EVERYBODY

Everybody Has to Die but Nobody Wants to Make This Journey Alone

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Theatre Gym, 114 West Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23220

Performances: June 2-19, 2022

Ticket Prices: $40

Info: (804) 282-2620 or https://tickets.va-rep.org/events

EVERYBODY is a modern play about an age-old problem: death. Written by award-winning playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, it is a morality play based – with few significant changes – on a 15th century morality play, Everyman, believed to be one of the earliest recorded plays in the English language. Set in the here and now, EVERYBODYhas been revamped to reflect today’s politics, belief systems, and world views and to be inclusive of current racial, religious, and gender concerns.

The morality play is a once-popular genre designed to teach a lesson – in this case, how to live better and be a better person in general – and features characters who are personifications of abstract qualities. In EVERYBODY the original qualities of Fellowship, Kindred, Goods, Discretion, Five Wits, and Knowledge have been rebranded as Friendship, Kinship, Stuff, Mind, Five Senses, and Understanding. With a few exceptions, the stellar cast of talented actors (Debra Wagoner, Jacqueline Jones, Audra Honaker, Jamar Jones, Katrinah Carol Lewis, Maggie Roop, Tyer Stevens, Desirée Dabney, alternate Tatjana Shields, and supporting actors Keeley Maddux and Charlotte Hall) must memorize the entire play, because at each performance the roles are chosen by lottery at the start of the play. Among the fixed roles, Wagoner appears as the Usher, God, and Understanding, Jacqueline Jones plays Death, and Dabney is Love.

With Debra Wagoner providing much of the narration, actors emerging from the audience and entering and exiting from the center aisle, and projected titles, there is a sense of controlled chaos – an appropriate response, one might concede, to the unexpected summoning of God and the unwelcome appearance of Death. God has summoned Death to bring Everybody for an accounting. But since it’s today, the accounting takes the form of a final presentation – you know, like a PowerPoint presentation. Feeling unprepared, Everybody negotiates for more time, and goes looking for someone willing to accompany them on this journey. Friendship and Kinship are the first to excuse themselves, providing a list of reasons ranging from the valid to the humorous. Even Stuff, decked out in a poncho-like garment covered with, well, a collection of stuff, makes a fast exit, while Mind and the Five Senses initially promise to accompany Everybody to the grave but both flake out at the last minute. In the end, it is only Love who completes the journey with Everybody – but only after making them strip down and perform a humiliating act of contrition (involving the repetition of the confession, “my body is just meat”).

EVERYBODY is performed on a nearly bare black stage, with minimal props and costumes, and disconcerting voice over scenes that occur in complete blackness. It is a play of universal themes leading to an inevitable conclusion, performed in earnestness by a fully committed cast. I particularly enjoyed the simultaneously funny and terrifying Skeleton Dance and there is no denying that Debra Wagoner and Jacqueline Jones fully inhabited their roles However, much like Zombie Life (Firehouse, August 2021, https://jdldancesrva.com/2021/08/26/the-zombie-life/) which I heard more than once actor compare to EVERYBODY, I can only admire it from a detached distance; it just isn’t my cup of tea. But if well-crafted existentialism and humor-infused treatises on the meaning of life excite you, you can – and should – see EVERYBODY through June 19.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

EVERYBODY

By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Directed by Rusty Wilson

CAST

Usher/God/Understanding     Debra Wagoner

Death                                     Jacqueline Jones

Somebody                               Audra Honaker

Somebody                               Jamar Jones

Somebody                               Katrinah Carol Lewis

Somebody                               Maggie Roop

Somebody                               Tyler Stevens

Somebody alternate           Tatjana Shields

Girl/Time                                Keeley Maddux

Girl/Time                                Charlotte Hall

Love                                         Desirée Dabney

Voice-Over Artists               Juliana Caycedo

                                                Anne Michelle Forbes

                                                Tyandria Jaaber

                                                Elle Meerovich

                                                 Hannah Hoffert

CREATIVE TEAM:

Director                                    Rusty Wilson

Assistant Director                   Tim Glover

Scenic Designer                       Emily Hake Massie

Costume Designer                   Sarah Grady

Lighting Designer                    Alleigh Scantling

Properties Designer                Ellie Wilder

Scenic Charge                          Emily Hake Massie

Sound Designer                       Joey Luck

Technical Director                   Chris Foote

Stage Manager                        Maggie Higginbotham

Production Manager              Alleigh Scantling

Skeleton Dance Choreographer Laine Satterfield

Puppet Designer                     Kylie Clark

Photos by                                Jay Paul

UPDATED POLICIES: Virginia Rep has been following local, state, and federal health guidelines, and keeping a close eye on the policies of peer theatre companies regionally and nationally. As a result, proof of vaccination is no longer required. Masks, covering the face and nose, are required for all patrons while inside all VaRep venues, lobbies, and restrooms. At this time, no food or drink is allowed in the theatre.

Photo Credits: Jay Paul

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LEAH GLENN DANCE THEATRE

An Homage to the Little Rock Nine & Eight Other Dances

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, Richmond, VA 23224

Performances: June 4, 2022

Ticket Prices: $20

Info: (804) 230-8780 LGDTdance.com

In June 2021 I attended “The Making of Nine” at Dogtown Dance Theatre. An artist’s talk with choreographer Leah Glenn, visual artist Steve Prince, poet Dr. Hermine Pinson, and historian Dr. Jamel Donner, “The Making of Nine” offered a fascinating insight into the creative process and historical background of a multi-media work-in-progress that celebrates the nine African-American students who integrated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas in 1957.

Nine was co-commissioned by the Carver Community Cultural Center in San Antonio, TX, in partnership with Xavier University and the National Performance Network’s Creation and Development Fund and the show premiered Saturday, May 28 at the Carver. When I learned that the finished work – or at least the latest iteration of this dynamic and developing work – would be presented for only one performance at Dogtown on June 4 I rearranged my schedule to make sure I did not miss it. The previous year’s artists’ talk had impressed me that this was a work that needed to be seen.

