TheatreFirst is widely known and respected for its creativity a well as its progressive philosophy. For example, when director and playwright Jon Tracy joined the company in 2016, he became its “artistic facilitator,” rather than the more typical “artistic director.” This June, Tracy demoted himself to the subordinate position of “company manager” in order to foster new leaders of color. His interest in advancing and developing a new, more diverse leadership is apparent in the original and vibrant 2020-21 season.
The virtual season consists of six world premiere plays and visual essays. Each month, from October 2020 to June 2021, chapters of three of the offerings will be delivered to TheatreFirst subscribers online, complete with American Sign Language interpreters. So, each month, in one sitting, viewers will see pieces of three different productions. Subscribers will have all eleven episodes sent to them on the premiere dates and will have continued access to them through Aug. 1, 2021.
The initial evening aired on Friday, Oct. 9. The lead-off was the intriguing first chapter of Magic Fruit, written and performed by Kimiya Shokri and Alejandra Rivas, and developed and directed by Susannah Martin. Set during the lockdown, food critic Tara tries anxiously to obtain an essential online interview with the reluctant, perhaps depressed, up-and-coming chef, Amaya. Visually designed by Erin Gilley, the video was as crisp as the dialogue. The characters were strongly developed. The fine acting and directing carried the chapter far above the realm of ordinary video. This story will continue with three chapters over the season and culminate with a complete spring production. Can’t wait.
The next visual, the documentary Delano, examines the origins of the Delano grape labor strike’s dramatic fight (1965-1970). The ultimately successful strike was organized by the farmworkers of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, a predominantly Filipino and AFL-CIO-sponsored labor organization, against the exploitive table grape growers of Delano, California. Each of Delano’s three episodes focuses on one courageous leader: Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Larry Itliong. Each was written by a different playwright: Carlos Aguirre, Jeffrey Lo, and Lisa Ramirez. In the first chapter, playwright Jeffrey Lo speaks with nonprofit executive and activist Ron Muriera about the legacy of Filipino labor activist, Larry Itliong. This informative documentary, developed and directed by Sean San José, is perfect for video.
The final performance was the first episode (of three) of You Really Should Sit Like a Lady, written and performed by Lisa Evans, developed and directed by Ashley Smiley, with special guest Sabaa Zareena. It uses sound and mixtape (with influences of Motown and R&B) to explore the process of racial and gender-identity formation. You Really Should Sit Like a Lady spotlights Lisa Evans. They look directly into the camera and forthrightly and humorously speaks to the audience about their life, their Blackness, and their non-binary sexuality. It’s a daring and honest portrayal.
The rest of the TheatreFirst’s 2020-21 season, with new productions written by Tom Swift, Cleavon Smith, and Lady Zen, is full of promise.
For information and subscriptions ($60 for the entire season through Aug. 1, 2021, plus an invitation to the online gala event), visit TheatreFirst.