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Syracuse Stage Announces Revised and Re-Envisioned 2020-21 Season
Syracuse Stage announced today plans for adjustments to the 2020-21 season in order to address the continuing impact of the COVID-19 virus.
Three previously announced plays will be replaced in the six-show season. The Cold Read Festival of New Plays returns with additional enhanced experiences. A series of community-focused performances and conversations will be added and subscribers will be given access to a series of special interviews and behind-the-scenes looks guided by Syracuse Stage artistic leadership.
All plays and events will be available to subscribers and patrons through online access. Currently, any decisions concerning reopening the theater for live, in-person performance are contingent on guidelines and protocols not yet established by professional unions and state and local officials.
New to the season are “Talley’s Folly,” “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” and “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.” No longer part of the season are “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” “Matilda The Musical” and “Once on this Island.” Stage plans to present these shows in future seasons, possibly as soon as 2021-22.
The new season line-up is as follows: “Talley’s Folly,” “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” “Yoga Play,” “Our Town” and “salt/city/blues.” The season will run from late October 2020 through June 2021. The plays will be available in a video on demand format similar to the theater’s production of “Amadeus” last March. Exact dates for the virtual access of each show will be announced in early October.
An integral part of the reimagined season is a focus on the Central New York community. A new series of free (online) conversations and performances called “Syracuse Stories” will complement plays in the season in an exploration of issues particular to Central New York as well as addressing broader concerns that impact the region.
In announcing the changes to the season, artistic director Robert Hupp explained that offering the plays online is not intended as a simple substitute for the live experience. Rather, by enhancing the plays with additional performances, community conversations and additional related content, the season offers an opportunity to engage with ideas and artists in ways not always available in a more traditional season.
“While we’re saddened by the fact that we can’t create the season we had planned, we are thrilled to announce our ideas for a newly reimagined Syracuse Stage season,” says Hupp. “Especially now, in this time of national reckoning, we need the transformative power of theatre more than ever. We’ll create fully realized virtual work, and with ‘Syracuse Stories’ we’ll put our community front and center through a series of exciting multi-discipline projects.”
The scheduled programming for “Syracuse Stories” is varied. Included are a production of “A Gatherin’ Place” written and performed by members of the Harriet Tubman Troupe, directed by Dr. Juhanna Rogers, and presented in association with the Auburn Public Theater; a series of videoed interviews with local leaders (including Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh and Syracuse Police Chief Kenton T. Buckner) conducted in partnership with 100 Black Men of Syracuse; and a virtual reunion with Ping Chong and the cast of Stage’s production of “Tales from the Salt City.”
As the season progresses, plays such as “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” “Our Town” and “salt/city/blues” will consider comparable topics through a theatrical lens.
Written and first performed in 1993, “Twilight” is Anna Deveare Smith’s artistic response to the brutal beating of Rodney King and the unrest that unfolded in South Central following the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers charged in his assault. Using more than 300 interviews, Smith wove a mosaic of four dozen characters into a stunning and insightful work of documentary theater. Steve H. Broadnax III (“Thoughts of a Colored Man”) returns to Syracuse Stage to direct.
The universal perspective offered in Thornton Wilder’s classic “Our Town” resonates deeply today as a reminder of life’s fragility and wonder. Wilder calls out to cherish every unimportant moment we’re together and wonders if any human beings ever realize life while they live it. With deceptive simplicity, Wilder speaks to today with distinct clarity and poetic grace. Hupp directs a play he counts as one of his favorites.
In “salt/city/blues,” playwright and Stage’s associate artistic director Kyle Bass sets a domestic drama against the backdrop of a fictional Syracuse grappling with the impact of a highway development project that has long divided the city and destroyed a once flourishing neighborhood. Stage’s former artistic director Tazewell Thompson, who directed Bass’ “Possessing Harriet,” returns to direct this moving, funny, poignant and fresh, contemporary new play.
Broadening the range of the season and providing some theatrical counterpoint with romance and comedy are “Talley’s Folly,” “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” and “Yoga Play.”