The closing work on a program of nine works, Nine is a fusion of dance, poetry, music, visual arts (in set design, costumes, props, and associated prints), and history that reflects on the institutions of racism, education, and American society.

Nine begins with a humming, a moan, a procession of nine dancers and eight larger-than-life sized banners (the ninth banner appears after a significant solo) each featuring a stylized portrait of one of the nine. The dancers are clad in Prince’s beautiful black and white costumes (apparently hand-painted), each marked somewhere with the letters AOG on a small shield, and some are adorned with adinkra symbols. The AOG is a reference to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, a reminder to put on the whole Armor of God – something that was necessary to protect the nine young scholars in their hostile educational and social environment. The adinkra symbols include the bird that faces forward while looking back – a reminder to “go back and get it” or learn from the past. The symbols are a visual representation of ancestral wisdom and traditional proverbs. In contrast, the costumes of the dancers representing the white students bear anti-black slogans (two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate) and anti-Semitic symbols (swastikas).

The movement begins with the cadence of a work song, also an appropriate historical reference, as is the hand-clapping and thigh-slapping that serves as both accompaniment and choreography – a reference to the hambone or patting juba that developed during a time when drums were confiscated from African people in the Americans to prevent them from communicating with one another. Wow – all of this, and the dance has barely started. Nine is rich in historic references, and the integration of the multi-media elements is so multi-layered it cannot be comprehended in a single viewing. Nine is, in a way, a compact mini-series of the history of this specific group of young people at a specific point in time (1957) in a specific geographic location (Little Rock, AR).

Video footage from The History Makers archive provides some important historical background, but this is a work that I believe needs extensive program notes, or better yet, a pre-show introduction followed by a post-show discussion. It’s far too important to be treated as simply a dance, and far to complex to be denied the formality of community.

The program also included the urban Aloft, in which dancers run and balance to a background of traffic sounds and a rapid-fire Spanish-language speaker, sometimes assuming protective postures and other times appearing to teeter on a tightrope. There was the percussive and ritualistic Fault Lines, a jazz trio set to the music of Trombone Shorty called From the Corners of the Room, and Claiming Race, an encounter between two briefcase carrying men wearing suits and ties. Hush, which I believe was inspired by Glenn’s son, is a powerfully intense work that features a mourner’s bench and the soulful music of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Letter to the Editor, is based on an actual event in which Glenn’s father, head of one of the few Black families in the town where he resided, wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper in response to the locality’s resistance to integration. I am not sure what Glenn was thinking of when she created Furious Flowers but what I saw was a form of death that was in reality a planting, followed by a rebirth representing growth and hope, and I wish I had a bit of background for the duet Perceived Threat. The melancholy music, water sounds, and whispering, and the sudden and mysterious appearance of the male dancer’s partner from behind (or inside?) the box he was sitting on made me wonder exactly what – or who – the threat was.

The entire program offered plenty of food for thought. The closing image, of nine school desks lined up, the writing arms covered with portraits of the actual Little Rock students – was a stark reminder that we are still connected to the past, and hiding or re-writing history does not make it go away.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: LGDT Website & Instagram page; Photos Courtesy of Skip Rowland .

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STARR FOSTER DANCE PRESENTS:

18th Annual Mid-Atlantic Choreographers Showcase: Celebrating Pride

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Basement, 300 East Broad Street, RVA 23219

Performances: June 4 & 5, 2022

Ticket Prices: $15

Info: www.starrfosterdance.org, www.facebook.com/starrfosterdance, Instagram/starrfosterdance

2022 CHOREOGRAPHERS

AB Contemporary Dance / Alyah Baker; Raleigh, NC

Ankita; Brooklyn, NY

Luisa Innisfree Martinez; Richmond, VA

Megan Mazarick; Philadelphia, PA

Next Reflex Dance Collective / Roxann Morgan Rowley; Fairfax, VA

Starr Foster Dance/Starrene Foster; Richmond, VA

Wow. From first to last, the 2022 Mid-Atlantic Choreographers was riveting. The six works by six choreographers from Brooklyn, NY to Raleigh, NC each embraced LGTBQIA+ themes or concepts related to gender or sexuality. Each was performed in the round – actually, in a defined square, with the audience intimately situated on all sides. For those old enough to know what I’m talking about, it reminded me of my undergraduate days watching dance at NYC’s Judson Church. (If you’re not of a certain age, I don’t know, maybe a cypher or a rave might describe the vibe.)

One of the most striking pieces was Fools+Kings, a premiere choreographed and performed by Alyah Baker in collaboration with Lee Edwards and Kahlila Brown. Accompanied by smooth jazz performed by Nat King Cole and Orchestra and CeeLo Green, the trio graced us with liquid combinations of movement and incredibly soft landings. Sometimes the arresting choreography consisted of just a gaze, a burning stare. Dressed in black vests and pants, with three low stools as mobile props, the dancers kept the movement simple, yet their virtuosity was undeniable.

Inspired by the life and legacy of composer Billy Strayhorn, Fools+Kings was escribed in the program as an exploration of “themes of connection and heartbreak through the lens of Black Queer aesthetics and embodiment.” I was particularly struck by Lee Edwards who – I swear – reminded me of a compact, femme version of Bill T. Jones. Anyone who knows me knows that Bill T. Jones is one of my favorite dancers of all time, so I do not say this lightly. Fools+Kings built up a complex structure balanced on hot and cool jazz and Afro beats and then, BAM! – without warning or preparation, it ended with a full stop. Wow. I cannot wait to see more from this group.

Backtracking to the opening, the program began with a solo, old swan, by Megan Mazarick. Dressed in a tailored suit, Mazarick delivered portions of a deconstructed lecture while executing a fusion of post-modern, classic break-dance type moves, the robot, and even a bit of disco in a humor-infused cycle of melting and resurrecting. This is the work that took me back to Judson Church. I take notes in the dark, and for this piece my page was inscribed with a large heart. While old swan may be a reference to ballet classics like Swan Lake and all the fairy tale magic that goes along with the romantic era, it may also be a sly play on the symbolism of swans representing grace, love, trust, beauty, and loyalty. The final scene of the swan “coming home to roost” reminded me of that old saying about chickens coming home to roost – meaning that the evil things you do will come back to bite you in the butt (i.e., karma). Of course, Mazarick may not have intended any of these concepts, but I felt free – even invited – to explore all of them in this wonderful solo.

