been diagnosed with cancer. They haven’t met for a long while. Coming only for the weekend, they decide not to open their respective apartments but to sleep in their parent’s house, which has been closed since their mother’s death. Even though they have been brought up in a secular home, they have all, except one, become profoundly religious. The eldest of the sisters has planned a religious event for the next day: she has hired a choir of women to perform religious songs. The celebratory prayers dedicated to the healing of the young woman exposes all the discords within the family. The tambourine and the words of The Kuran will barely cover their voices coming from the kitchen. It is Sunday night, each of the three sisters leaves respectively for Dubai, Nice and Sweden. Each one of them with her Islam.
Lina Abyad is a stage director, actress and an Associate Professor at the Lebanese American University – Beirut. Her plays are eclectic. Several themes haunt her stage: the Lebanese Civil War, women, Palestine and Arab dictatorships. The theatre she creates is socially and politically engaged with highly controversial and crucial issues for the Middle Eastern region.
Book, Music, and Libretto by Shaina Taub
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Commissioned by Jill Furman and Rachel Sussman
The Suffragists explores the power and passion of American women’s fight for equal voting rights in the early twentieth century. The new musical chronicles the seven years leading up to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment through the lens of the rivalry between the moderate leader Carrie Chapman Catt and young radical Alice Paul. Facing opposition from elected officials such as President Woodrow Wilson and indifference—if not outright hostility—from the general public, suffragists were also driven by internal conflicts over strategy and priorities, including racial representation and tactics of nonviolent direct action. Not willing to wait any longer, they boldly take to the streets to demand liberty for American women, risking their lives in the process. Almost a century later, The Suffragists investigates the complexity of the movement and how we work together to make change across generations.
Shaina Taub is an Emmy-nominated and award-winning songwriter and performer. She is an artist-in-residence at the Public Theater, and is currently writing lyrics for the upcoming Broadway musical The Devil Wears Prada, with music by Sir Elton John, as well as a new musical about the American women’s suffrage movement. She created and starred in musical adaptations of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and As You Like It that were commissioned by the Public Theater in Central Park.
Leigh Silverman Currently: Soft Power by Jeanine Tesori and David Henry Hwang (CTG/ Curran and Public Theater). Broadway: Grand Horizons (upcoming 2ST); The Lifespan of a Fact (Studio 54); Violet (Roundabout; Tony nomination); Chinglish; Well. Recent: Grand Horizons (WTF); Harry Clarke (Vineyard Theater/Audible/Minetta Lane; Lortel nomination); Hurricane Diane (NYTW/Two River); Wild Goose Dreams (Public/La Jolla); Sweet Charity (New Group); Tumacho (Clubbed Thumb); No Place to Go (Public). 2011 Obie and 2019 Obie for Sustained Excellence.
Music Director: Andrea Grody
Associate Music Director: Cynthia Meng
Music Associate: Simone Allen
Acting Company: Ally Bonino, Jenn Colella (Original Cast, Come From Away), Natalie Cortez, Holly Gould (The Ferryman), Stephanie Hsu (Original Cast, Be More Chill; The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Courtney Jamison, Jo Lampert (Orange is the New Black), Bonnie Milligan (Original Cast, Head Over Heels), Mia Pak, Nicolette Robinson (Waitress), Emily Skinner, Phillipa Soo (Original Cast, of Hamilton), Kuhoo Verma, Sylver Wallace, Kate Wetherhead (Submissions Only), Ada Westfall.
Dramaturg: C. A. Johnson
C.A. Johnson hails from Metairie Louisiana, but lives and writes in Queens, NY. Her plays include All the Natalie Portmans (upcoming at MCC Theater in 2020), The Climb (2018 Cherry Lane Mentor Project) and Thirst (2017 Kilroys List,The Contemporary American Theater Festival) among others. She is currently MCC Theater’s Tow Playwright in Residence. She was previously the 2018 P73 Playwriting Fellow and a 2018 Sundance Theatre Lab Fellow. BA: Smith College MFA: NYU.
Creative Advisors: Kamilah Forbes and Keri Putnam
Kamilah Forbes is a director/producer and the historic Apollo Theater’s executive producer. She was associate director of Raisin in the Sun (2014) among other Broadway shows, and is the recipient of an NAACP Image Award and a Tony. Forbes is a co-founder of the urban arts non-profit Hi-Arts.
Keri Putnam is CEO of Sundance Institute, where she oversees the Sundance Film Festival and the Institute’s extensive array of programs supporting independent storytellers around the world and throughout the year. Under her leadership, Sundance supports 800 artists annually through labs, grants, workshops and festivals. Previously, she was President of Production at Miramax and Executive Vice President of HBO Films.
Thinkers-in-Residence: Brittney Cooper and Kai M. Green
Brittney Cooper is a sought after speaker, teacher, writer and professional feminist. She is currently Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University and author of Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women and Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower.
Kai M. Green is a shape-shifting Black Queer nerd Boi; An Afro-Future, freedom-dreaming, rhyme slinging dragon slayer in search of a new world. A scholar, poet, and filmmaker, Dr. Green earned his Ph.D. from the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity with specializations in Gender Studies and Visual Anthropology at the University of Southern California. He is Assistant Professor Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Williams College.
Casting Director: The Public Theater Casting Department
Stage Management: Martha Donaldson and Eliza Anastasio
Production Manager: Imani Champion
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