Putting their cre­ativ­ity to use on the po­lit­i­cal stage

For as long as stages have ex­isted, per­form­ers have pon­dered power and metaphor­i­cally stormed the palace. From bald ag­it­prop plays to the sub­tleties of dance and cham­ber mu­sic, here is how a va­ri­ety of artists lo­cally and na­tion­ally in­te­grate pol­i­tics and

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY NEL­SON PRESS­LEY

MOLLY SMITH ARTIS­TIC DI­REC­TOR, ARENA STAGE Full­on ac­tivist. Gal­va­niz­ing is­sue: Sandy Hook

“The march on Wash­ing­ton for gun con­trol was a gal­va­niz­ing turn­ing point for me,” Smith says. “And I’m just at another level now.”

Smith, 65, grew up in an ac­tivist house­hold, plas­ter­ing JFK bumper stick­ers on cars in Yakima, Wash. Smith’s mother was a so­cial worker who took part in the Oper­a­tion Pe­dro Pan move­ment that helped Cuban par­ents re­set­tle their chil­dren in the United States.

“When there was a prob­lem in the com­mu­nity, my mother would go out with big trays of food and con­ver­sa­tion,” Smith says. “If some­body was in the hos­pi­tal, we’d be at the hos­pi­tal. My sis­ter and I were trained very young that when some­thing is hap­pen­ing in your com­mu­nity, be part of it.”

Smith was in col­lege when Viet­nam and the women’s move­ment were crest­ing, and the Per­se­ver­ance The­atre troupe she cre­ated in Juneau, Alaska, of­ten cre­ated work that re­flected lo­cal ci­ti­zens’ is­sues and con­cerns. But in 1998, when Smith be­came the third artis­tic di­rec­tor in Arena’s his­tory, it took time to find her voice.

“When I ar­rived 19 years ago talk­ing to peo­ple about how I think po­lit­i­cal plays would go well here, peo­ple said to me, ‘You’re crazy,’ ” Smith re­calls. Un­til five years ago, her par­tic­u­lar hall­mark — the shows Smith di­rected and that sold well — were re­vivals of clas­sic mu­si­cals.

But a dif­fer­ent sort of ball got pushed down the hill in 2012 when Kath­leen Turner starred in the solo “Red Hot Pa­triot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” drawn from the writ­ings of the late Texan colum­nist. That was fol­lowed in 2014 by “Camp David,” a drama­ti­za­tion of the 1978 Jimmy Carter-An­war Sa­dat-Me­nachem Be­gin peace talks by re­porter­turned-play­wright Lawrence Wright.

If Arena seemed to be ex­ploit­ing the celebrity value of pol­i­tics, at least the bold-faced names pried open the door. John Strand’s 2015 “The Orig­i­nal­ist,” about the con­trar­ian Supreme Court Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia, be­came a sen­sa­tion — it re­turns in July as part of a Florida-Cal­i­for­nia-Chicago tour — and the past two springs have been bal­anced po­lit­i­cal blitzes. Lynn Not­tage’s work­ing-class “Sweat” ap­peared in 2016 be­fore win­ning the Pulitzer and tri­umph­ing in New York. And the an­nounced 10year flow of new “Power Plays” has be­gun with “In­tel­li­gence,” and with Mary Kathryn Na­gle’s 1830s Chero­kee Na­tion ex­plo­ration “Sovereignty” premier­ing next year.

“Writ­ers are ea­ger to think about other time pe­ri­ods,” Smith says, “be­cause peo­ple rec­og­nize that our sys­tem right now is bro­ken in so many ways. Peo­ple used to be­moan the fact that Amer­i­can writ­ers weren’t writ­ing plays about pol­i­tics, yet the Brits were. For decades, Amer­i­cans were writ­ing about the break­down of the fam­ily. That’s quickly chang­ing now.”

The Ore­gon Shake­speare Fes­ti­val’s Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tions com­mis­sion­ing pro­ject of 37 new plays is plainly a model for Smith; be­gun in 2008, it can al­ready count “Sweat,” “Roe,” “All the Way” and Paula Vo­gel’s “In­de­cent” as tri­umphs. But the ac­cel­er­at­ing mo­men­tum at Arena sug­gests that ticket buy­ers have re­sponded.