Another work that resonated was an excerpt from a dance called Penumbra, choreographed by Ankita Sharma and performed by Sharma and Darryl Filmore. Penumbra is dark, very dark. I have sometimes teased Starr Foster, saying that her works are so dark, but I was referring to the lighting. Penumbra  is psychologically dark, and that’s an even more terrifying kind of dark. By definition, a penumbra is a region of shadow or partial illumination, resulting from an obstruction or partial obstruction.

This section of the artist’s evening-length work is called “Aftercare,” and the work explores the question, “What does it feel like to say the dark things that remain inside out loud?” Based on the dancers’ shared experiences with trauma, the two begin on opposite sides of a small table, somehow, remarkably, performing similar movements with strikingly different dynamics. The force and counterforce reminds me of the life and death encounters being negotiated by the old men convened around Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table but her it takes only two, not a dozen, to create this howling, apocalyptic effect!

When they arise from the floor, the gentler of the two seems to transform into the dominate, or abusive partner, and the sharper mover becomes fearful and guarded. A shift to demonic red lighting carries them away. Notably, this was the only group that did not take a bow – to do so would have broken the spell and diminished the power of this work.

I was glad I tarried long enough to see Sharma and Filmore emerge from backstage to greet their friends and audience members with smiles. It was relief to see they were able to drop the heavy personas they had adopted and leave them on the stage.

The program also included Circular, a duet by Roxanne Morgan Rowley, performed by Rowley and Sara Goldman, that explores the circularity of relationships between two women; and Luisa Innisfree Martinez’s hilarious Trope in a Box. Performed in, on, and under an open sided crate, Martinez’ solo uses comedy and strong, acrobatic movement phrases to examine and deconstruct themes and tropes of femininity. The program concluded with Starr Foster’s new work, Stripped, a trio that explores identity. The three women become entangled, connect, collapse, support one another, and finally seem to reach a place of calm, peace, and acceptance.

Foster has produced the Mid-Atlantic Choreographers Showcase for 18 years, and hasn’t run out of ideas yet. This was, by far, the best Showcase yet: powerful new work, a diverse collection of choreographers and dancers, a relevant theme, and a variety of perspectives. Thank you, all of you, for a wonderful experience.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: See individual photo captions

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INFORMAL

A Showing of Dance in its Purest Form

An informal dance review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Gottwald Playhouse at Dominion Energy Center, 600 East Grace St., Richmond, VA 23219

Performances: June 4, 2022 at 2pm and 7pm

Ticket Prices: $18

Info: http://www.karardancecompany.com/events

THE PROGRAM

Pass (Premiere)

Choreography: Kara Robertson

Dancers: Hailey Clevenger and Lexi Firestone

Music: “This” by Modeselektor and Thom Yorke

Choreographic Demonstration

Game: Mad Libs Summer Vacation

Dead Weight (Premiere)

Choreography: Kara Robertson

Dancers: Taylor Black, Hailey Clevenger, Caitlin Espinueva

Music: “Fibre de Verre” by Paris Combo

Standstill (2016)

Choreography: Kara Robertson

Dancers: Taylor Black and Caitlin Espinueva

Music: “Sukkara ehizatu” by Robo

Choreographic Demonstration

Part 2

Wave and Flight (Premiere)

Choreography by Kara Robertson

Dancers: Taylor Black, Hailey Clevenger, Caitlin Espinueva, and Lexi Firestone

Music: “Hanging D (Cello Octet Amsterdam Version)” by Joep Beving and Cello Octet Amsterdam and “A New Satiesfaction” by Stephen Koncz

For their first in-person production in two and a half years, KARAR Dance Company chose to go INFORMAL. That was both the title and philosophy of the program of new and recent works: no costumes, no lights, no intermission, and a chance for audience participation before and after the performance. This made for a delightful Saturday afternoon that provided insight onto Kara Robertson’s creative process.

PASS, a work-in-progress, is built on a vision of people on a busy urban street being passed by an indifferent crowd. PASS could also be a metaphor for people letting life pass them by, passing up opportunities. The two dancers begin with a lot of floor work, incorporating a sort of  racer’s starting position. Sometimes moving in unison, sometimes moving in opposition, mirrored images, and punctuating their movement with powerful statements of stillness, one could imagine the for now invisible crowd passing by, the dancers focused or zoned out.

Robertson accepted questions and suggestions from the audience immediately after.

Dead Weight, a quartet, is a template for late elaboration. It starts in silence and – when lights are added – will end in a fade-out. Two dancers begin on the floor while a third enters with the fourth on her back – a dead weight. The music adds a familiar-sounding melody but the vocals are in French and translate to something about fiberglass, lightning, and love. All of which, adds an air of romance and mystery to the little conflicts, the shoves, like the inevitable banter of sisters, perhaps, and again, those wonderful moments of silence or stillness that I am beginning to think are a signature of Robertson’s work,

Standstill, originally performed as a male-female duet, and later as a solo, was presented as a duo for two women. The music, a blend of cello, vocals that sound like Spanish and Arabic, and a cacophony of percussion and horns is a fusion of contemporary and classical – another Robertson signature.

The INFORMAL program conclude with Wave and Flight – a work Robertson plans to teach to those enrolled in her upcoming summer workshop (see the KARAR website for more information) begins with a run and semi-fall, forming what Robertson refers to as “hills.” Jumps in the air, legs tucked, low sweeping turns and rolls on the floor prepare the dancers for their eventual “flight.” The music accompanying this work consists of strings, solemn yet soaring and a bit agitated. The music supports Robertson’s vision as she plays with variations in tempo and kinetic polyrhythms. Wave and Flight has a bit of a storybook feel; the dancers interact more directly than in the previous works, there are lifts and carries and airy leaps and turns that are complemented by the sunshine and butterflies in the music.

