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In 2012, D.C.’s theater companies threw an admirable amount of support behind local playwrights. Most prominently, Theater J launched the Locally Grown: Community Supported Art Festival and Arena Stage announced its new Playwrights’ Arena program. This week, Forum Theatre is continuing the trend with its production of Stephen Spotswood‘s play We Tiresias. The show, which opens tonight, enjoyed a successful run at Capital Fringe last July, where it took home the award for Best Drama.
Originally written in 2009 as a commissioned staged reading for Spotswood’s alma mater, Washington College, We Tiresias reimagines the myth of the blind seer of Thebes. Tiresias narrates his own tragedy and, as Spotswood puts it, gender fluidity, as he speaks from the perspectives of a boy, woman, and old man.
Most of the same creative team returns for this production. Forum’s Artistic Director Michael Dove says the show gives Spotswood and director Matt Ripa a chance to build on their previous work. “Over the past few years, we’ve always added a show that had already gone through some sort of life,” writes Dove via email. “The idea was to bring in artists we liked and give them an opportunity to continue to develop a piece beyond its earlier incarnation.”
This is not to say that the Fringe production is being transplanted wholesale to Forum. Simply going for what Spotswood describes as a “cookie-cutter remount” would defeat the point. “Matt’s taking the opportunity to restage scenes that he thinks could be stronger,” writes Spotswood, “and I’m taking the opportunity to shore up the holes in the script and make it a stronger piece.”
Some of the staging had to be significantly revised, too, because of a change in casting. Due to schedule conflicts, Steve Beall isn’t available to reprise the role of the old man. William Aitken will fill his shoes. “It’s been fun not knowing what to expect with his take on Tiresias,” writes fellow cast member Chris Stinson. They both “carry with them the necessary gravitas for the role, but Bill has continually surprised us with his own distinct version.”
While reconstructing a performance poses unusual challenges for the original cast members, in the final analysis they believe it helped them avoid creative ruts.”Once my body learns a show,” says Melissa Marie Hmelnicky, “it can be hard to shake it out of my system … I found myself walking the entire show in the patterns I had learned this summer. When I realized what I was doing, I’d force myself to make another decision.”
Meanwhile, Spotswood relishes the opportunity to incorporate feedback he received from the first run at Fringe, like a nugget Washington Post critic Peter Marks included in his largely positive review of the Fringe show. “We might be transported more fully by Tiresias’ story if the character confided more about why he’s chosen this moment to tell it,” wrote Marks last July. Spotswood says, “The one thing that bothered him is the same thing that bothered me, and that review really helped clarify my thoughts on the piece.”
But while critical reviews can bear fruit, nothing replaces getting back into the rehearsal hall. “I usually end up doing multiple series of revisions during a rehearsal process—-a lot of which is due to actor and director input,” Spotswood writes. “What’s the point in working in a collaborative art form if you don’t exploit the brains and talent of your fellow artists?”
The play runs Thursdays to Sundays Jan. 3-13 at Round House Theatre Silver Spring. $15.
Photo by Stephen Spotswood