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2023-24 

BUILT FOR THIS

Key Artists: Lauren Gunderson (Book), Kira Stone (Music and Lyrics)

The fierce world of competitive gymnastics is not for the faint of heart, and young women on the path to the Olympics face a seismic level of pressure and perfection. Enter Built For This: an athletic, feminist pop musical centering five fierce young gymnasts confronting inner demons required for top-tier competition, as well as a real-life demon preying on their youth, ambition, and vulnerability. Inspired by the gymnast survivors of Olympic doctor Larry Nassar and USA Women's Gymnastics, and conceived from interviews with gymnast survivors, non-profits, and the judge who sentenced Nassar to 100+ years in prison, this fictionalized show offers these young women a platform to speak their truth as they stand up to a man and a system seemingly determined to shove them down. Up until now, the development of this musical has been entirely virtual and long-distance, and the Vanguard Arts Fund workshop will mark the first time that the team is able to collaborate in person.

SONG OF THE EXILE

Key Artists: Kiana Davenport (novelist), André Pluess (sound designer/composer), Seema Sueko (generative director)

Based on the 1999 novel of the same name by Kiana Davenport, this jazz-filled epic brings us on an Odysseus-like journey of love, separation, and transformation over the course of 17 years. Beginning in a nightclub in Honolulu in 1935 and carrying us through the turmoil of World War II, Song of the Exile is a fascinating cultural collaboration bringing to light the plight of the Japanese Army’s “comfort women” in prisoner-of-war camps. This workshop will be used to explore the way that music is used to tell this powerful story, further the narrative, and enhance the artistry of the piece.

2022-23

THE GAME

Key Artists: Conceived, written and performed by Rhett Guter, Directed by West Hyler

Olney Theatre audiences know Rhett Guter from his leading performances in Mary Poppins, On the Town and Singin’ in the Rain.  But they don’t know Rhett began his performing career as a magician.  The Game is Rhett’s exploration of his journey from magic to theater and back to magic, told through illusion, dance, story and spoken word poetry.  Along the way, the show examines the nature of illusion, the morality of lying in the service of entertainment, and the powers and dangers of manipulation in community.  Guter and West used their workshop time to explore a number of audience-focused illusions before test audiences made up of Olney Theatre staff, artists, and patrons.  

 

OKUNI

Key Artists: Book and lyrics by Naomi Iizuka, Music and lyrics by Paul Hodge, Directed by Lisa Portes

Few people know that the 16th-Century theatrical form Kabuki – still performed today, exclusively by men – was created by a woman named Okuni.  From humble peasant beginnings, Okuni transformed herself, first into a Shinto priestess and later a renowned dancer, performer, and counter-cultural icon under the patronage of Japan’s ruler Lord Hideyoshi.  When the puritanical Tokugawa succeeded him, Okuni disappeared, though her legacy as creator of Kabuki theater lives on. Inspired by female icons like Madonna and Beyonce, Iizuka and Hodge have a rock-musical biography of Okuni, which crosses centuries to explore shifting gender identity, performance at a time of revolution, and what it means to be a female image-maker. The team used their workshop to put the show’s first act on its feet and write a draft of the second act.

THE GIFTED PRINCE

Key Artists: Music by Daniel Green, Book & Lyrics by Lezlie Wade, Based on The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen by Lloyd Alexander, Directed and Choreographed by Darren Lee

Inspired by Chinese folklore and based on Lloyd Alexander’s award-winning novel, The Gifted Prince follows a young Prince’s quest to save his kingdom with the help of a powerful shaman.  The musical, starting from western music-theater tradition, quickly morphs into a multi-media, multicultural performance featuring shadow puppets, eastern choreographic forms and cutting-edge projection technology. The workshop, led by director/choreographer Darren Lee, aims to bring together puppets, projections and live performers for the first time in several key musical numbers.

 

THE JOINT

Key Artists: Book by Dominic Taylor and Curtis Jones, Music and lyrics by Timothy Graphenreed, Directed by Kenneth Roberson

Ten years ago, producer Denise Gray conceived of an R&B musical to celebrate a small-town Black community in the rural south and center three generations of women in its story.  She turned to Timothy Graphenreed, one of the composers of The Wiz, and writer Curtis Jones to craft the story of Corrida, a talented young musician who returns to her childhood home above The Joint – a run-down juke-joint in South Carolina originally owned by her mother – looking for salvation, and finds it.  With the death of Graphenreed and the departure of Jones in 2020, the team has brought playwright Dominic Taylor aboard to finish the work.  The creatives, led by Tony-winner Kenneth Roberson, will review Taylor’s most recent draft with a full company as they prepare to shop the script around for production.  

2021-22

The Joy That Carries You:  Pitched during the heart of the pandemic as a response to the murder of George Floyd and rising anti-semitism, co-writers Awa Sal Secka and Dani Stoller received two Vanguard Arts Fund workshops to develop this play, which combined traditional narrative and spoken-word poetry to tell its story.  OTC committed to producing the show after its first workshop, and produced it in 2022.  The production was nominated for five 2023 Helen Hayes Awards.

RAFIQ
Key Artists: Mohammad Alrifay, Joe Calarco and Kholoud Sawaf

A play about a Syrian dissident in America whose planned return may end in jail, or even death. Haunted by memories and ghosts, he sits at the airport with an expiring visa and the Muslim ban about to take effect.  Will he step on to the plane to return to his beautiful, troubled homeland?  Inspired by a piece Calarco wrote for the Signature-in-the-Schools program

2019-20

The Music Man:  Deaf performer Joey Caverly pitched the idea of a Deaf-hearing production of this classic musical back in 2017. OTC gathered a directing team and ten actors to try out the idea, working on only two numbers. This led to a successful full-scale production in the summer of 2022. The production was nominated for nine 2023 Helen Hayes Awards.

A.D. 16:  a new musical by Bekah Brunstetter and Cinco Paul, about teenaged Mary Magdalene, was developed in 2019 via a Vanguard workshop.  The show got its world premiere at OTC in 2022. Commercial producer TBD Theatricals has obtained the rights and is planning a Broadway production.

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