The Choreographic Demonstrations revealed Robertson’s creative process using a basket of words generated by the audience and a Mad-Libs format the dancers created movement in the first demonstration, and Robertson began to place them on stage. In the second part of the demonstration, Robertson deconstructed the movements, made minute adjustments in position, direction, and the like, and the dancers and audience began to see the formation of a new work-in-progress.

The stress-free and interactive format of INFORMAL was just what the Richmond dance community needed at this time.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.                                                  


                                                                                                                                                       

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BEEHIVE: THE ’60s MUSICAL

Jukebox Full of Girl Groups and Phenomenal Female Vocalists Comes Alive on Stage

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The November Theatre Arenstein Stage, 114 West Broad Street, RVA 23220

Performances: April 8 – May 15, 2022

Ticket Prices: $36-$67.

Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org

Competing harmonies emerged from a gigantic jukebox mockup at the start of Beehive: the ‘60s Musical: “It’s My Party [and I’ll cry if I want to]” versus “My Boyfriend’s Back [and your gonna be in trouble.” Before you knew it, the audience was pulled into a bit of interaction with one of my childhood favorites, “The  Name Game” and was also invited to sing along to The Ronette’s “Be My Baby.” There was also an entertaining pre-show slide presentation of 1960s trivia to get the audience warmed up.

Beehive: the ‘60s Musical is not so much a musical as a retrospective concert of 1960s hits by women and girl groups: “Proud Mary,” “One Fine Day,” “A Natural Woman,” “Son of a Preacher Man,” “To Sir, With Love,” “Me and Bobby McGee,” all transported those of us of a certain age back in time. Decked out in glittery shirts, kitten heels, go go boots (I remember craving a pair of those in intermediate school), and mini-skirts Nicole Baggesen, Madison Paige Buck, Jianna Hurt, Temperance Jones,  Mallory Keane, and Awa Sal Secka recreated one hit after another.

Costumes, hair styles, props, and set elements provided visual and historical interest. Pedal-pushers (i.e. short pants), beehive hairdos, transistor radios, and pink wall-papered bedrooms were all pulled out of the designers’ magical musical hats. And when specific stars were referenced the details were even more detailed. There was no mistaking Aretha Franklin’s elegant gown, Tina Turner’s shimmy dress, or Janis Joplin’s fringes and beads – and bottle of Southern Comfort.

The ensemble started out looking like a rainbow, each wearing a different color – purple, pink, blue, golden yellow, orange, and green – with their little heels and beehive hairdos but changed clothes and hairstyles as they progressed through the decade. By the finale, they were wearing afros and dashikis or long free-flowing hair and paisley pants or print dresses. The decades dances were acknowledged as well, including the Pony, the Jerk, the Mashed Potato, the Twist, the Swim, and the Monkey.

The cast, thanks to the wise decisions of the creator Larry Gallagher, director/choreographer Leslie Owens-Harrington, and musical director Billy Dye, the cast did not so much impersonate the formidable female vocalists of the 1960s as they paid homage to them. To do otherwise might not have ended well.

So Hurt’s rendition of Tina Turner’s songs, included a lot of hair flinging and shimmy dancing, but not a direct impersonation of the star’s million dollar legs. (They were actually insured for $3.2 million.) Aretha Franklin’s songs were given a heartfelt rendition by Secka that reflected her gospel roots, and Baggesen’s Janis Joplin set was honestly painful and painfully honest, while simultaneously and somewhat irreverently humorous..

Thanks to colorful – and frequent – costume changes and an abundance of choreography, the show was well-paced and visually compelling as well as musically comprehensive. A photo montage reminded us of the somber reality of the 1960s as well, including PG-rated scenes of the assassination of President Kennedy, the war in Vietnam, and the Civil Rights Movement. All-in-all, Beehive, the musical was 90 minutes of pure foot-tapping joy and unadulterated entertainment – for my generation. I do wonder what younger viewers might think of it.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

BEEHIVE

Created by Larry Gallagher

Direction and Choreography by Leslie Owens-Harrington

Musical Direction by Billy Dye

Cast

Wanda – Jianna Hurt

Pattie – Madison Paige Buck

Alison – Mallory Keene

Laura – Nicole Baggesen

Jasmine – Temperance Jones

Gina – Awa Sal Secka

Band

Piano/Conductor – Shellie Johnson

Tenor Sax – Deb Saidel

Trumpet, Tambourine – Craig Taylor

Guitar – Hannon D. Lane

Bass – Mary Fender O’Brien

Drum Set – Paige Miller

Direction & Design

Direction/Choreography by Leslie Owens-Harrington

Music Direction by Billy Dye

Scenic Design by Mercedes Schaum and Amy Bale

Costume Design by Sue Griffin and Marcia Miller Hailey

Lighting Design by Lynne M. Hartman

Sound and Projection Design by Jacob Mishler

Stage Management by Hannah Hoffert

Wig Design by Kevin S. Foster, II

Run Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Ticket Information

Box Office: 804-282-2620

http://www.virginiarep.org

Tickets range from $36 – $67

Discounted Group Rates and Rush tickets available.

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten [production photos were not yet available at the time of publication]

———-

Virginia Rep COVID Guidelines

To provide the highest level of safety, all patrons are required to show proof of vaccination, or proof that they have received a negative COVID test by a professional technician within 48 hours of the performance date/time.

Patrons must show your vaccination card or a photo of the card on your phone, along with a valid photo ID, when you arrive for the performance. If you are unable to be vaccinated, you may provide proof of a Rapid COVID-19 antigen test taken within 48 hours of your performance. At home tests will not be accepted.

Please see the Virginia Rep Covid Safety FAQ for details.

In accordance with current city, state, and CDC guidance, face masks are REQUIRED at all times while you are in the building, regardless of whether or not you have been vaccinated.

At this time, no food or drink is allowed in the theatre.

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SUGAR IN OUR WOUNDS

A Tale of Queer Love and Ancestral Voices

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Richmond Triangle Players at the Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, RVA 23230

Performances: April 20-May 14, 2022.

