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TBA Online: News & Features: July 2013

Editor’s Note July/August 2013: Flower Power

Monday, July 8, 2013  
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By Sam Hurwitt



I saw Christopher Chen’s play The Hundred Flowers Project when it opened at Thick House last October, in director Desdemona Chiang’s spellbinding world premiere staging for Crowded Fire Theater and Playwrights Foundation, and I was blown away by, as I wrote in my review on, "the dueling senses of chaos and exquisitely crafted architecture that make up Christopher Chen’s play, which in its own way is as ambitious as the mammoth theatrical project that the characters in it are creating.” A play about an ensemble of actors who are themselves working on a play about Mao Tse-tung’s Cultural Revolution, melded with the context of their own experience in the Facebook generation of self-mythologization—a play that gradually starts to impose itself onto the psyches of its creators—The Hundred Flowers Project proved to be so rich and complex, suspenseful and funny, dizzying and dazzling that it was the most exciting piece of theatre I’d seen in some time.



Wiley Naman Strasser and Cindy Im in Crowded Fire Theater and Playwrights Foundation's 2012 world premiere of The Hundred Flowers Project. Photo: Pak Han

The opening happened while we were preparing to publish Josh Costello’s play Little Brother, based on the Cory Doctorow novel of the same name, in the January/February 2013 issue of Theatre Bay Area, and as soon as I saw it I knew that Hundred Flowers was the next play I wanted to print in the magazine. Well, I knew that the next play we published, in the July/August issue, would be the winner of the Glickman Award for best play to premiere in the Bay Area in 2012, and that wouldn’t be selected until mid-January. (Heck, Little Brother would also be eligible for the Glickman, so for all I knew we may have already printed the winner.) But if not in this issue, I definitely wanted to publish Hundred Flowers next January, when we feature a play by a Bay Area author.

As it happens, Hundred Flowers did win the Glickman. I’m actually one of the five critics who choose that award every year, which is completely separate from my duties as Theatre Bay Area editor. I was invited onto the panel when I was the theatre critic for the East Bay Express, and I continue to serve in my capacity as critic for the Marin Independent Journal, KQED Arts and The Idiolect. The other critics on the panel are Karen D’Souza of the San Jose Mercury News, Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle, Rob Avila of the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Chad Jones of Theatre Dogs. I came to our lunch meeting prepared to argue passionately for The Hundred Flowers Project, but we were all on the same page as to which plays were the strongest contenders (Little Brother was another) and which was the one we felt was most deserving of the prize.

So here we are with the aforementioned July/August issue, in which we’re pleased to present The Hundred Flowers Project. Lo and behold, it did indeed turn out to be the next play we published after all. Shedding further light on the material, I interviewed Chen about the play, and dramaturg Sonia Fernandez wrote about working on The Hundred Flowers Project and the role of dramaturgy in new work in general. Also somewhat related is Nirmala Nataraj’s "Keep an Eye On” profile of Crowded Fire’s resident production manager Stephanie Alyson Henderson, who also worked on the piece. For our Encore Q&A, associate editor Laura Brueckner (who’s also Crowded Fire’s director of new works, making the world smaller still) interviews actor Aldo Billingslea, who had nothing at all to do with The Hundred Flowers Project. He did, however, star in Marcus Gardley’s ...and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi, the play we published in our January/February 2012 issue. It’s a small freaking world, this Bay Area theatre scene, I’m telling you.

There’s a whole lot going on at Theatre Bay Area right now. There are several staff comings and goings: our new director of advancement & communications Sam Read had to return unexpectedly to Seattle, and listings editor Caroline Anderson is off to grad school in New York. We’re moving our offices to Market Street in August, after which we’ll be located directly above ACT’s Costume Shop. And perhaps the biggest news (for now, anyway) is that Theatre Bay Area is getting ready to launch an awards program. Brad Erickson gives you the skinny on that in his Executive Director’s Note.

Coming up in September/October is our fall season preview issue. In the meantime, enjoy your summer reading! It’s the kind of play we think you’ll want to read more than once.

Sam Hurwitt is editor-in-chief for Theatre Bay Area. He is also the author of The Idiolect, a blog about theatre, movies, comics, media and the decline and fall of Western civilization. E-mail