Happy Labor Day Weekend, Everyone!! Hands down, this is my favorite 3-day holiday, because all across the DC Theater landscape folks are gearing up for The Kennedy Center's Annual Page-to-Stage Festival. This year's festival will feature free readings and open rehearsals of plays and musicals presented by more than 40 theatre companies. Gathering to hear their new works in development are local, regional, and national playwrights, composers, and librettists. It's an absolutely thrilling festival and it's completely free!!!
On Monday, September 3rd, Theater J will present a reading of The Hampton Years at 3:00pm at the Millennium Stage North. I'm very excited! In this post, I want to share with you a bit about the plays conception and recent stages of development.
The Hampton Years was originally conceived in November of 2010 after a conversation with Shirley Serotsky, Theater J's Director of Literary and Public Programs. I had attended a reading of Calvin Alexander Ramsey’s play, The Green Book, which had been presented at the Lincoln Theatre as part of the “Backstage at the Lincoln” reading series in partnership with Theater J, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. The Green Book, inspired by “The Negro Motorist Green Book” - a travel guide used by African-Americans during segregation, tells the story of an African-American salesman and a holocaust survivor.
After the reading, Shirley and I went for a late dinner and drink. I picked her brain about the reading series, because I wanted to learn more about Theater J's interest in plays that explored the Black-Jewish relationship. I was very moved by their commitment and wanted to figure out how I could contribute. Later that night/by candlelight really as it was around 2:00am, I did a bit of research and found this amazing, profound and inspiring quote by John Biggers, which now serves as the inscription to The Hampton Years:
“A new dawn challenges this world and demands the salt of every one of us. There can be no doubt of our sodality, for in each of us we reflect one another’s image, and our composite image mirrors the tragedy and the comedy of the whole human race.” ~~ John Biggers
Then, in May of 2011, I was one of six playwrights chosen to be a part of Theater J's inaugural Locally Grown: Community Supported Art From Our Own Garden Festival. The entire festival was extraordinary and we had a very successful reading and post show discussion of The Hampton Years . It took place on Monday, January 16th under the direction of Otis Ramsey-Zoe with dramaturgy by Faedra Chatard Carpenter and featured Lolita-Marie, Daniel Flint, Tricia Homer, Karen Novack, Neelam Patel, RaMond Thomas, James Whalen and David Lamont Wilson.
Jacqueline Lawton and Hazel Biggers.
Actually, it was at that reading that I had the great fortune to meet prominent art collector, Dr. Dianne Whitfield-Locke and arts journalist Misty Brown, both of whom later interviewed me about my experience for the International Review of African American Art. Dr. Whitfield-Lock then arranged for me to speak about the play at the 23rd Annual James A. Porter Colloquium on African American Art hosted by Howard University, where I was introduced to Nashid Madyun, the Director of Museum and Archives at Hampton University. Dr. Whitfield-Locke also invited me to attend the VIP opening reception of "African American Art: From Harlem Renaissance to Civil Rights Era and Beyond" at the Smithsonian American Art Museum where I met Hazel Biggers, wife of the late John Biggers (Photo by Catherine Williamson).
It was all pretty much a whirlwind after that, but after a few months, several meetings, email exchanges, and another rewrite, The Hampton Years was selected to be a part of Theater J's 2012-2013 season.
Throughout the summer, I worked on the 6th draft of the play. In August, I discussed the play and presented a scene on a panel entitled: Staging Strife and Solidarity: Black-Jewish Relations in American Drama at the 2012 ATHE conference. The moderators/organizers for this event were Faedra Chatard Carpenter, Drew Barker and LaRonika Thomas and additional panelists were Heather S. Nathans, Ari Roth, James M. SoRelle, and Gavin Witt.
Then, this past Tuesday, I met with director Shirley Serotsky, dramaturg Otis Ramsey-Zoe, and artistic director Ari Roth for a wonderfully fruitful and productive script meeting. With notes in hand, I've spent the past few days working on the seventh draft. Taking occasional breaks to jog around Lincoln Park, check Facebook, write new blog entries, remind students of upcoming assignments, text and talk to my family, make dates with fabulous playwrights in town, check out last night's gorgeous and radiant blue moon, and of course, eat and sleep!
So, I'm really excited to hear the script for the first time since January and to experience it with the cast and the audience! Again, the reading will take place on Monday, September 3rd, at 3:00pm at the Millennium Stage North. If you able to attend, that's awesome!! It will be wonderful to see you! If not, I'll be sharing my Thoughts and Reflections in my next post!
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!