My name is Kevin Maroney and I am the Director of Development here at ASC. I first traveled to Staunton this past April to visit the Blackfriars Playhouse, see a performance of Romeo and Juliet, and meet with Brandon Carter, the newly appointed Artistic Director of the American Shakespeare Center. Carter—as he is affectionately called—articulated an artistic vision for ASC that resonated with me, and that I fully support. What he had to say that evening is summarized quite well in the quotation below, which we included in our recent appeal to donors.
Brandon Carter, ASC Artistic Director:
“Our mission at the ASC is to ‘break the legacy’ and culture that surrounds classical work by creating a symbiotic relationship between the canon and innovative voices. To co-lead and empower this ensemble towards a healthy, innovative, connected, and equitable future. To create a lasting legacy of artistic excellence that influences the next generation of theater innovators. Please be a part of our ensemble reclaiming its joy, sharing our love and expertise of the craft, and bringing back the spirit of ASC. A spirit and beacon that you have enjoyed for almost 35 years.”
In the fall, we were joined by celebrated stage director Dawn Monique Williams, who worked with our company to create a production of Une Tempête. I had worked with Dawn on a production of The Winter’s Tale, in which I played Camillo, back when she was completing her MFA at UMass Amherst. It was one of those amazing coincidences that happen with astounding frequency in the theatre world. We had a chance to visit after her work here was done, and she reflected on the compelling artistic opportunity here at ASC. We also included a summary of her comments in the donor appeal, and it is copied below.
Dawn Monique Williams, Director of the ASC production of Une Tempête:
“What I find interesting, under Brandon Carter’s artistic leadership, is exploring what other plays ASC can do ‘with the lights on.’ I am really excited to see what Brandon thinks about additional contemporary works that can be done in conversation with Shakespeare, using the staging conditions that ASC is known for. There is an amazing opportunity to explore several generations of contemporary plays on the Blackfriars stage.”
Also in the fall, the ASC management team was joined by Jessica Wiseman, an experienced professional arts administrator, who – like myself – was attracted to the unique leadership model under development at the company.
Jessica Wiseman, ASC Director of Finance & Operations:
“The Management Group leadership format at ASC is a breath of productive fresh air! Walking hand in hand through myriad projects and decisions with this team of experts allows the Management Group to solve problems and develop our company in a truly integrated and holistic way. Our programs and operations are interdependent, and treating them that way ensures we achieve balanced and beneficial outcomes as a whole. I’m pleased to contribute a focus on company nuts and bolts to the Management Group, and honored to see that contribution fuel ASC’s renewed investment in art, equity, and our beautiful community of support.”
We still have much work to do, but the results so far this fall have been very encouraging. As evidence, I have included several commentaries. One from a teacher who has been bringing students to performances at the Blackfriars Playhouse for years, one from a professional review of The Tempest, and three short comments that donors included with their gifts.
Comment from a teacher, after a recent student matinee:
“Then when the actors started performing the pre-show music—I really had tears welling up in my eyes. Part of that emotion was seeing some familiar faces from past performances, but also just the excitement to be there. We’ve all been through a lot over the last few years (YEARS!!!) and I know this has been an exceptionally hard time for the arts. But I was so glad to be back in person, and there is a magic that happens in live theater with human-to-human interaction that can’t be replicated. It just felt really good to be back in [your] very special space.
“Then the performance itself was amazing. I really appreciated how the actors made some very intentional choices that retained the original text, but provided interpretation that gave a much richer, relevant, and thought-provoking performance. This is what I love about ASC…there is a depth there that comes through in the performance. It was there before the pandemic—but it seems much richer now to me. The actors aren’t just entertaining us (although it was a very funny show) but providing a venue to feel big emotions, empathize with a character, and maybe make us remember something about the human condition. We need catharsis—especially after the anger and sadness of the last few years—and theater is one of the most ancient ways for us to express and feel. It’s so important for young people to have productive and healthy ways to express their emotions—so the exposure to live theater can really be so impactful. I know that my heart was full when I left town today.”
DC Theater Arts review of The Tempest:
“The acting ensemble at Staunton’s American Shakespeare Center, with its renewed mission of serving the community’s priorities as well as the Bard’s legacy, has created one of the most thought-provoking versions of this play you are likely to see—in Virginia, in DC, wherever. Working collaboratively, this multiracial acting company has navigated through troubling language that today is clearly unacceptable and created a vision of Prospero & Co. that will enable all audiences—emphasis on all—to appreciate Shakespeare’s genius without being distracted by the dated, unflattering aspects of his work. If it’s been a while since you’ve been to Staunton, now is the time—the company hasn’t seen an artistic peak [since] before all the trouble started, and they are clearly back on their artistic feet. Miraculous indeed!” – Andrew Walker White
Recent comments from donors:
“Gratitude that you’ve maintained such high-quality performance despite all the troubles.”
“Thank you for being true to Shakespeare and for showing us how to enjoy these plays! I never thought I would enjoy Pericles as much as I did from your production. Casting, costumes, music, and most of all the acting was outstanding.”
“I have attended several performances and thoroughly enjoyed them.”
I’ll close this post with a message and two invitations. The message is a simple Thank You. Thank you for your interest in, and your support of, our work at ASC.
I invite you to sign up for our weekly development email, which aims mostly to be informative and entertaining. Sign-up via the link if you are interested.
And finally, I invite you to make a donation to support our work at ASC. You can use the link to go to the donation page. You might consider setting up a recurring donation, which would be most appreciated.
At the start of each show on the Blackfriars Playhouse stage, the cast and audience give a round of applause for our donors. As they say at that moment: “If you’d like to be applauded by a room full of strangers,” become an ASC donor today.
Thanks again, and have a great holiday season!
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