Ticket Prices: $30-35; $18 for Preview nights; $10 for Students.

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org. Richmond Triangle Theater has returned to full-capacity seating and requires proof of vaccine or recent negative PCR test results for entry. See the theater’s website for their COVID-19 precautions, digital programs, and more.

Just as every now and then someone says, does, or creates something so wonderful that I enviously wish I had done it. Similarly, every now and then someone creates a play, poem, or story that is so unique or so wonderful that I wonder why I never thought of or heard of the idea before. Sugar in Our Wounds by Philadelphia-based Afro-Queer playwright, poet, and filmmaker Donja R. Love is a prime example of this type of work. Rescheduled from 2020, you know, when that little thing called The Pandemic stopped by, Sugar in Our Wounds was well worth the wait. Set on a plantation in the summer of 1862, during the Civil War, “somewhere down South, by a tall, tall tree,” Sugar in Our Wounds examines the intersection of freedom and love.

“Ain’t no roamin’ the world, for a weak nigger. – Henry

STRANGE FRUIT

An elder, Aunt Mama, and her makeshift family, James and Mattie, occupy a cabin on a plantation that has a striking feature – a mystical whispering tree so tall no one can see the top. Generations of enslaved people have been hung from this tree, but James is determined this particular generational curse will stop with him. James is smart. He keeps his head down – both literally and figuratively – and follows the rules – except for one. The master’s daughter, Isabel, sneaks down to the cabin periodically to teach James how to read.  She’s bored, because her husband is away fighting the war, and predictably, at some point, like Potiphar’s wife in the Old Testament, she begins to take a dangerous interest in the only available men around, but that’s not the real story here.

The real story is about love, across time and generations, and involves a young stranger who arrives and is accepted by Aunt Mama and her little family. Mattie, who also happens to be the master’s daughter, is in a precarious position, trusted by no one. Although we never see or hear from other enslaved people on the plantation, we know there are others, but only Aunt Mama and James feel safe in the company of Mattie, who like many others in her situation, is not welcome in either of the worlds she straddles. So of course, Mattie is attracted to this able-bodied stranger, Henry, but we soon find out that Henry, while he does not entirely rebuff Mattie, is far more interested in James than he is in Mattie.

“The darker you is, the more questions you got.” – also Henry

HISTORY LESSONS

There are so many significant details in Sugar in Our Wounds that it would be nearly impossible to notice them all on just one viewing. The show opens with projections of legs and feet, photos on the rocks and trees, the “strange fruit” many of us were first introduced to by Billie Holiday’s recording of the mournful song of the same name. The tree hums and whispers, and James and Aunt Mama can hear it and communicate with it, with the ancestral spirits who reside in or around it and who use it to teach and warn their descendants. One notices a fancy chair that seems out of place in the little cabin, that is sparsely furnished with a tiny communal bed, shared by the three occupants, an all-purpose that serves as a seat or a table, and a bucket whose aroma Isabel finds offensive.  The chair, of course, belongs to Isabel. Aunt Mama refuses to keep the bucket (aka chamber pot) outside because it is a precious commodity and might be stolen by nearby residents – another way we know this little family is not alone on this plantation. At one point there is an authentic feeling ring shout for the upcoming freedom. But there were also a few moments that seemed out of time and place. Sometimes the men are barefoot, and sometimes they wear shoes – and socks. Would enslaved young men have owned socks? During one visit to teach James to read the bible Isabel says the slop bucket smells “funky” and moments later she to James, “you blow me away.” The Oxford dictionary says the word “funky” originated in the late 17th century, so maybe it would have been used, and idiomorigins.org says “blow me away” phrases date back to the 16th century.  Later, James says, “Don’t act new!” It seems people were saying something similar back in the day – as far back as the 1560s. Shakespeare even had a variation, “fire-new.” Both “brand new” and “fire-new” meant fresh from the fire. Who knew?

THE SPIRIT OF LOVE

The cast, the story, the execution of this production more than just a play, more than a love story. It felt like a work of love that was more than just acting, but more like a spiritual offering. Dorothy Dee D. Miller inhabited the persona of Aunt Mama like an act of faith, as if she did not just choose to act this role, but as if she HAD to share this role. Jónel Jones, whom I had recently seen as a scammer in a TheatreVCU production of Intimate Apparel took on a quite different role here as the hero, giving a strong yet gentle, nuanced performance that lingered some time after the final bows. Duron Marquis Tyre as Henry, the mysterious new-comer similarly maintained a balance of mystery, danger, and tenderness. Tyra Huckaby maintained a relatively low-key supporting role until the end, when the seed she was carrying elevated her to a place of prominence as the last remaining hope for the future, while Charlotte Grace Smith was a necessary but negligible presence – not because she wasn’t good enough but because Sugar in Our Wounds wasn’t about her.

Director Lucretia Marie did an excellent job, creating, maintaining, and drawing the audience into this mystical world in a way that educated, entertained, and enlightened all at once. The pacing, the acting, the setting, the atmosphere, all worked together to create that magic that every show aims for but few actually achieve. Sugar in Our Wounds is one of the most memorable and moving shows I’ve seen in recent memory, and I hope to have a chance to see it again in the future to see if it hits the same.

———-

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

SUGAR IN OUR WOUNDS

Written by Donja R. Love

Directed by Lucretia Marie

CAST:

James …………………………………….          Jónel Jones

Aunt Mama ……………………………          Dorothy “Dee D.” Miller

Isabel …………………………………….          Charlotte Grace Smith

Mattie …………………………………..           Tyra Huckaby

Henry ……………………………………           Durron Marquis Tyre

Understudies

For Isabel – Juliette Aaslestad

For Aunt Mama – Sharalyn Bailey

For Mattie – Ayana Flowers

For Henry – Calvin Graves

For James – Makai Walker

CREATIVE TEAM:

Scenic Design by William Luther

Costume, Hair & Make-Up Design by Margarette Joyner

Lighting Design by Steven Koehler

Sound Design and Original Music by Kyle Epps

Projections Design by Dasia Gregg

Props Design by Tim Moehring

Intimacy Choreographer – Kirsten Baity

Violence/Asst Intimacy Choreographer – Stephanie Tippi Hart

Assistant to the Properties Designer – Nicole Pisaniello

Dialect Coach – Evamarii Johnson

Dramaturg – Shinji Elspeth Oh

Assistant Director – David Powell

Original Scenic Concept – Mercedes Schaum

Technical Director – Rebecka Russo

Assistant Stage Manager – Dwight Merritt

Production State Manager – Shawanna Hall

Photo Credits: John MacClellan

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LOVE/SICK

It’s 7:30 on a Friday Night in June in a Big Box Store Somewhere in Suburbia

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 U.S. Route 1, S. Chesterfield, VA 23834

Performances: May 21 – June 25, 2022

Ticket Prices: $49. $44 for seniors, students, military, and first responders.