“Ab­so­lutely,” Smith says. “When we started do­ing projects like ‘Camp David’ and ‘The Orig­i­nal­ist’: big, rau­cous au­di­ences.”

Smith quickly put her name out front after last fall’s “Hamil­ton” flap, when an ac­tor in that in­tensely pop­u­lar Broad­way mu­si­cal de­liv­ered a post-show speech from the stage to Vice Pres­i­dent-elect Pence, who was in the au­di­ence. Trump crit­i­cized that ac­tion in a tweet — “The theater must al­ways be a safe and spe­cial place” — which prompted a free speech es­say from Smith that The Wash­ing­ton Post pub­lished. Smith’s Face­book feed is al­most pure ac­tivism, and she’s more than happy to lodge her own cri­tiques of last year’s cam­paign cov­er­age, un­ad­dressed cul­tural misog­yny and the power of Jan­uary’s women’s march.

She sees no con­flict be­tween pub­licly speak­ing her piece and con­sci­en­tiously steer­ing Wash­ing­ton’s busiest, most lauded theater. “I’m a cit­i­zen ac­tivist, and I’m artis­tic di­rec­tor of Arena Stage,” Smith says. “Now, do some of th­ese ar­eas some­times talk to each other? Ab­so­lutely.”

Of course, there’s a school of thought that art and pol­i­tics ought not mix.

“Yeah, well,” Smith laughs. “What­ever. Artists are think­ing peo­ple. I also know that for some peo­ple, the arts are al­ways on the side. We’re not. We’re right in the thick of the com­mu­nity. And if our job is to re­flect what we see, the tenor of the times, that means we need to speak about the tenor of the times with our own au­then­tic voices. And pol­i­tics is go­ing to be part of that.”

STEVE O’HEARN NO YOU’RE THE PUP­PET THEATER Full­on ac­tivist — on the side. Gal­va­niz­ing is­sue: Cli­mate change. “We now know we’re on some kind of self­de­struc­tive time­line. That’s the one thing that’s ir­re­versible.”

O’Hearn, 58, has run the Pitts­burgh street-theater out­fit Squonk Opera for 20 years with com­poser Jackie Dempsey.

“She’s the Trump and I’m the Ban­non of Squonk,” O’Hearn says. “She’s charis­matic, and I con­nive.”

He ex­plains the work: “We do out­door spec­ta­cles that are cel­e­bra­tory, meant to unify au­di­ences. We’re funny, loud, flam­boy­ant. We usu­ally avoid sto­ry­telling, char­ac­ters and plots. I’m vis­ual, and she’s a com­poser.” The works tend to be more ab­stract than lit­eral: “It doesn’t come nat­u­rally to talk about pol­i­tics. Or to talk at all.”

The elec­tion threw him for a loop, but Squonk didn’t seem the right way to re­spond. So O’Hearn, aided by Squonk con­fed­er­ates, cre­ated No You’re the Pup­pet, a street theater pres­ence more than a com­pany. Rather than putting on shows, O’Hearn’s shoul­der­mounted pup­pet — a Trump fig­ure that took six weeks to build — ap­pears at ral­lies, like the “Tues­days with Toomey” gath­er­ings that be­gan in Novem­ber out­side the Philadel­phia of­fice of Repub­li­can U.S. Sen. Pa­trick J. Toomey.

O’Hearn likes the speed and im­me­di­acy of re­spond­ing in the street. “Our goal would be to be as non-preachy as pos­si­ble as Squonk,” he says. “No You’re the Pup­pet is not try­ing to reach across the di­vide. We’re there to com­plain as much as to reach out.”

As for the name, drawn from one of Trump’s de­bate lines with Hil­lary Clin­ton: “It was so funny,” O’Hearn says, “that some­body that old could be so puerile.”

ARI ROTH MO­SAIC THEATER COM­PANY FOUND­ING ARTIS­TIC DI­REC­TOR (above) Full­on ac­tivist, with an as­ter­isk. Gal­va­niz­ing is­sue: “Co­ex­is­tence,” says Roth, 56, “with all the var­i­ous icons of re­li­gions com­min­gling.”

