Theatrical Outfit announced its 2020-21 season, the first for new artistic director Matt Torney, on March 10. Today it releases the details of a reinvented season, one shaped — as we all know — by the fact of Covid-19. A few titles with small casts remain the same, but for the most part, what had been planned has been turned on its head.
The new lineup embraces digital programming and features five components: Downtown Dialogues, Made in Atlanta, the Welcome Table, the Unexpected Play Festival and a return to the mainstage in the spring. All are subject to change, however, according to the coronavirus’ whims.
“We believe that theater offers an essential place for dialogue in times of extreme disruption,” Torney said in a press release, “and a space in which our community can celebrate, console and connect with one another.” Theatrical Outfit, he said, is committed to building programs that respond actively to the current crises and serve as a long-term investment in the community, Atlanta artists and the company’s future as a downtown theater.
The Outfit plans to launch its new season September 24 with the first of four Downtown Dialogues. Each is a one-evening digital reading followed by a live video podcast during which experts and special guests dig deeper into the plays. Arts journalist Gail O’Neill, an ArtsATL contributor, will host.
The season, the Outfit’s 44th, continues with Made in Atlanta, a program intended to tell the stories of Atlanta and the South. It will have three parts — commissioning new plays, developing scripts through workshops and readings, and producing world premieres. The first weeklong workshop is scheduled for some time this fall.
Details about the Welcome Table are scarce, but it’s described as a one-night holiday season event to benefit organizations assisting downtown Atlanta’s homeless. It’s meant to raise awareness, demonstrate how Covid-19 has impacted the homeless and raise funds for groups that serve these members of the community.
In January, the Outfit will again partner with Atlanta’s Working Title Playwrights on the Unexpected Play Festival, this time as an all-digital event. The monthlong festival debuts new work by metro playwrights. A discussion led by WTP artistic director Amber Bradshaw will follow each reading. No titles have yet been announced.
Some time in the spring of 2021, Outfit leaders hope to return to live performances with two titles from their original season — Tiny Beautiful Things, based on the Cheryl Strayed book, and Anna Deavere Smith’s one actor Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities. A third in-person title will be announced soon, as well as ticketing details.
Here’s a closer look at the retooled season, in chronological order:
THE CHILDREN | September 24. By British playwright Lucy Kirkwood, with direction by Alliance Theatre artistic director Susan V. Booth. An eco-thriller about responsibility and reparation and what one generation owes the next. In a remote cottage on the British coast, a married pair of retired nuclear physicists lives a modest life in the aftermath of a natural disaster, giving scrupulous care to energy rationing, their garden and yoga. When a former colleague reappears after 38 years, she upends the couple’s equilibrium and they face the fallout from long-ago decisions. The Independent in London described The Children as “a richly suggestive and beautifully written piece of work,” and called Kirkwood “the most rewarding dramatist of her generation.”
FLEX | October 8. By Arkanans-born playwright Candrice Jones, with direction by Tinashe Kajese-Bolden. Flex, part of the 2020 Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville, explores the fierce strength of young Black women and what it means to be part of a team. The drama is set in 1997 as the WNBA is changing the game. Every player on the Lady Train basketball team in rural Arkansas dreams of going pro. First, however, they must navigate the pressures of being young, Black and female in the South.
EUREKA DAY | Moved to October 21, so as not to conflict with the presidential debate. By California playwright Jonathan Spector, with direction by January LaVoy. Eureka Day, a comedy of manners about thorny conversations about vaccination, takes place at a charter school in Berkeley, California. All school decisions are made by consensus and diversity of opinion is valued, but a mumps outbreak forces parents to confront one of the central questions of our time: How do you find consensus when you can’t agree on the facts? The comedy was a New York Times Critic’s Pick last summer.
STEW | November 12. By Harlem-based playwright Zora Howard (no director has been named). A family drama about how the secrets we keep from our mothers eventually become the secrets we keep from ourselves. In Stew, Mama is up early to prepare an important meal and, even with family on hand to help, time runs short. Celery, garlic and red peppers are chopped and secrets are revealed among three generations of Black women. In reviewing last February’s off-Broadway staging, The New Yorker called it “a captivating story that is intimate, funny and heartbreaking.”
MADE IN ATLANTA
WE THE VILLAGE | Fall reading TBA. Atlanta-based playwright Dana Stringer’s drama was part of the 2020 Unexpected Play Festival. It takes place in late 1990s Atlanta, where a popular drag queen named Frankie and his 12-year-old latchkey neighbor, Redd, form a special bond. When Redd’s mom grows suspicious, Frankie ends the friendship and moves away. Twenty years later, the two reunite.
Two new Made in Atlanta commissions and more developmental workshops will be announced some time this fall, theater leaders said, as will details of the Welcome Table. The Unexpected Play Festival will return, in digital form, in January.
The previously announced Baskerville: A Sherlock Homes Mystery, the Stew rock musical Passing Strange and The Humans by Stephen Karam are no longer part of the season, although one title is yet to be announced. Torney plans to retain two shows from his original season:
TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS | Spring 2021 TBA. Based on Cheryl Strayed best-selling book and adapted for the stage by Oscar nominee Nia Vardalos. The four-character comedy-drama, described as “a funny and deeply touching exploration of resilience,” is based on Strayed’s years as the anonymous, unpaid advice columnist known as “Dear Sugar.” At first unsure of herself, Sugar finds a way to use her life experiences to connect with her readers’ yearnings and questions. Tiny Beautiful Things was one of the most-produced plays in America in the 2019–20 season, according to American Theatre magazine. It runs 80 minutes with no intermission. Amber McGinnis, who’s married to artistic director Torney, will direct.
FIRES IN THE MIRROR | Spring 2021 TBA. A coproduction with Theater J in Washington, D.C. Anna Deavere Smith’s 1992 documentary play (subtitled Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities) examines the viewpoints of black and Hasidic Jewish people connected in some way to the Crown Heights riot in August 1991. Fires in the Mirror had its world premiere at New York’s Public Theater, with The New York Times calling it “the most compelling view of racial and class conflict that one could hope to encounter.” This staging commemorates the 30th anniversary of the riot. Fires in the Mirror calls for one actor who plays more than 25 characters. Atlanta’s January LaVoy takes on the role originated by Smith. LaVoy has worked on Broadway, off-Broadway and regionally, including the Alliance Theatre, where she was seen in Native Guard (2014 and 2018) and What I Learned in Paris (2012). Adam Immerwahr, Theater J’s artistic director, and LaVoy will codirect.
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