Info: (804) 748-5203 or https://www.swiftcreekmill.com

Lovesick – adjective. in love, or missing the person one loves, so much that one is unable to act normally.

It’s spring and love is in the air – only not in the way you might expect. For LOVE/SICK John Cariani (author of Almost Maine) has constructed nine discrete tales in which love falls somewhere on a spectrum of, well, mental illness. Each ten-minute play is set “at 7:30 PM on a Friday night in June, in an alternate suburban reality.” The backdrop for this suburban reality is The Super Store – a generic mock-up of a big box store, in which some of the silhouettes on the shelves remind me of miniature tombstones.

The nine couples are portrayed by four actors who zanily and adeptly transform from character to character between scenes: costumes, hair, voices, mannerisms, posture. Before the pandemic, it was fairly unusual to see a show in which actors played multiple roles, but that seems to have become a necessary skill in the new normal we are all adapting to. Described as Almost Maine’s “darker cousin,” each Love/Sick  story line has an unexpected twist.

Among my favorites: “The Singing Telegram” man (Matt Hackman) hesitates to deliver his message because the sender is using the singing telegram to break up with his girlfriend (Katherine Wright). This is probably the saddest of the collection, while “Uh-Oh” is probably the sickest and displays the most twisted humor. In “Uh-Oh” a bored wife (also Wright) seeks to bring some excitement into her one and a half year old marriage – by fabricating a story about a research article and then assaulting her unsuspecting husband with a very real looking squirt gun.

“The Answer” starts off with a groom (Hackman) hiding in a bathroom, crying and ends on a somber note, while “Lunch and Dinner” is filled with Freudian slips of the tongue. When lawyer husband Mark (Freebourn) asks his corporate wife (Reisenfeld) what she had to eat at her business luncheon, she inadvertently responds, “sex.” And so it goes, until we come full circle ending up back at The Super Center where two exes (Hackman and Wright) are reunited and the original “Obsessive Impulsive” couple (Reisenfeld and Freebourne) bump carts again. Occasionally a profound thought punctuates the hilarity, as when Jake (Hackman) wonders why, “when you meet and fall in love and it doesn’t work out, how come we don’t call THAT destiny?”

Two monitors on either side of the stage announce the titles of the scenes while the scenery and the actors change, and Width keeps the pace and the laughs moving along with the smooth regularity of a train schedule. Of course, what makes it work, what makes it funny, is that we can recognize bits and pieces of ourselves – or our partners – in many of these characters. Have you or someone you know thought about killing their spouse – even jokingly – or considered getting back together with an ex? Still, ninety minutes without an intermission is hard on some of us with mature bones and joints that need to move periodically. Oh, and one more thing – the transition music between scenes was (perhaps intentionally?) unnecessarily irritating, but not enough so to interfere with my enjoyment of this hilarious show.

LOVE/SICK

By John Cariani

Directed by Tom Width

Cast:

PJ Freebourn

Matt Hackman

Paige Reisenfeld

Katherine Wright

​​

Production Team:

Directed by Tom Width

Costume Design by Maura Lynch Cravey

Lighting Design by Joe Doran

Scenic Design by  Tom Width

Technical Direction by Liz Allmon

Incidental Music by Julian Fleisher

“No Lie” composed by John Cariani

Performance Schedule:

Fridays @ 8:00PM: May 27, June 3, June 10, June 17, June 24

Saturdays @ 2:30PM: June 11, June 25

Saturdays @ 8:00PM: May 21, May 28, June 4, June 11, June 18, June 25

Sundays @ 2:30 PM: June 5, June 19

Wednesdays @ 2:30 PM: June 8, June 15

Thursdays @ 8:00PM: June 16, June 23

Tickets:

$44-49

Run Time:  Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission

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A SINGLE PRAYER

A New Play by K. Jenkins

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Firehouse 1609 West Broad St., Richmond, RVA 23220

Performances: April 20 – May 8, 2022

Ticket Prices: $30

Info: (804) 355-2001 or firehousetheatre.org.

A Single Prayer was originally scheduled for its world premiere in March 2020, but then along came a little disruptor call The Pandemic. This unusual and provocative play finally made its debut April 20, two years later, with a blast.  A literal blast – the show opens with a storm. Blinding light, thunder, the sounds of birds and rain and waves accompany the destruction of the neatly set stage. A long table, covered with a cloth, four chairs, a bowl of fruit are all dislodged. The tablecloth becomes a billow representing the storm waves and when everything has settled down a broken and disjointed table remains centerstage – perhaps a metaphor for this tale of family dysfunction and a young person who must find their place in a blended family and navigate through the challenges that accompany all that follows.

The cast of characters is centered around Clem (Madison Hatfield). There is Juniper (Maggie McGurn), Clem’s stepmother, a nail model whose nails change color to reflect her mood, while Clem’s mother (Laura Shelton Bassin) remains mute, apparently by choice, and chooses to communicate by drawing disturbing pictures of birds. Clem’s Dan (Matthew R. Dubroff) is chained to his laptop and tries to remain distant from anything remotely emotional or ontrover3sial, while Stan (Fred Iacovo), Clem’s geneticist stepdad makes futile attempts to bring a semblance of normalcy to this family. Perhaps the most interesting character is Michael (Adam Turck), Clem’s friend, who seems to embody the spirit of the birds and all that goes through Clem’s mind. And Charlie (Ed Whitacre), who emerges from a front row seat in the audience, where he has been observing with the rest of the audience, has the unfortunate and futile task of being the family therapist for this family.