“In this po­lit­i­cal town, where peo­ple know the dif­fer­ence,” Roth says, “if you’re re­ally hard at work on your art, you’re not an ac­tivist. And I know this from the Arab-Is­raeli peace move­ment. We have won­der­ful col­leagues that we part­ner with, and I spend 80 to 90 per­cent of my time mak­ing the art. I’m a part­ner to them. But I’m use­ful hitch­ing my cart to their work.”

Roth, a play­wright-turned-pro­ducer, led Theater J for nearly 20 years un­til his 2014 fir­ing by the troupe’s um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion, the D.C. Jew­ish Com­mu­nity Cen­ter. Fric­tion had been build­ing over pro­gram­ming that some saw as crit­i­cal of Is­rael, a flap that earned an en­tire chap­ter in for­mer New York Times re­porter David K. Shipler’s 2015 book “Free­dom of Speech.”

“The free­dom of speech is­sue was thrust on me in my last years at the J,” Roth says. “I didn’t nec­es­sar­ily think I was go­ing in that direc­tion.”

The pro­gram­ming at Mo­saic, now con­clud­ing its sec­ond busy sea­son at the At­las Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, has broad­ened Roth’s ap­proach. Ma­te­rial has fo­cused on Rwanda, South Africa and race in the United States and has con­tin­ued the Voices From a Chang­ing Mid­dle East Fes­ti­val Roth cre­ated at Theater J. Per­haps most demon­stra­bly among pro­duc­ers in Wash­ing­ton theater, Roth has al­ways em­braced tough con­tent.

“I don’t know that that makes me ab­jectly more po­lit­i­cal than oth­ers,” Roth says. “I’ve learned from re­ally good theater mak­ers that there is pay dirt in terms of dra­matic truth when you take risks and ex­pose cer­tain wounds that want to be ex­am­ined. That’s not ac­tivism. That is be­ing an artist.”

Yet le­git­i­mate ag­it­prop can change hearts and minds. (“Some­times we have an al­lergy to those kinds of plays,” Roth muses.) He points to Mo­saic’s cur­rent “The Re­turn,” by Pales­tinian Amer­i­can ac­tor-writer Hanna Eady and U.S. writer Ed­ward Mast. The twochar­ac­ter drama deals with an Is­raeli woman and a Pales­tinian man and an old ro­mance they can barely talk about.

“What gets ex­posed,” Roth says, “is the pain of Pales­tinian self-era­sure and what you would call the psy­chic toll that liv­ing un­der Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion breeds in this man.” He pauses, and adds, “One doesn’t con­sider one­self an ac­tivist to show that.”

Gen­uinely po­lit­i­cal art: By def­i­ni­tion, does it take sides?

“Ac­tivism im­plies an ac­tion,” Roth says. “There is a lot of ac­tivist art that pushes you to mo­bi­lize, to say never again, to say the only right­eous thing to do is to take a stand. When you talk about the over­abun­dance of guns, you can ru­mi­nate deeply on the is­sue. But ul­ti­mately the play or the con­ver­sa­tion pushes you to say, ‘Don’t just ap­pre­ci­ate the com­plex­ity. What do you want to stand for?’ ”

MELISSA SNOZA FOUND­ING MEM­BER AND EX­EC­U­TIVE DI­REC­TOR, FIFTH HOUSE EN­SEM­BLE Full­on ac­tivist. Driv­ing is­sue: Com­mu­nity con­nec­tions

“We wanted to en­gage our cu­rios­ity and the col­lab­o­ra­tive na­ture of cham­ber mu­sic to tell sto­ries,” the 36-year-old flutist says of the 11-mem­ber Chicago en­sem­ble that’s in its 11th sea­son. But what be­gan as a stan­dard at­tempt to bring art into com­mu­ni­ties back­fired when the group re­al­ized that sim­ply cart­ing con­certs to­ward com­mu­ni­ties “ab­so­lutely didn’t work.”

By work­ing with com­mu­ni­ties, Fifth House has learned how to meld mu­sic with press­ing mat­ters. Fifth House helped bridge gaps be­tween In­di­ana’s DePauw Univer­sity and its sur­round­ing ru­ral county with a year-long res­i­dency cul­mi­nat­ing in the con­cert “Har­vest.” For the 2014 “Bro­ken Text,” Fifth House part­nered with Chicago’s Raven The­atre, Great Books Foun­da­tion (a lit­er­acy and so­cial jus­tice or­ga­ni­za­tion) and St. Leonard’s Min­istries, which helps re­leased pris­on­ers tran­si­tion back to free­dom. The re­ac­tion, says Snoza: “More peo­ple in po­si­tions to make de­ci­sions need to see this.”

