The Journey Goes On

By on 2 January, 2018 in Art, Sarah Thornton with 0 Comments

“We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off; which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.” – Tom Stoppard

There are so many wonderful plays in the landscape of theater, so many important stories and voices to be heard. Part of the beauty of the art is that no two people experience these stories the same way. As our Artistic Committee sat down to select this season’s lineup, I asked them to think about titles that were “game-changers” for them personally, theatrical experiences that transformed them, and plays that changed the face of theater itself. Which playwrights raised the bar for future work or gave voice to someone who hadn’t been heard from before? Which stories altered our perception of the capacity theater has to effect change?

The hope is that our audiences will be changed by these experiences, just as we were. We are exploring some of the greatest playwrights of the 19th and 20th centuries, ahead of their time in many ways because they did not shy away from issues that were swept under rugs, issues that continue to affect our communities to this day. We see the timely nature of these plays, and we desire a chance to bring these topics to light on our stage in hopes of beginning conversation and introspection.

The Playhouse’s “Season of Game-Changers” begins with Henrik Ibsen, one of the most influential playwrights of the ages. His plays explore the social and ethical norms and anxieties of the distressed middle class, and though they were written in the 19th century, they still ring frighteningly timely today. One of Ibsen’s characters specifically illustrates the roles and challenges of women more than most. His 1879 play A Doll’s House changed the face of theater as well as women’s rights, and is still today one of the finest examples of how far women have come and how far they still have to go. At a time in our society where women still fight for equality and a voice, this controversial play will illuminate that as women and as humans, our choices are rarely easy and often come at great cost, and we must examine which choices are worth it.

August Wilson, one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century, made a lasting impact on theater in America. He opened the door for conversation about the African-American experience, and while his plays are often cited as tools to effect social change, Wilson wrote them from a pure, artistic place with the goal of bringing universal themes (family, love, duty, etc.) to his audiences. He is quoted as saying, “I was, and remain, fascinated by the idea of an audience as a community of people who gather willingly to bear witness… the communal nature of the audience is like having 500 people read your novel and respond to it at the same time. I find that thrilling.” The Playhouse is eager to share his work with our audiences and open the door to more conversation about the black experience in America. What better play to do so than August Wilson’s Fences? This iconic work explores the issues of racial segregation, socially and economically, as well as the heart of a family: fathers and sons, husbands and wives, dreams deferred, and hopes for the future.

Considering the great success of our Playhouse Children’s Troupe productions, we promoted them in our 2017 season to the main stage with a full run. The timeless tale of Peter Pan seemed the perfect choice, a story of a boy who didn’t want to grow up representing kids everywhere against the villainous Captain Hook. In thinking about other stories about fighting for what is right, J.R.R. Tolkien naturally rises to the surface. Tolkien changed the face of literature and fantasy with his novels The Lord of the Rings. An odyssey about moral courage, with unlikely heroes coming together with other cultures to fight for the common good and friendship in its truest sense, this work has been translated into over 50 languages, and eventually became an immensely successful series of films. Tolkien’s detailed, imaginative world with elves, goblins, and hobbits shows us that small people can make a big difference, and that good can conquer evil in the world. What better way for our children’s troupe to take another step in their development as a young, artistic company than working together to create this world on our stage with Tolkien’s masterpiece The Hobbit? We will also be adding an extra level of excitement and a new challenge for our cast and crew by making use of large-scale puppets in this show!

Tom Stoppard, a playwright famous for word-play, wit, and deep exploration of big ideas, is a perfect example of how the great writers influence each other. Stoppard embraces the legacies of Shakepeare and Chekhov and Beckett, and finds a way to mix all of them together like paints on a palette and create something new. His first big success, a play that put him on the map as “one of the greats,” is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a fabulously inventive tale which has been acclaimed as a modern dramatic masterpiece. With a Beckett-esque take on Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, Stoppard turns the classic story on its head and tells it from the worm’s-eye view of two relatively minor characters. They finally get a chance to take the lead role, but do so in a world where reality and illusion intermix with great humor and introspection. This story examines some of the biggest questions that all mankind has struggled with for centuries, primarily one of life’s biggest mysteries: death. If “all the world’s a stage,” we all have minor roles in the grand scheme of things. Though we may not have all of the answers to life’s great questions, we find the humor and the pathos of life by asking the questions at all.

We will finish up the season with Noel Coward, a playwright famous for using comedy and escapism in the face of dark and difficult times. His audiences retreated into his plays during the World Wars, for there they could find glamour and chilled martinis and pithy witticism rather than air raids and the Wall Street Crash. However, Coward’s genius also lies in the realization that his characters, while decadent and scathingly funny, are living in a fantasy-land limbo, disguising their deep unhappiness with champagne and nonsense. “What happens when the champagne runs out?” And so, we round out our journey with Elyot and Amanda in Private Lives.

As the Playhouse community grows so rapidly, our artistic vision must as well. We owe our audiences the very best work we can do. We want to challenge ourselves and broaden the horizons for those with whom we create and share our art. We invite you all to join us for this powerful seventh season of transformative voices. We look forward to welcoming new and familiar faces as we gather to share these stories together. Come as you are, and add your voice to our story!

Tickets for the 2018 Season at the Cloverdale Playhouse are on sale now.

Visit www.cloverdaleplayhouse.org or call the box office at (334)262-1530 for more information.

Sarah Walker Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse, who walks like a New Yorker and waves like an Alabama girl. She is a product of a Montgomery arts education, with several years of life in NYC thrown in for extra flavor.

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