Author Archives: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

About Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Now in its 33nd season, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company continues to hold its place at the leading edge of American theatre. Acknowledged as “the hottest theatre company in town” (The Washington Post), “known for its productions of innovative new plays” (The New York Times), Woolly Mammoth is a national leader in the development of new plays, and one of the best known and most influential mid-sized theatres in America. We’ve garnered this reputation by holding fast to our unique mission: . . . to ignite an explosive engagement between theatre artists and the community by developing, producing and promoting new plays that explore the edges of theatrical style and human experience, and by implementing new ways to use the artistry of theatre to serve the people of Greater Washington, DC. This blog will be updated twice a week, on Tuesday and Fridays leading up to and during our productions. Please let us know what you think about our posts. We immensely value the discussions we have with our audiences both near and far.

The Dystopian Consequences of Utopian Societies

Since the dawn of civilization, we as human beings have been assigned the seemingly impossible duty to create the ideal utopia. Our founding fathers wanted to present future generations with a nation founded on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but as our country ages, so do some of its original values. We now understand the extensive list of flaws in the nation’s original Constitution and since then have revamped to mold it into the current understanding of human-worth within modern society.  So what have we found? Mike Daisey shows us the commercialized attempts at a utopia: Disney World, Burning Man, etc., but what about the Everyman’s utopia? As in most scenarios, when we have nothing left, we rely on the teachings of literature and the arts as a form of escapism—specifically the genre of utopian fiction.

First used by Sir Thomas More in 1516, the word utopia derives from the Greek word “eutopos,” translating simply to “good place.” More’s work of fiction, A Truly Golden Little Book, No Less Beneficial Than Entertaining, of the Best State of a Republic, and of the New Island Utopia, otherwise known as A Fruitful and Pleasant Work of the Best State of a Public Weal, and of the New Isle Called Utopia, otherwise known as Utopia, is believed to be the first published piece of utopian fiction. The novel caused quite a stir during the 16th century because although some of the successful Utopian practices were comprehensible, More also demonstrated the ease of sac-religious institutions; divorce, euthanasia, and marriage within the parish. On top of that, More was also a devout member of the Catholic church—this did not go over well. Although Utopia has become less common in the world of academia, it is still viewed as the novel that really started it all, inspiring many of the utopian novels we read today.

blog photoMap found in Thomas More’s Utopia

The 1931 utopian fiction novel, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley has become a staple in high schools’ literature curriculum. Exploring a world compacted with reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and operant conditioning, Huxley paints a portrait in which the arts are almost non-existent. Instead, society is governed by science, technology, and manual labor. Before birth, embryos are assigned a caste and their lives follow the path laid out for them by the government. Freedom to choose your own life is gone, but what Huxley makes us question is the value of knowing the truth. Would you rather know what could be or continue your life in unknowing blindness?

Similar to Huxley, Suzanne Collins explores the same consequences of a genetically altered society in her 2008 trilogy, The Hunger Games—yet it is not studied in public schools. In a post-apocalyptic nation striving for order and progress, The Hunger Games displays the social stratification of predetermined castes when each year 24 children from 12 districts are placed in an arena and forced to fight to the death. The game is always televised as a reminder to the rest of the country that the Capitol holds all the power. It is no surprise that this attempt at a utopia quickly turns into chaos, disorder, and dystopia very quickly. But even with all of the violence and mature themes, The Hunger Games is still classified as a young adult novel.  In the last few years, Katniss Everdeen has become a pop culture icon of strength, skill, and bravery of the millennial generation and District 12 has become a common metaphor for poverty and oppression. There is even a Hunger Games inspired theme park in North Carolina where for four days you can learn archery or indulge in luxuries of the Capitol, all at your own risk of becoming Tribute.

So what is it about these works that draw us to them? Time and time again we see utopian fiction result in dystopia, yet it is a genre that thrives in our society. Are we trying to convince ourselves that we are capable of creating our own Utopia? Or perhaps we believe that through the power of text, action can be invoked? Each work shows us the dire consequences of such an attempt. Maybe what makes utopian fiction so enticing is that no one has yet to actually achieve it. Once we reach our utopia, then what?