Speak­ing by phone from Cal­gary as the en­sem­ble tours, Snoza is fer­vent and flu­ent as she speaks on a range of is­sues, from where mi­nors are held in the Illi­nois prison sys­tem to the chronic risk of wage theft suf­fered by un­doc­u­mented work­ers. “Spend­ing time with peo­ple, learn­ing what’s im­por­tant, find­ing ways to tell sto­ries to peo­ple who wouldn’t other­wise hear them,” Snoza says, “it gives us pur­pose.”

“There’s an up­ward surge,” she adds of this kind of so­cial con­nec­tiv­ity in clas­si­cal mu­sic. “We may have been out­liers at the be­gin­ning. It was weird to be en­gag­ing in projects with part­ners who are not in the arts. We’re see­ing way more of that now.”

Foot­note: Snoza’s fa­ther es­caped the hor­ror of Pol Pot’s Cam­bo­dia in the 1970s, though oth­ers in his fam­ily were not as for­tu­nate. He prefers to keep quiet about pol­i­tics, while his daugh­ter draws the op­po­site les­son: It’s im­por­tant to speak. The clamor around im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy now “is a real mo­ment for me,” Snoza says. And grat­i­tude for this coun­try’s free­doms, she says, “is why it’s im­por­tant to be ac­tive.”

MICHAEL DOVE ARTIS­TIC DI­REC­TOR, FO­RUM THE­ATRE Full­on ac­tivist. Gal­va­niz­ing is­sue: Sandy Hook

When “All the Way” drama­tist Robert Schenkkan swiftly fin­ished his dystopian “Build­ing the Wall” after Trump’s elec­tion, the D.C.-based Na­tional New Play Net­work or­ga­nized a let’s­do­it­now “rolling world pre­miere” in sev­eral the­aters across the coun­try. Tall or­der: The­aters typ­i­cally can’t al­ter plans mid­sea­son.

But lately, the Sil­ver Spring troupe has been leav­ing a slot open pre­cisely to be more re­spon­sive. Dove, 35, said yes right away.

Fo­rum’s cur­rent sea­son fea­tured plays the com­pany judged would still mat­ter more than a year ago as they lis­tened to early cam­paign themes. The para­noia of an Arab man in a U.S. city un­der ter­ror­ist at­tack was cap­tured in the fall opener, “I Call My Broth­ers.” Spring brought two plays by and about women, “Dry Land” and “What Ev­ery Girl Should Know,” which be­came known as the “Nasty Women Rep.”

Dove had al­ready de­cided on Steve Yockey’s “Pluto” for the 20132014 sea­son when the Sandy Hook shoot­ings hap­pened. Tak­ing the sea­son’s se­lec­tions to his board, some­one sug­gested that even a year later might be too soon for Yockey’s school shoot­ing drama. Dove blew up.

“That did some­thing to me,” says Dove, whose small troupe is as hard-charg­ing as any in the city. After the Sandy Hook shoot­ings, he says, “I wanted to be more pointed in the cur­rent-events fo­cus of the work.”

Pub­lic di­a­logue takes cen­ter stage with Fo­rum’s (Re)Acts se­ries, a com­bi­na­tion of artis­tic re­sponses and au­di­ence dis­cus­sion. Last sum­mer, Fo­rum pro­grammed an evening on the shoot­ing at Or­lando’s Pulse night­club. The Mon­day after Novem­ber’s elec­tion, Fo­rum had a (Re)Acts night to process the re­sults and look ahead.

“We talk about pol­i­tics in the of­fice a lot,” Dove says. “So­cial me­dia is very help­ful: We can tap into a ‘trend­ing topic,’ not for mar­ket­ing but to say, ‘This is what peo­ple ac­tu­ally want to talk about.’ If our side mis­sion is to find new rel­e­vance in theater, I think that’s pretty key, es­pe­cially in de­vel­op­ing new au­di­ences. They can have con­ver­sa­tions on Face­book and Twit­ter, but there are few fo­rums for phys­i­cally bring­ing peo­ple to­gether.”