Lanford Wilson won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for “Talley’s Folly,” a warm tale of unlikely romance between Sally, a thirtysomething woman from the Bible Belt, and Matt, a St. Louis accountant ten years her senior and in love for the first time. Playwright and actor Kate Hamill (“Pride and Prejudice”) and real-life husband Jason O’Connell (Salieri in “Amadeus”) return to Syracuse Stage to star in this intimate valentine of a play.
Fans of Jane Austen will delight in “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” a tribute and sequel to Austen’s great “Pride and Prejudice” that places bookish Bennet sister Mary front and center and quite possibly falling in love. Holiday cheer, romance and England’s first Christmas tree (maybe?) come wrapped in this celebratory production by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon, directed by Hupp and co-produced with the Syracuse University Department of Drama.
The pursuit of authenticity and the perfect lavender-scented yoga pants makes for a bit of comic mayhem in Dipika Guha’s “Yoga Play.” As the new CEO of Jojomon—makers of high-end athletic wear—struggles to contain a public relations disaster, she pins her hopes on convincing a revered and reclusive yogi to serve as the company’s spokesperson. Unfortunately for her, but wonderfully for audiences, he turns out to be not quite as she had expected. Melissa Crespo (“Native Gardens”) returns as director.
“We’ve been at full employment throughout this pandemic pause so we have capacity to create fully realized productions and bring them directly into patrons’ homes,” said Hupp.
The Cold Read Festival of New Plays returns in March 2021 with Kate Hamill as playwright in residence. Award-winning theater artist, poet, songwriter and educator Chesney Snow will be the featured solo performer, and playwright and Syracuse City School District’s Nottingham High School alumnus Evan Starling-Davis will be the “Write Here” author. Expanded online programming from Cold Read will continue throughout the season in the form of Cold Read Shorts, which has already featured work by Stage’s associate artistic director Kyle Bass, New York-based mime artist Bill Bowers, and renowned visual artist and MacArthur Fellow Carrie Mae Weems.
Two planned residencies focused on developing new work are scheduled to go forward. In the fall, actor and writer Stephan Wolfert will perform his adaptation of “Macbeth” and develop a new piece, “The Head of Richard” based on “Richard III.” Wolfert appeared as Mrs. Darcy in last season’s “Pride and Prejudice.” He is best known for his one-man show “Cry Havoc,” which draws on his personal experience in the military and as a veteran contending with post-traumatic stress. He is also the creator of DE-CRUIT®–a program to reintegrate military veterans using Shakespeare, psychology and classical actor training.
In the spring, Los Angeles based writer, director and producer Mark Valdez arrives with his production of “Exiled in America,” based on the book “Exiled in America: Life on the Margins in a Residential Motel” by sociologist Christopher P. Dum. Originating at Mixed Blood Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, “Exiled in America” is a multi-year, multi-city project that aims to impact housing policy utilizing performance, cultural organizing and creative community development strategies. In addition to Syracuse Stage, the production will travel to theaters in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
Subscribers will be invited to take a deep dive into the season with “Engage with Stage,” a series of special conversations, interviews and behind the scenes looks hosted by Hupp and Bass. Each “Engage with Stage” segment offers insight into specific productions while providing perspective on the season as a whole. Subscriptions are $184 and on sale now at www.syracusestage.org and through the Box Office at 315.443.3275. Single tickets for “Talley’s Folly” will be available beginning Oct. 12.
Lead support for programs in the Syracuse Stage 2020-21 season generously provided by Syracuse University, The Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman Foundation, M&T Bank, The Shubert Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, the County of Onondaga administered by CNY Arts and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, Wegmans, Bank of America, The Jon Ben Snow Foundation, Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation, The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Syracuse University Humanities Center and The William and Eva Fox Foundation.
- “Talley’s Folly” by Lanford Wilson
Directed by Robert Hupp
NovemberKate Hamill (playwright and actor “Pride and Prejudice”) and Jason O’Connell (Salieri in “Amadeus”) star in Lanford Wilson’s 1980 Pulitzer Prize-winning Valentine of a play. On July 4, 1944, Matt Friedman, a 40+ accountant and in love for the first time in his life, drives 200 miles to the heart of Missouri Christian farm country to propose to Sally Talley, ten years younger and seemingly not interested. Having been met at the door by Sally’s shotgun toting brother—Jews not welcome here—Matt takes refuge in a Victorian folly of a boathouse on the nearby river, where Sally finds him. Cue moonlight and music (waltz, please), willows and woods. Can one enchanted evening change the course of two lives? Once upon a time—there was hope in the land.