- Emily Wilson, Communications Assistant

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My trip to Disney World

We asked you to share with us photos from your trips to Disney World and here are some of the awesome snapshots we got. Thanks everyone!

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Ariel and Me

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Lockwood. Character Brkfast.1992.2

Lockwood.Magic Kingdom. 1994

How about you? What was your trip to Disney World like?

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You can do WHAT in the lobby?!

The word is getting out about our lobby experience for American Utopias. The design team’s goal was to create the look and feel of a camp at Burning Man as though it were conceived and built by Disney Imagineers. They also wanted to create an environment that had no factual, think-y data but instead to evoke feelings and emotions, and to stimulate the senses in a way that is playful, fun, and visceral, in order to prepare the audience for the work that follows. Here is a sneak peek:

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There’s even more to experience, but you’ll need to head on over to Woolly for American Utopias to find out what!

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My Experience at Burning Man

It can be difficult to explain what Burning Man is like without sounding like a cult, or worse, a cliche. But what I love about Burning Man is the impossibility of it all.

Sure, we build an impossible, temporary city in a brutal, harsh desert, but, more than that, we create an impossible community. It’s people you might never know in any other city on Earth, but for that week on the playa, they are the family you choose to share with, build with, explore with. And it’s those connections that ground you as you see the most impossible things you’ve ever seen in your life.

And so you stare, eyes wide, at some impossible thing that someone built in an impossible location, while lasers stream overhead. And then your new best friends lead you to the next impossible place and you dance until sunrise.

- Ed Conley

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“I Can Tell That We Are Going To Be Friends,” Maggie Smith

What’s your favorite TV show? Mad Men or Millionaire Matchmaker? GIRLS or Bad Girls Club? Downton Abbey or Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?

I find the teenage mothers on Teen Mom to be immature, UNrealistic (ironic, huh?) and incredibly annoying. However, I can easily escape into the aristocratic world of Downton Abbey, imagining being BFFs with the Dowager Countess of Grantham. I can’t even laugh at Honey Boo Boo because I find it so ridiculous. On the other hand, I identify with a lot of the struggles that Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa deal with on a weekly basis in the HBO hit GIRLS.

Why is that? Why can’t I watch TV just for entertainment purposes? Why can’t I just turn on the boob tube and zone out? I think it’s because I want to watch things that I can imagine — but don’t exist for me. My utopia. Utopia is a place with perfect qualities — that doesn’t exist.

Dystopia is an undesirable or frightening society. Nothing describes this idea to me more than living in a house with seven strangers — and having our lives taped. You couldn’t pay me enough to move to the Jersey Shore or compete on The Bachelor.

I love Mad Men because of the formal dress, the formal language, and the simpler times. You don’t see men walking around dressed head to toe like Don Draper and Roger Sterling. Women may stress about clothes — but aren’t expected to wear a dress/skirt every day and heels. I wish we did.

In my mind, Downton Abbey would be an amazing place to live. Someone else to help make my hair look perfect every day? Okay. Walking around on those gorgeous grounds with that perfect Labrador Retriever? Count me in. Calling lunch luncheon and having tea every day? Swoon.

Each of our ideas of utopias are relative. What works for me, doesn’t work for someone else. What is euphoric and relatable and realistic to me isn’t necessarily the same for you.

In American Utopias, Mike Daisey explores the ideas of three different utopias: Disney World, Burning Man, and Occupy Wall Street. Chances are the people who enjoy a character breakfast at Disney World don’t like sitting in a cuddle dome at Burning Man. Likewise, those of us who love The West Wing don’t enjoy Kourtney and Kim Take Miami.

- Robbie Champion, Claque member

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All Together Now: two hundred years of American public assembly

excerpted from the AMERICAN UTOPIAS playbill

Even before the Declaration of Independence, a public demonstration in Boston Harbor proved the political impact that could be unleashed by Americans taking nonviolent action together. In what became known as the Boston Tea Party of 1773, residents of the Colony of Massachusetts dumped a British shipment of tea into the harbor to protest the British Parliament’s Tea Act, which they believed amounted to taxation without representation. Parliament’s response was to end Massachusetts’ self-government and shut down Boston’s commerce; this helped inspire the First Continental Congress and, as tension between the colonies and the British Empire escalated, the start of the American Revolution in 1775. Since American independence was established, American law has shaped – and been shaped by – the power of public assembly.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the most common public protests in the US were strikes and labor demonstrations. Despite eruptions of violence, the efforts of nineteenth-century labor demonstrations culminated in the establishment of the Department of Labor and Commerce, and a Secretary of Labor in the President’s Cabinet, in 1903.

The beginning of the twentieth century also saw public assembly put to use by the women’s suffrage movement. Several organizations such as the Women’s Political Union imported the tactics of parades, street speakers, and pickets from the English women’s suffrage movement. It was not until after several large, some violent, protests did President Wilson declare his support for women’s suffrage, and the Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920.

The mid-twentieth century ushered in the Civil Rights Movement, which further demonstrated the power of peaceful protest to change American life and law. The efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, JR. and his colleagues to advocate for integration and racial equality paved the way for so many civil rights advances that his method of nonviolent protest inspired countless other movements around the world.

The power of public assembly and the delicate dance between demonstrators and the laws that regulate demonstrations continues into the twenty-first century. Legal battles recently flared again after the Occupy Wall Street movement began in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park in 2011, and quickly inspired parallel Occupy movements across the country.

For the full story, read the note in the American Utopias playbill.

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In Search of Cultural Balance

I’ve never been particularly attached to the clothes I wear.  I have always happily worn different outfits to fit the social situation required — unlike others, what I wear does not define me or so I thought…

I wore a hijab for the first time as a Peace Corps volunteer in The Islamic Republic of Mauritania, a country three times the size of New Mexico in western Africa. It’s a sunny, hot, and dusty place that is almost entirely covered in sand.  Almost all of the women in the town where I lived wore clothing that covered their entire body – only exposing their face, feet, and hands.  Wearing a hijab is as much for practical reasons as it is for religious and cultural reasons; it offers protection from the sun and sand.  In order to be respectful and culturally appropriate, I wore an ankle-length skirt, a short-sleeved blouse, and a headscarf, which left only my face exposed – shining white out of the center of a colorful frame. I embraced this outfit, even in the heat, because it was exciting and new and I could feel that I was more accepted in my community as a result of my efforts.

About four months into my two year stint as a volunteer, I realized that I was feeling rather strange and couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was troubling me. I thought about my daily interactions, the very friendly exchanges I had with Mauritanians. Then it hit me—I didn’t have any real friends.  As an extrovert, I had never struggled to make friends. As I thought more about why, I realized that I had lost my sense of self, my past, my individuality.

In my efforts to be culturally appropriate – wearing a hijab and politely interacting with people – I had suppressed my own extroverted, American self. I realized it’s hard, and almost impossible, to make connections with people when you aren’t revealing your true personality, expressing your opinions and being you. It was in that moment, that I rediscovered Alison within Mauritania. I opened myself up to women in the community, communicating my opinions, interacting with them from this new perspective, all the while still wearing a hijab and my conservative clothing, and almost immediately, I had friends.  Not surface friendships, but real friends.

In The Convert, we watch as two cultures, two religious perspectives compete for the souls of the characters.  To me, Jekesai’s struggle is very real — even though my own personal struggle had much less at stake. Discovering who you are within a different cultural framework and trying to reconcile your own culture and the new culture is a challenge faced by all Peace Corps volunteers.

As a recruiter for Peace Corps, I try to set realistic expectations for potential volunteers, telling my personal story, and encouraging them to watch movies and plays that depict what it takes to live in a culture that is not your own. The Convert gives Americans a glimpse of what it might be like to find cultural balance while they are serving as Peace Corps volunteers.

If you would like more information about how you can serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, please visit the Peace Corps website at www.peacecorps.gov and contact Alison McReynolds at amcreynolds@peacecorps.gov.