“It makes boards ner­vous,” Zam­bello, 60, says of po­lit­i­cal works. That’s a prob­lem, she notes, be­cause so­cial com­ment on stage “is more stated now.”

In 2007, as Zam­bello was di­rect­ing “The Lit­tle Mer­maid” on Broad­way for Dis­ney, the New Yorker mag­a­zine de­scribed her as “best known for psy­cho­log­i­cally prob­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the oper­atic reper­toire.” Yet it seems that po­lit­i­cal ti­tles have been on the uptick, with “The Dic­ta­tor’s Wife” on the WNO slate ear­lier this sea­son and the new “hip-hopera” “Stomp­ing Grounds” (by Vic­tor Si­mon­son and D.C.’s up-and-com­ing Paige Her­nan­dez) this sum­mer at the Glim­mer­glass Fes­ti­val in Coop­er­stown, N.Y., which Zam­bello has run since 2010.

All that was pro­grammed some time ago, Zam­bello notes. She con­tends that her po­lit­i­cal radar has al­ways been at­tuned and that even the clas­sics (“The Mar­riage of Fi­garo,” “Nabucco” and “Madame But­ter­fly” are her ready ex­am­ples) fre­quently rip­ple with re­new­able so­cial is­sues.

If the bal­ance re­cently tipped to­ward more con­tem­po­rary mat­ters, Zam­bello be­lieves it hap­pened in 2008 — not with the elec­tion of Barack Obama but with the na­tion’s fi­nan­cial melt­down. The cri­sis tor­pe­doed some arts or­ga­ni­za­tions and left oth­ers shaken. Ev­ery­one’s goal, she says, was “to fig­ure out how to sur­vive.” Pro­gram­ming like an ar­chiv­ist felt like a route to ir­rel­e­vance.

Mak­ing the reper­toire top­i­cal is dif­fi­cult when sign­ing con­tracts three or four years into the fu­ture, so Zam­bello cham­pi­ons time­less virtues. Great pieces find new ways to speak to us, so­cial dilem­mas don’t change, and “mu­sic gives you a way to speak to pro­found sub­jects in a pri­mal way.”

Yet Zam­bello does not tip­toe around the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, nor does she wave off ma­te­rial com­posed with a fresh eye on tur­bu­lent times. Th­ese days, she says, “We all are just think­ing more about con­tent.”

JAMES IJAMES PHILADEL­PHIA-BASED AC­TOR/ PLAY­WRIGHT Full­on ac­tivist. Gal­va­niz­ing is­sue: Iden­tity

“I feel like ev­ery gen­er­a­tion has a cause they have to fight,” says Ijames (pro­nounced I-yams). Po­lice shoot­ings of black men, along with the 2015 shoot­ing by a white man of nine black peo­ple in a Charleston church, helped clar­ify the 36-year-old per­former’s tran­si­tion to play­writ­ing. His re­sponse, “Kill Move Par­adise,” pre­miered in June at Man­hat­tan’s Na­tional Black The­atre and was greeted as a “bleak and beau­ti­ful new drama” by the New York Times.

To Ijames, theater has al­ways felt po­lit­i­cally sat­u­rated. He was a stu­dent at More­house Col­lege dur­ing the con­tested 2000 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and 9/11 — “Boom, boom, boom, as I was dis­cov­er­ing Aeschy­lus, Sopho­cles and Euripi­des,” he says of the news. He was in the Wilma The­atre’s 2012 stag­ing of Tony Kush­ner’s “An­gels in Amer­ica,” earn­ing one of his two Bar­ry­more Awards for act­ing, as he wrote “The Most Spec­tac­u­larly La­mentable Trial of Miz Martha Wash­ing­ton,” a dark his­tor­i­cal com­edy that just had its D.C. pre­miere with the new Ally The­atre Com­pany.

“The ac­tual news feed of the world, whether pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics or Black Lives Mat­ter or ‘white­wash­ing’ — all those things get un­der my skin and make me con­tinue to want to write,” says Ijames, who is also now teach­ing at Vil­lanova Univer­sity.