Set “Here” in the Past, Present, and Future, A SINGLE PRAYER is mythical, mystical, metaphorical, and mysterious.

Clem: ​This is my blended family. That’s what Charlie says, he’s our therapist. But blended isn’t really the right word. It’s more like shaken up in a ride like at the carnival where the seats are all dirty and scratched and you’re not sure if it might fall apart all at once from the rusty nails and something that got put together after a couple of beers, and then taken apart again in pieces everywhere and then put back together again so that you wonder how it all ever got together in the first place.

Jenkins, the author, holds degrees in religious studies and sociology and has written extensively on relationships, but don’t expect any answers to life’s big questions to arise from this work. It is, instead, a poetic journey that offers alternate routes to navigate life’s complex and divergent paths.

Kudos to Tennessee Dixon for the intriguingly minimalist scenic design and Joan Gavaler for the movement. It seems Adam Turck has been moving as much as if not more than speaking in several of his most recent productions, and he does it with a compelling, quirky confidence. Mark J. Lerman’s direction is organic and invisible, by which I mean the direction is not heavy-handed and the words and actions seem to flow naturally and unpredictably. Perhaps the beauty of A SINGLE PRAYER lies in its acceptance of the exceptional.

A SINGLE PRAYER

By K. Jenkins

Directed by Mark J. Lerman

Performers:

Laura Shelton Bassin – Mom / Clem’s Mother

Matthew R. Dubroff – Dad / Clem’s Father

Madison Hatfield – Clem

Fred Iacovo – Stan / Clem’s Stepfather

​Maggie McGurn – Juniper / Clem’s Stepmother

​​Adam Turck – Michael

Ed Whitacre – Charlie

​​

Production Team:

Director – Mark J. Lerman

Set Designer – Tennessee Dixon

Costume Designer – Alex Valentin

Lighting Designer – Andrew Bonniwell

Composers and Sound Designers – Mark Messing, Kate Statelman

Movement/Dance Director – Joan Gavaler

Stage Manager – Emily Vial

Asst. Stage Manager – Dennis Bowe

Performance Schedule:

Wed April 20 @ 7:30pm (preview)

Thu April 21 @ 7:30pm (preview)

Fri April 22 @ 7:30pm (preview)

Sat April 23 @ 7:30pm

Thu April 28 @ 7:30pm

Fri April 29 @ 7:30pm

Sat April 30 @ 7:30pm

Sun May 1 @ 3pm

Thu May 5 @ 7:30pm

Fri May 6 @ 7:30pm

Sat May 7 @ 7:30pm

Sun May 8 @ 3pm

Tickets:

$30

Run Time:  Approximately 80 minutes with no intermission

PHOTO CREDITS: Bill Sigafoos

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DEAR JACK, DEAR LOUISE

A Timeless Love Story

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Hanover Tavern, 13181 Hanover  Courthouse Rd, Hanover, VA 2309

Performances: March 18 – April 17, 2022

Ticket Prices: $48.

Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org

It was inevitable that Dear Jack, Dear Louise would prove to be such a heart-warming story. It is the story of playwright Ken Ludwig’s parents’ courtship, performed by a couple of actors who are married to each other in real life.

The story begins when aspiring actress Louise Rabiner received a letter from U.S. Army Captain Jack Ludwig, a military doctor stationed in Medford, Oregon. The first letter is dated June 1, 1942. The tentative and touching relationship grows warmer with each exchange of letters until August of 1943, when Louise is preparing for a big audition and Jack is awaiting orders to deploy overseas, they each sign off their letters with “love.” For those of us accustomed to the fast pace of modern life and the directness of relationships initiated through dating apps, the leisurely pace and storybook romanticism of this budding relationship is both shocking and sobering – in a delightfully endearing way.  

Set mostly in Jack’s office in Oregon – and later, his undisclosed overseas deployment – and the New York City boarding house and various dressing rooms occupied by Louise, Dear Jack, Dear Louise is not just a story of a romance, but also a story of war and how it touches individuals who are powerless to affect the outcome, or even control their own involvement. After months of planning, Jack and Louise must postpone their first date due to escalating war activities.

Louise’s side of the stage is populated by signs for a NYC automat, the Barrymore Theatre, and 42nd Street, while Jack’s side has the drab accoutrements of a military base and a sign for a diner. There are wall telephones with cords and Jack even sends Louise a telegram when he needs to get an important message to her quickly. Further drawing us into this historical fiction, Ludwig (the author, not the character) has the audience join his characters  in listening to songs, like, “Yes, We Have No Bananas” (first published in 1923 and resurrected during periods of rationing during WWII), and Louise’s big audition is for Hellzapoppin’ (1938), the longest running Broadway show during that time period.

Sue Griffin and Marcia Miller Hailey’s costuming for Louise is a veritable fashion show of WWII women’s garments, from the sweater with one black sheep to the classy plaid traveling suit to the high-waisted pants that remind me of the pants worn in The Color Purple (that I have yearned for since the VaRep production of that show some years ago).

When date night rolls around, (October 2, 1943), Louise is on tour in Cincinnati and Jack is in Ft. Houston en route to his deployment. October 31, that same year, Jack received a care package from Louise. She’s in Tennessee and he’s now somewhere in England. And then the letters stop. Louise receives a letter from Jack’s friend, informing her that Jack is MIA. But we know this is a love story, and it has a happy ending. Miraculously, Jack returns home, some three years after that first fateful letter, and the play ends with a first kiss.

Lydia Hundley has some wonderfully meaty comedic turns, and Neal Gallini-Burdick comes across mostly as sincere and delightfully awkward in matters of the heart. Debra Clinton’s direction is nicely paced, and somehow even the pauses – the times when communication between Jack and Louise breaks off – never become boring. Hundley and Gallini-Burdick, who met in college and married in May 2021, have appeared in five shows together, and may have had the advantage of drawing on their own love story to bring authenticity to Dear Jack, Dear Louise. And, if course, once cannot watch a wartime play these days without reflecting on current events in the Ukraine.