- “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon
Directed by Robert Hupp
DecemberLizzy and Darcy. Jane and Bingley. Lydia and Wickham. But whither poor Mary, the bookish, oft-neglected middle sister of the Bennet clan? In this delightful sequel to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Mary takes her turn at center stage and possibly even love as a Christmas celebration at Pemberley brings together beloved characters in a droll and delicious new holiday story. There are some new faces (one in particular) and a confounding new tradition that involves dragging an evergreen tree from out of doors and standing it in the middle of a room. How jolly.
- “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” by Anna Deavere Smith
Directed by Steve H. Broadnax III
January/FebruaryCreated and originally performed in 1993 by Anna Deveare Smith, “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” is a stunning and insightful work of documentary theatre and a tour de force experience. On March 3, 1991, a 26-year-old Black man named Rodney King was brutally beaten by officers of the Los Angeles police department. The incident was caught on tape, the first of long line of disturbingly similar videos to go viral. The four officers involved were charged with assault and excessive use of force. A year later they were acquitted by a mostly white jury in the nearby suburb of Simi Valley where the trial had been moved. News of the acquittal set off five days of unrest in South Central Los Angeles, which left 63 dead, 2,000 injured, 9,500 arrested and $1 billion in property damages. “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” is Smith’s artistic response to these traumatic events. Using more than 300 interviews, Smith creates a mosaic of four dozen characters to ruthlessly probe issues of race and class that set Los Angeles ablaze almost 30 years ago and continue to plague our nation today.
- “Yoga Play” by Dipika Guha
Directed by Melissa Crespo
MarchJoan has a big problem. Recently named CEO of athletic-wear giant Jojomon—think high-end brand that’s part 60s one-hit wonder and part citrus fruit—she even more recently learned that a BBC investigative team is about to expose her Bangladeshi manufacturer of lavender-scented yoga pants as an exploiter of child labor. Suddenly, Jojomon’s family of customers is all atwitter with accusations of inauthenticity. Only one solution will do—find a reclusive and revered yogi to serve as a spokesman and restore the company’s all-important claim to authenticity. They find him all right. The rest is 90 minutes of side-splitting comedy. The East Coast premiere of a timely new comedy by Dipika Guha, a talent to watch who was recently awarded a Venturous Playwright Fellowship by The Lark.
- “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder
Directed by Robert Hupp
April/May“The life of a village against the life of the stars” is how Thornton Wilder described his heralded masterpiece “Our Town.” “It is an attempt,” he wrote, “to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life.” He succeeded with this graceful and poetic play—a heartfelt call to cherish every unimportant moment we’re together and to embrace the true wonder and brevity of being alive. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Whether in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire at the turn of the 20th century, or Syracuse in 2021, Wilder’s enduring classic asks us to stop and ponder what truly matters, and to consider that for a great many of us the answers will be the same. Bob Hupp directs one of his favorite plays.
- WORLD PREMIERE
“salt/city/blues” by Kyle Bass
Directed by Tazewell Thompson
JuneHow does a fractured family heal when unresolved emotions of the past color the present? How can a city reshape itself if it means tearing open old, still-tender wounds? And where in a diverse but segregated city can communities find common ground, mutual dignity, and a true sense of home? These questions collide into Yolonda Mourning, an independent consultant on a vast project to take down a span of highway that has long divided Salt City. When she leaves her husband and teenage son and moves to the heart of trendy downtown, a diverse cast of characters forces Yolonda to confront Salt City’s complicated history around race, class and urban renewal, and to reckon with her role as architect of the broken bridges in her own family. Moving, funny, poignant and current, “salt/city/blues” is a fresh, contemporary new play set in a fictionalized Syracuse and to the music of the blues.