Civic Ensemble Announces Summer Festival Of New Plays

Civic Acts: New Plays Toward The Beloved Community is Civic Ensemble's new play festival in Ithaca featuring new political plays by nationally and internationally renowned playwrights whose work centers on women and people of color. These plays deal with the challenges our communities face in moving society toward what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called The Beloved Community. Civic Acts is one of the rare new play festivals in the United States devoted to socially-engaged theatre. The Beloved Community, first articulated by early 20th-century philosophers Josiah Royce and Randolph Bourne, is a vision where people of diverse racial, ethnic, educational, class, gender, sexual orientation backgrounds/identities seek to realize justice within the community and in the broader world.

Four-time Emmy Award-winner Judy Tate's play Fast Blood kicks off the festival. Fast Blood takes place in the antebellum South where a lynched slave, who has committed an unspeakable crime, mysteriously calls to a "married" slave couple, beginning a journey from vengeance to justice for the women and men, blacks and whites alike. Beth Milles directs Sarah K. Chalmers, Vernice P. Miller, Joshua Sedelmeyer, Godfrey L. Simmons Jr., Messeret Stroman Wheeler, Ryan Hope Travis, Saba Weatherspoon, and Jacob White. Fast Blood is produced in association with the American Slavery Project.

The festival then presents two plays in repertory with internationally-renowned playwright Saviana Stanescu's Bee Trapped Inside The Window. This play deals with modern-day slavery's effect on the lives of three women in the leafy suburbs of Connecticut. Vernice P. Miller directs Janilya Baizack, Sarah K. Chalmers, and DeAnne Stewart.

Simmons, an Artistic Director for Civic Ensemble along with Chalmers, says, "Both Judy and Saviana have a unique ability as playwrights to distill history, empathy, and moral outrage into dynamic theatrical storytelling that centers women for today's stages." He adds, "These plays both look at human trafficking, and Civic Ensemble hopes audiences make connections between chattel slavery in the mid-1800s and domestic slavery today."

Both playwrights were commissioned as part of the Four Plays - 100 Years: A Celebration of Women's Suffrage festival last year at the Kitchen Theatre Company (KTC). The festival, a celebration of the centennial of New York State's signing of women's suffrage into law, was a collaboration between four Ithaca theatres: Civic, the Cherry Arts, KTC, and the Hangar Theatre. Civic commissioned Tate to write In The Parlour, while Stanescu was commissioned by the Cherry Arts to craft the monologue May from a previous project about human trafficking. The titular character of that monologue was an inspiration for Bee Trapped Inside The Window and appears in the play.

Judy Tate is a playwright, long-term member of Ensemble Studio Theatre, and the Producing Artistic Director and co-founder of The American Slavery Project, which is a theatrical response to revisionism in our nation's discourse around slavery, the Civil War and Jim Crow. ASP supports African-American writers who write about the era, creates conversation in the community and provides educational workshops. In addition to In The Parlour, Civic Ensemble co-produced her play Slashes of Light with the Kitchen Theatre Company in June 2014. For her writing, she has won four Emmys, a Writers' Guild of America award, the Manhattan Theatre Club playwriting fellowship, the New Professional Theatre Playwriting Award, and the 2011 Women in Arts and Media Collaboration Award (honored finalist). A professional actor for many years, Judy has worked in theatres throughout the United States and in Southern Africa. As a teaching artist she has worked with playwriting students in alternative schools, prisons, shelters, from reservations and townships both independently and with MTC, TDF and the International Theatre and Literacy Project. It is her 14 years of work with high school inmates on Rikers Island that inspired her TV pilot, "Lockdown High." She is an alumna of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts conservatory program where she studied with Stella Adler and was an honors graduate receiving the Founder's Day Award, Seidman Award and Beinecke Award for excellence in acting and academia.

Saviana Stanescu is an award-winning Romanian-born playwright whose work has been widely presented internationally and in the United States. Aliens with extraordinary skills (Inmigrantes con Habilidades Extraordinarias) and Final Countdown (Cuenta Regresiva) ran for eight months in Mexico City at Teatro La Capilla and Teatro El Milagro. She has published books of poetry and drama, co-edited drama anthologies. Civic Ensemble has previously produced readings of her play Lenin's Shoe and the collaboratively written Dream Acts. She is a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre and a Usual Suspect with New York Theatre Workshop. She has served as Associate Artistic Director for Richard Schechner's East Coast Artists, Director of Eastern European Exchange for The Lark Play Development Center, curator of playgroundzero for undergroundzero festival of experimental theatre in NYC, and founder/president of Immigrant Artists and Scholars in New York (IASNY). She holds an MA in Performance Studies (Fulbright fellow) and an MFA in Dramatic Writing (John Golden Award for excellence in playwriting, shared with Rajiv Joseph) from New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, where she was on faculty in the Drama Department for eight years, as well as a PhD in Theatre from National University of Theatre and Film, Bucharest, Romania. She has taught Playwriting and Performance Technique at Fordham University, Strasberg Institute for Theatre & Film, and Primary Stages - Einhorn School of Performing Arts (ESPA). Currently she is Assistant Professor of Playwriting and Theatre/Performance Studies at Ithaca College.

Gabriella Patricia Carr is the Artistic Line Producer for the festival. