Theatre Program Shines this Month

Spoken word poet Mrisho Mpoto. Photo by Philippa Ndisi-Hermann.

Sundance Institute

“We clapped, the walls clapped, the ceiling clapped. Ah, the joy of being here! The joy of theatre!” exclaimed Deborah Asiimwe, a specialist for Sundance Institute East Africa, regarding a final presentation at the close of the 2011 Theatre Lab at The Banff Centre. This pulse of emotion that is intrinsic to live performance can be felt throughout the many activities underway with the Theatre Program this month from the Lab to a photography exhibition to a work-in-progress performance. And these are just a sample of the year-round activities the Theatre Program presents around the globe.

The program’s mission is to support the development of new work for the stage, and the Theatre Lab has always been the centerpiece of that work. This year’s Lab is being held at The Banff Centre, one of the oldest artist organizations in Canada. Eight theatre projects with 90 participants have made the journey to the Canadian Rockies for the three-week workshop. Several of the participants have blogged about their experiences here. Lab Fellow Elidady Msangi, who has been developing her project Africa Kills Her Sun at Banff, describes the Lab process: “The motto of The Banff Centre is ‘Inspiring Creativity.’ Personally, I have been inspired by the environment which allowed our creativity to grow.” Msangi is an example of how the Theatre Program seeks out unique opportunities to support theatre artists, as she first became involved with Sundance Institute East Africa last year.

Led by Theatre Program Producing Artistic Director Philip Himberg, the East Africa initiative began in 2002 with a series of annual visits by Kenyan and Ugandan artists to the Theatre Lab at the Sundance Resort in Utah. Fueled by the need for better cross-cultural opportunities for theatre artists in the East African region, the initiative has since grown to include a Theatre Lab on the island of Manda off the coast of Kenya. Participants receive training and mentorship, and are provided opportunities to reach U.S. audiences with their work. Two of these special events are being held in New York City this month.

An exhibit of photographs by Philippa Ndisi-Hermann documenting last year’s Manda Lab in The View From Manda will be presented by Sundance Institute East Africa on Tuesday, April 19 at The Jerome L. Greene Space at WNYC. The exhibit will be extended from April 20-30 at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn. Another Theatre Program special event, ETI! Voices from East Africa, will take place only days later in Brooklyn on Thursday, April 21 showcasing work-in-progress projects from Tanzania and Rwanda.

Other year-round Theatre Program activities across the country include the Playwrights Retreat at Ucross, and a reading series to help workshop works-in-progress. The scope of work supported by the program over the years is a lively mix. Just a few of the alumni and projects include Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation, Taylor Mac’s The Lily’s Revenge, Tanya Barfield’s Blue Door, Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas’ The Light in the Piazza, Lisa Kron’s Well, Stew’s Passing Strange, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s Spring Awakening, Moisés Kaufman’s The Laramie Project, and Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife.

As part of all the bustling theatre events this month, Sundance Institute’s Alumni Advisory Board is spotlighting Tony Award-winning playwright/composer/performer Stew, who has been a Creative Advisor at this year’s Lab. Watch this video with Stew who recently spoke about his history with Sundance during a performance at Joe’s Pub in New York.

Some extra Theatre Program fun facts:

  • Lynn Nottage, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, has participated in the Sundance Theatre Lab as both a playwright Fellow and Creative Advisor. Lynn currently serves as an Artist Trustee to Sundance Institute.
  • Moisés Kaufman developed 33 Variations on a Theme at the 2004 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab. Jane Fonda starred in the 2009 Broadway production, returning to the stage for the first time in 46 years and garnering a Tony nomination.
  • Spring Awakening, which won multiple Tony Awards including Best Musical, was developed at the 2000 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab in Utah. The musical Grey Gardens was developed at the Theatre Lab at White Oak and was adapted from the Sundance Film Festival film by the same name.
  • Stew’s Passing Strange was developed at two Sundance Institute Theatre Labs and went on to win a Tony for Best Book of a Musical. Spike Lee directed a film version of the musical which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

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