Chautauqua Theater Company today unveils program plans for the 2021 season, including three mainstage productions at the open-air Performance Pavilion on Pratt Avenue, a modified version of the renowned New Play Workshops.
The mainstage performances showcase CTC’s versatility and commitment to elevating BIPOC voices, through presentations of Dominique Morrisseau’s Blood at the Root and George Stevens Jr.’s Thurgood, alongside original productions of the centuries-old Commedia dell’arte form. The 2021 repertoire responds to the issues of the day and the challenges of performing live in what everyone hopes will be the final months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve approached our evolving planning this season with the same ‘yes, and …’ improvisation disposition audiences will find in the Commedia piece. The outdoor Pavilion space is an inspired return to Chautauqua’s tent roots — and an opportunity to embrace and celebrate the beauty of the grounds,” said Andrew Borba, artistic director of Chautauqua Theater Company. “Our team is elated to return to the stage with our beloved Chautauqua audience, and in a thoughtful way that ensures their safety and that of our artists and crews. In this summer of creativity born of limitation, we will discover much about ourselves and each other that we will carry into 2022 with the return of our full company.”
CTC’s 2021 company will feature six conservatory actors and three production fellows in residence, with an additional 20 to 25 joining remotely. The online format, which CTC piloted by necessity in 2020, increases young artists’ access to the renowned pre-professional program.
Blood at the Root will be directed by new CTC Associate Artistic Director Stori Ayers, who appeared in the lead role in the play’s world premiere at Penn State Center Stage in 2014. Inspired by true events, Blood at the Root begins on a hot day in October, when a black high school senior breaks one too many rules when she decides to seek shade under an oak tree. The tree is located in the school’s courtyard and is traditionally a gathering place for white students. The next day, racial tensions mount when a school yard fight leaves black students charged with attempted murder. In this story about opposition and unity, the students of Cedar High desperately contemplate the nature of racial bias and whether justice is truly blind while the lives of six black students hang in the balance.
“After a year of protests and unrest over structural racism and injustice, we felt that our first in-person production of 2021 needed to offer a genuine and raw picture of these systemic issues that echo through American history,” said Sarah Clare Corporandy, managing director of Chautauqua Theater Company. “We’re also pleased that it gives us an opportunity to again work with Dominique Morrisseau’s brilliant words and characters, and to celebrate Stori Ayers in her new role at CTC.”
Blood at the Root, tentatively scheduled for a June 29–July 3 run, will have performances during Weeks One and Two of the 2021 Summer Assembly. Specific dates and times will be released in a separate announcement.
The Commedia dell’arte production, directed by Borba, will showcase the ingenuity and versatility of CTC’s company and conservatory. Half scripted, half improvisation and playing like a Shakespeare improv with modern-day language, Commedia dell’arte was created in the Middle Ages as theater troupes traveled from town to town, performing outdoors and entertaining people of all ages. The stock characters of young lovers, old misers and clowns who’ll do anything for a bite to eat are the basis for nearly every comedy on stage and screen today. Audiences will be gleefully surprised at the familiar yet ridiculous storylines and the references ripped from today’s headlines.
“We knew we couldn’t do a standard comedy because our present circumstances just aren’t that funny, but we also knew we needed something that would bring us together in community for a completely original and memorable experience,” Borba said. “The Commedia is an opportunity for our artists to flex their creative muscles and for the audience to see the same production done in completely different ways. Each night will be a sort of time capsule, only to be seen and collectively cherished by those who were there to share the moment.”
The Commedia production, tentatively scheduled for a July 22–Aug. 5 run, will have performances during Weeks Four, Five and Six of the 2021 Summer Assembly. Specific dates and times will be released in a separate announcement.
Continuing a CTC tradition of presenting innovative one-person plays — while also tying thematically Chautauqua Opera Company’s production of Scalia/Ginsburg earlier in the summer — the 2021 season of mainstage productions will conclude with Thurgood. In this tour de force compelling portrait of the first African-American to serve as a justice on the United States Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall masterfully guides the audience from his childhood in Baltimore to his role in the civil rights movement, to his historic victory in Brown v. Board of Education, and his ultimate appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Introducing us to the people that influenced him along the way, Thurgood is a one-man show about how it takes a village to change the world.
“In this smaller-scale and intimate season especially, we thought it appropriate to demonstrate how one person can command a stage and orchestrate an important discussion through the power of words and performance,” Borba said. “Justice Marshall’s story takes us through some of the highest highs and lowest lows of the Black experience in 20th-century America. It’s important to keep this critical history alive, and to continue to mine it for lessons to apply today.”
Thurgood, tentatively scheduled for a Aug. 13–22 run, will have performances during Weeks Seven, Eight and Nine of the 2021 Summer Assembly. Specific dates and times will be released in a separate announcement.
CTC will also continue its popular New Play Workshops in 2021, with this season’s focus on the earlier phases of play development rather than the stage, to accommodate limits on venue availability. Over the last 11 years, CTC, with the generous support of the Roe Green Foundation, has been committed to using its resources to launch new work onto the stage and into the industry. The 2021 CTC New Play Workshops will take place in Weeks Seven and Eight; specific times and locations of public engagements will be announced as the season approaches.
Programs at the Performance Pavilion on Pratt do not require a ticket for lawn seating, although no-cost reservations may be required to comply with COVID-19 safety regulations. A limited number of reserved seats in the Pavilion will be available for $25 beginning in June.
ABOUT CHAUTAUQUA THEATER COMPANY
Entering its 39th season, Chautauqua Theater Company is the resident professional theater and conservatory of Chautauqua Institution. Internationally known actors, directors, designers and writers join more than 30 emerging artists drawn from the nation’s top training programs to form a unique company that produces a vibrant summer of work in the historic Bratton Theater (with productions moved temporarily to an outdoor venue for 2021). Dedicated to the next generation of theater artists, the development of new work, first-rate productions of modern and contemporary classics, and fresh insight into Shakespeare’s canon, CTC produces the best of a year-round regional theater within an eight-week summer season.
ABOUT CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION
Chautauqua Institution is a community on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York state that comes alive each summer — and year-round through the CHQ Assembly online platforms — with a unique mix of fine and performing arts, lectures, interfaith worship and programs, and recreational activities. As a community, we celebrate, encourage and study the arts and treat them as integral to all of learning, and we convene the critical conversations of the day to advance understanding through civil dialogue.
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