His com­edy “White” just opened at Philadel­phia’s The­atre Hori­zon; it’s about a gay, white artist who hires a black woman to pre­tend she painted his work so a pres­ti­gious mu­seum will be in­ter­ested. “Ijames has cre­ated a piece in which ev­ery ex­pec­ta­tion (in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal) and stereo­type gets turned in­side out,” wrote critic Wendy Rosen­field. “Also, it’s hi­lar­i­ous.”

“My ap­proach to cur­rent events of things we don’t want to talk about is find a way to el­e­vate it to some­thing more height­ened, us­ing the­atri­cal­ity — write some­thing that hap­pen in a theater. I find it opens peo­ple up, and primes them to have a pro­duc­tive di­a­logue,” Ijames says.


In Jan­uary, New Yorker dance critic Joan Aco­cella wrote a piece head­lined “Kyle Abra­ham’s Po­lit­i­cal Chore­og­ra­phy.” The dances by Abra­ham, who was 36 when he was awarded a 2013 MacArthur Foun­da­tion grant, fea­ture what he has called a “post­mod­ern gumbo,” and they’ve been no­tably top­i­cal. Yet he pushes back against that in­ter­pre­ta­tion, even as he ac­knowl­edges it’s “fair to say” he’s an artist-ac­tivist.

“There are times I’m maybe want­ing to work on the ab­stract side, but peo­ple will al­ways find po­lit­i­cal agenda,” Abra­ham says by phone from Los An­ge­les as his com­pany tours. “As a black, gay Amer­i­can man, it’s one of those things where I’m very well aware of the ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages that go with those la­bels.”

He de­scribes his “Dear­est Home” as about love, long­ing and loss but notes that a solo he made for a white male com­pany mem­ber elicited in­ter­pre­ta­tions of white guilt and gen­tri­fi­ca­tion — themes he hadn’t in­tended. “There’s no lead-up in the chore­og­ra­phy for that,” Abra­ham says. “But of­ten you’re com­ing to the theater with your own his­tory and what­ever per­spec­tive you’re walk­ing in with to­day.”

Work­ing with jazz com­poser Robert Glasper to adapt the 1960 record “We In­sist! Max Roach’s ‘Free­dom Now Suite,’ ” cer­tain themes were in­evitable: civil rights, the 100th an­niver­sary of the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion. The same goes for the 2012 “Pave­ment,” drawn from John Sin­gle­ton’s 1991 movie “Boyz n the Hood.” Abra­ham de­scribes it: “Look­ing at a 1991-92 ur­ban time cap­sule as it re­lates to black cul­ture, and bring­ing up con­ver­sa­tions about what has and hasn’t changed when we have a black pres­i­dent.”

Events, though, cast the piece in a harsher light. “‘Pave­ment’ was made, then Trayvon Martin hap­pened,” Abra­ham says, re­fer­ring to the 2012 shoot­ing by Ge­orge Zim­mer­man that in­spired Black Lives Mat­ter. “But it’s about hun­dreds of thou­sands, mil­lions of Trayvon Martins.”

“Peo­ple will al­ways see race in what we do,” he adds. “If I want to make a love story with two men of color, that’s go­ing to be politi­cized. It shouldn’t be. It just is. But I should be able to make a love story.”


“We’ve never prac­ticed art for art’s sake,” Horowitz, 70, says of the cross-dis­ci­plinary or­ga­ni­za­tion cre­ated in 2003. “Our premise is that mu­sic is an in­stru­ment for hu­man bet­ter­ment.”

Both men are in­ter­na­tional­minded: This spring, Gil-Or­dóñez, 59, led an ex­change that took his Ge­orge­town Univer­sity stu­dents to Cuba and that brought vis­it­ing Cuban mu­si­cians to the Wash­ing­ton cam­pus. “In­stead of build­ing walls, build­ing bridges,” Gil-Or­dóñez told Wash­ing­to­nian mag­a­zine this spring.

In Fe­bru­ary, Horowitz was on the coun­try’s south­ern bor­der with “Co­p­land and Mex­ico,” a pro­ject for the Na­tional En­dow­ment of the Hu­man­i­ties’ Mu­sic Un­wound ini­tia­tive. The much­trav­eled pro­gram ex­am­ines the fer­tile 1930s Mex­i­can cul­ture that at­tracted in­ter­na­tional artists, in­clud­ing Amer­i­can com­poser Aaron Co­p­land. Horowitz or­ga­nized per­for­mances of mu­sic by Mex­i­can com­poser Sil­vestre Re­vueltas in El Paso and Juarez.

