Inaugural Redwood City Play Festival Showcases A Collaborative Spirit
Monday, June 3, 2019
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
by Nicole Gluckstern
Summer in most cities is a time for frolic and festivals—and Redwood City is no exception. With much of the action taking place on or around Courthouse Square, Redwood City hosts musicians, visual artists, arts and crafts vendors, light shows, and movies all summer long. So it’s the perfect time of year for two of Redwood City’s independent theatre companies, Fuse Theatre and Dragon Productions, to be collaborating on the first, eponymous Redwood City Play Festival, debuting this year from June 8 to 14.
Although Fuse and Dragon had been talking about ways to collaborate for some time, it wasn’t until Fuse went looking for a space to produce “Because I Went There”, a new one-act play penned by company member Hedvig Flores, that the time was finally right. With Flores’ play to anchor the lineup, Dragon proposed a second script, “Never Swim Alone”, by Daniel MacIvor, and the two companies began searching for a third to complete a mini-festival of one-acts.
As the Flores script deals with the topic of sexual harassment through a feminist lens, and MacIvor’s characters are steeped in what Fuse’s artistic director Stacey Ardelean terms “toxic masculinity,” they realized that gender was a construct central to both. With this perspective, they reached out to playwrights writing from trans and non-binary perspectives to find the third play, “Legal-Tender Loving Care”, by trans woman Leanna Keyes.
The cast of Because I Went There Top: Hedvig Flores, Marybeth Weider, Karla Acosta; Bottom: Armando Torres Pina, Michelle Marin. Photo: Stacey Ardelean
Combining Dragon Productions’ penchant for producing new work, and Fuse Theatre’s focus on themes of social justice and community empowerment, the festival aims to attract audiences interested in both. An interactive and visual art component installed both out-of-doors and in neighboring businesses, is positioned to gain the attention of folks who might not have otherwise known there was a theatre festival in town.
One of the installations, from Nanette Wylde, will travel throughout downtown Redwood City for two weeks. Described by Ardelean as an “art engagement piece,” the installation encourages passerby to sit on one side of a mailslot and fill out postcards with prompts on the topic of gender, and then read the postcards of others on the other side.
As many of the tickets are for “double features” and even a marathon of all three plays, the scheduling gives opportunities for discovery to audiences unfamiliar with the work of all three playwrights. In Flores’ play, the audience gets to decide the outcome of the story. MacIvor’s is a long overdue revival of a sly, nineties satire. And with Keyes’ play, the narrative centers itself around two trans characters—performed by trans actors, and directed by genderqueer Kieran Beccia—without fanfare. The goal is to inspire the audience to recognize the everyday humanity in their story as easily and conventionally as with any other play.
Not only does the theme of gender connect the three works but one of the playwrights, Hedvig Flores, connects the two companies. As a company member of Fuse and a board member of Dragon, Flores had previously helmed her own company in Hungary, Teatro Surreal, for over a decade. Ecuadorian on her father’s side, Flores translated South American works for her company to perform for Hungarian audiences and also worked as an actress and a playwright. After moving to Redwood City in 2015, Flores became involved with Dragon as a board member and with Fuse as a performer. In 2018, Flores received a CA$H grant to work with Fuse on the development of “Because I Went There,” which she will also perform in, with Stacey Ardelean as director. Leanna Keyes, who’s currently in Tennessee finishing up a three-month playwriting residency, also has ties to Dragon as a lighting designer and will be back in the Bay Area in July as production manager for the Bay Area Playwrights Festival. Another Dragon designer, Nathanael Card, will direct the MacIvor piece as well as design the sets, cementing the family bond between Dragon’s regular season and the festival.
As a newer and primarily nomadic company, Fuse’s focus has been primarily on creating original work by and for the populations they collaborate with, focusing on issues such as justice, equity, immigration, and faith. Ardelean has facilitated the creation or presentation of several works—from a documentary-style piece focusing on a houseboat community facing eviction to bilingual plays for youth tackling topics of race, community, and human trafficking. She readily admits that Dragon has cultivated a larger audience base in its ten years of operation, pointing out that for a lot of its shows, Fuse doesn’t even sell tickets. The possibility of the festival continuing in the future, and involving some of Redwood City’s other companies, is one that she embraces.
“I’m very excited about this partnership,” Ardelean says. “And I think that partnerships are very important for small companies to consider. I’m really excited that Dragon was open to this, and that we’re all working together. It’s not easy work but it’s really important work and it really makes theatre stronger when we do it together.”
Get festival tickets and more info here: https://dragonproductions.net/other-events/rwcplayfestival.html
Nicole Gluckstern is an arts journalist and theatre-maker in San Francisco. You can read her most current work in KQED Arts, or follow her on twitter at @enkohl