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Woolly through an Intern’s Eyes

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has been around for about 30 years now, all under the guidance of beloved artistic director Howard Shalwitz.  His leadership has distinguished the theater as one of the longest lasting contemporary American theaters dedicated to producing some seriously provocative work.  As such, it was my immense pleasure to accept a seven-week internship here at the theater working in the Connectivity Department.  Woolly’s reputation is known far and wide, even reaching to the corners of Vermont, where I have spent the last year and a half in my cozy little liberal arts college.

My experience with Africa has been limited to a bleary-eyed 8am class about its democratization record (spoiler: not stellar).  Imagine my surprise and ultimately, my excitement, when I realized that my internship would essentially revolve around The Convert, a unique play simply by virtue of the fact that it is an African play written by an African woman about African people.  Wait, it gets better – not just a play about African people, but about an African woman. 

Through my work in the Connectivity Department here at Woolly, I have plunged into a deep, refreshing pool of diverse theatre.  The unfortunate reality of being a drama student (and this is anywhere) is that what is often filtered down are the classics—all important, yet all very white.   The unfortunate reality is that not very many stories on the stage have been told about black women – or African women for that matter.  Besides For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Was Enuf, and a few notable others, I’m not sure I can think of many famous shows telling the stories of black women.  And when you broaden the racial scope, you find yourself with even less choices—Hispanic women (West Side Story doesn’t count)?  Asian women?  Arab women?

That’s why I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work at a theater that has the means and the resources to commit to new shows written by women and men who are striving to diversify contemporary theater.  It makes my job at Woolly even more daunting – while the playwrights are aiming to diversify the plays available, my department is essentially aiming to diversify the audience to match the play.

I hope I’ve done the task justice.

-Tenara Calem, Connectivity Intern

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Pictorial Rhodesia

In her devastatingly beautiful The Convert, playwright Danai Gurira delves into a very particular place and time and set of characters to begin grappling with being a 21st Century Christian, woman, and Zimbabwean. “Who we are today,” Danai explains, “is how we are affected by what happened back then.” In the play, she transports us to Southern Africa in 1895, to the part of the continent then known as Rhodesia, today called Zimbabwe. As the production dramaturg, one of my roles in the rehearsal process was to help the director, actors, designers, and production team access the particulars of this world, especially since a reasonable amount of verisimilitude was of interest to us. With the support of my colleague Carrie Hughes at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, I pulled together some amazing photographs of the people, landscape, and infrastructure from the period and covered part of Woolly’s rehearsal hall with them to immerse everyone in the world of the play. Below is a small sampling of some of these photographs, which trace the British colonization of the region and the Shona and Ndebele people.

-John M. Baker, Woolly Mammoth Literary Manager

1 Ndebele Village 1890s

Ndebele Village 1890′s

2 Shona Village 1890s

Shona Village 1890′s

3 Girls in Zimbabwe

Girls in Zimbabwe

4 Women in Matebeleland

Women in Matebeleland

5 Girls in Zimbabwe

Girls in Zimbabwe

6 Colonists

Colonists

7 Colonists

Colonists

8 Ndebele chiefs

Ndebele chiefs

9 Lobengula's war doctor

Lobengula’s war doctor

10 Miners

Miners

11 Prisoners

Prisoners

12 Chisawasha Mission 1891

Chisawasha Mission 1891

13 Infrastructure

Infrastructure

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What’s Your Roots? What’s Your Revolution?

At Pay What You Can Night for The Convert, we asked our audiences what their roots are and what their revolution is. Here’s what they had to say:

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318121_10152578209670543_207590569_n 318199_10152578210170543_1467913841_n 487193_10152578209690543_1766802089_n 524589_10152578209885543_500690783_n 525415_10152578209900543_488937766_n 553343_10152578209300543_140456042_n 559812_10152578210060543_1072608145_n 575006_10152578209390543_2032579274_n 577160_10152578209490543_1367299036_n 581839_10152578209895543_1344616355_n 599022_10152578210035543_1357839532_n 599073_10152578208945543_1092558660_n 601519_10152578209430543_1512965167_n 734844_10152578209250543_1197638359_n

 

How about you? What are your roots? What is your revolution?

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