A coun­ter­point to Trump­ist bor­der-shoring? Yes, and no. The “Co­p­land and Mex­ico” pro­ject has been cir­cu­lat­ing for sev­eral years, so it’s hardly a di­rect re­ac­tion. It’s also in sync with Post­Clas­si­cal’s habit of ex­plor­ing his­tory and blur­ring bound­aries.

In March, Horowitz fash­ioned a script from “Tes­ti­mony: The Mem­oirs of Dmitri Shostakovich” by Solomon Volkov for Post­Clas­si­cal’s “Mu­sic Un­der Stalin” con­cert, with Wash­ing­ton ac­tor Ed­ward Gero as Shostakovich. April’s con­cert at the In­done­sian Em­bassy cel­e­brated Amer­i­can com­poser Lou Har­ri­son and his Ja­vanese-In­done­sian in­flu­ences.

“Clas­si­cal mu­sic is an ir­rel­e­vance, more or less, and or­ches­tras have be­come mar­ginal in Amer­i­can life,” Horowitz says, ex­plain­ing the need for the kind of creative part­ner­ing that Fifth House prac­tices, too. He adds, “This is a mo­ment when cul­tural diplo­macy should be reem­pha­sized.”

MK ABADOO DANCER-CHORE­OG­RA­PHER (above) Full­on ac­tivist. Gal­va­niz­ing is­sue: Black Lives/ Black Women Mat­ter

“The ac­quit­tal of Ge­orge Zim­mer­man was a turn for me,” says Abadoo, 33. “That was the first time I joined a march. It wasn’t clear I needed to make a dance about it, but it was clear I needed to do some­thing and do it within the com­mu­nity.”

It was 2013, mark­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of the civil rights March on Wash­ing­ton and the 150th an­niver­sary of the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion; Abadoo used th­ese mark­ers to or­ga­nize her think­ing through a grad­u­ate pro­gram she com­pleted this spring. She learned com­mu­ni­ty­based prac­tices with the ex­per­i­men­tal troupes Ur­ban Bush Women and Dance Ex­change, and she just re­turned from eight months in Ghana as a Ful­bright fel­low.

The power of artists to in­clude and ex­clude was the sub­ject of Abadoo’s “Gate­keep­ers/All That You Touch, You Change.” Her lat­est pro­ject en­gages science fic­tion. “Oc­tavia’s Brood: Rid­ing the Ox Home,” which pre­miered at Dance Place in June, is in­spired by Har­riet Tub­man and a 2015 science-fic­tion story col­lec­tion on so­cial jus­tice move­ments, a tribute to writer Oc­tavia But­ler. At one point, three dancers (in­clud­ing Abadoo) wore tan vests firmly teth­ered to the side walls by roughly 10 feet of fab­ric; rac­ing for­ward to the strains of Nina Si­mone’s “Four Women,” the dancers snapped back as if leashed.

Abadoo, a But­ler fan, was in­trigued by “Oc­tavia’s Brood” ed­i­tor Adri­enne Ma­ree Brown’s no­tion that “all or­ga­niz­ing is science fic­tion.” Dance-de­vis­ing as or­ga­ni­za­tion seemed like a fruit­ful ex­plo­ration.

“This is my com­mit­ment to cen­ter­ing the per­spec­tive of black women,” Abadoo says. “I de­cided in the space of Oc­tavia But­ler, how is that the world that we black women imag­ine it to be? How are we craft­ing this en­vi­ron­ment to sup­port us to dance with aban­don, to tell our sto­ries in ways that make sense to us?”


Steve O’Hearn of Pitts­burgh, shown car­ry­ing a like­ness of Pres­i­dent Trump on his shoul­ders, cre­ated the No You’re the Pup­pet street theater group in re­sponse to the 2016 elec­tions. The name comes from a state­ment Trump made dur­ing a de­bate with Hil­lary Clin­ton.


Molly Smith



Francesca Zam­bello


Michael Dove


Melissa Snoza


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