Victory Gardens Theater announces 2013–14 season
Victory Gardens Theater is announcing a slimmer than usual slate for the coming season, the theater's 39th. In addition to the fall opener Appropriate by Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, VG will produce the world premiere of Marcus Gardley's The Gospel of Lovingkindness and a new production of Ariel Dorfman's 1991 play Death and the Maiden, to star Sandra Oh.
The theater is also initiating a new program in which select itinerant young companies will take up residence at the Biograph for three– to five-year terms. This residency program will make up to ten additional shows available to Victory Gardens subscribers; the ink on the contracts isn't yet dry, but VG's new roommates are set to be announced as a group in the next month.
This could be seen as an expansion of programming for Victory Gardens the venue, but it's clearly a belt-tightening for Victory Gardens the producer. In an interview this morning, artistic director Chay Yew acknowledged this was part of a concerted effort to reduce the company's standing debt, much of which was incurred in the purchase and renovation of the Biograph Theater. "In the last year, the board, the staff and I have been meeting very regularly to address the numbers," he said. "I think what's happening is we're taking very strong steps to be fiscally responsible and to stabilize without compromising our mission." The hope is to return to a more robust lineup for the theater's 40th anniversary season.
The resident theater program allows the larger institution to assist up-and-coming companies with a semi-permanent home and infrastructure support, and hopefully some audience cross-pollination. "We started batting around some ideas with some of these artistic directors," Yew says. "We said, Would it be helpful if you came into residence, where we can share resources that could be helpful to your institutional building? We can create opportunities for you to collide and collaborate on projects. And I was thinking this would be an opportunity, with the right companies, to amplify our audiences and share them." The companies that have been chosen, Yew says, are complementary to each other and to Victory Gardens's mission "in terms of community and diversity."
Yew also announced the appointment of a new board of "national artistic advisers" full of bold-faced names: Luis Alfaro, Nilo Cruz, Eve Ensler, David Henry Hwang, Tony Kushner, David Lindsey-Abaire, John Logan, Craig Lucas, Sandra Oh, Suzan-Lori Parks, Jose Rivera, Anika Noni Rose, Sarah Ruhl, Jeanine Tesori, Paula Vogel, George C. Wolfe and B.D. Wong. Despite the title, Yew is quick to emphasize that the group will serve more as ambassadors than advisers, with no direct artistic input.
Appropriate, directed by Gary Griffin, will run November 8–December 8. Yew will direct VG ensemble playwright Gardley's The Gospel of Lovingkindness, set in Bronzeville's Ida B. Wells Projects in 1996, to run February 21–March 23. Yew will also helm Death and the Maiden, in which Oh will play a former political prisoner who was tortured and raped in captivity. The play's age makes it an unusual choice for Victory Gardens; Yew says it serves as what the theater's calling a "New Play Classic," or a work of relatively recent vintage that faded from memory too quickly and deserves a fresh look.
It's a notion that kept coming up in conversation among Victory Gardens staff, Yew says. "We kept talking about this, and I said, Well, is it in our mission to do a 20-year-old play, or thereabouts?" But it was pointed out that within Victory Gardens's history are productions of canon writers like Pinter and Albee. "And as much as I don't want to go to that avenue, I thought maybe there's a place where we can actually revisit some of these new plays that really haven't been given a huge, big life, but could still be relevant to what we're talking about today."