Comedy, romance, war, two actors with great chemistry, and good direction equals a heart-warming play that effectively meets the challenge of balancing love and war, reality and fiction.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

Cast

Jack Ludwig……….Neal Gallini-Burdick

Louise Rabiner…….Lydia Hundley

Direction & Design

Direction: Debra Clinton

Scenic Design: Dasia Gregg

Costume Design: Sue Griffin, Marcia Miller Hailey

Lighting Design: Matt Landwehr

Sound Design: Jacob Mishler

Stage Management: Joe Pabst

Assistant Stage Management: Amber Hooper

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

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FREE FALL

An evening of dance works by Shane O’Hara, Scott Putnam & Malcolm Shute
A dance review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23223
Performances: April 15-17, 2022
Ticket Prices: $20 General Admission; $15 Students
Info: (804) 230-8780 or https://www.dogtowndancethetre.com

THE PROGRAM
A Day in the Life of My Brain
Choreography: Shane O’Hara
Music: John Zorn
Costume Design: Kathleen Conery
Performer: Shane O’Hara
Cascade
Choreography: Malcolm Shute in collaboration with the dancers
Dancers: Susan Donham, Roxann Morgan Rowley, Alexander Short, Malcolm Shute
Music: “Adagio in G Minor” composed by Albonini, recorded by Miguel Del Oro Orchestra
A Cloud of Probability (2022)
Choreography: Scott Putman
Dancers: Sophia Berger, Erin Dutton, Sydney Goldston, Abby Hardy, Celine Lewis, Makayla Woolner
Music: “Tower,” “Dirt,” “Hero Brother” by Sarah Neufeld
Costumes: Damion Bond
Personal Space
Choreography: Malcolm Shute in collaboration with Katie Sopoci Drake
Dancers: Katie Sopoci Drake and Malcolm Shute
Music: Malcolm Shute
Travelblog…The Grand Tour (2009)
Choreography: Shane O’Hara, Ric Rose, and Ryan Corriston
Music: Sound score by Mitchell Mercurio
Text: Shane O’Hara, Ric Rose
Performers: Ryan Corriston, Shane O’Hara

A weekend of dance by Shane O’Hara, Scott Putnam, and Malcolm Shute at Dogtown Dance Theatre had the feeling of a James Madison University dance faculty/alumni reunion combined with a going away party for outgoing Dogtown Artistic Executive Director Jess Burgess.

The diverse selection of dance works ranged from the comedic to the meditative. O’Hara opened the program with “A Day in the Life of My Brain” and closed it with “Travelblog…The Grand Tour.” The former is a kaleidoscope of gestures – humorous, percussive, and precise. A soundscape of buzzes, squeaks, and screeches – ranging from funny to irritating – complement O’Hara’s Elizabethan neck ruff (clown collar) and kinetic shenanigans. For example, O’Hara rises from the floor and attempts to assume a dignified stance, only to appear to be attacked by a swarm of invisible bugs.
In “Travelblog,” O’Hara starts off as a tour guide narrating a London excursion, only to wander off on a tangent – which is exactly what he warns his charges not to do. Equal parts dance, mime, and dialogue, “Travelblog” is a zany tour de force. O’Hara and partner Ryan Corriston are dressed in conservative gray suits and high top Converse All Stars. Corrison, at one point, passes his umbrella to an audience member for safe-keeping, as the two embark upon a journey that includes a riotous litany of TSA airport vocabulary that is anchored by the ubiquitous “three-ounce” rule. There is a marvelous moment of apparent weightlessness and O’Hara’s encounter with a “bad knee” ends in audience participation. O’Hara inexplicably dies centerstage, so Corrison retrieves his umbrella and calmly sits on O’Hara’s apparently lifeless body. And scene!
Bookending O’Hara’s comedic offerings were two vastly different works by Malcolm Shute – “Cascade” and “Personal Space.” In “Cascade” the dancers began piled atop one another and moved as a unit. They separated briefly, but not for long, drawn back by an invisible, magnetic pull. When they peel off and roll at the end it doesn’t feel like an act of freedom; it seems more sad than liberating. The dancers’ black tops and pants have a paint splattered pattern and Albonini’s “Adagio in G Minor” contribute to a vaguely familiar, and simultaneously funereal atmosphere.
“Personal Space” is an expansive exploration of a confined space. The two dancers, Katie Sopoci Drake and Malcolm Shute, collaborated on the symbiotic meditation. They gently fit together, back to back, but as Shute’s textured and eclectic score ratchets up into what sounds like an antique movie film reel whose lose end is flipping over again and again, Shute’s transitions become more challenging. At one point he is cantilevered over Drake, legs suspended in the air, seemingly supported solely by his core. Throughout the piece, neither dancer’s feet ever touch the floor. The one odd moment – was it a technical decision or a technical faux pas? – occurred near the end when the rear curtain that had been unobtrusively open throughout the duet suddenly closed. I found this distracting and an unwelcome intrusion into the meditative flow of the dance.
In the middle of the program, closing out the first act, was Scott Putnam’s “A Cloud of Probability.” Damion Bonds’ colorful costumes suggested characters from epic tales as the six dancers traced mesmerizing circles and spirals. The spirals were often accompanied by an upward look with the head and eyes following. The piece was set against a background of Sarah Neufeld’s violin compositions. Neufeld’s work has been described as minimalist and post-modern classical, but in “A Cloud of Probability” I would characterize it as futuristic folk music that enhanced the subtle intensity and energy of the work.
Saturday night’s program included an emotional tribute to Jess Burgess, the outgoing Artistic and Executive Director of Dogtown Dance Theatre. Burgess came to Dogtown as a volunteer in 2010 when the space opened its doors and served in a volunteer capacity before coming on as director in 2015. Burgess will be moving to South Carolina to become the CEO for the Greenville Center for Creative Arts.

No photos available at the time of publication.

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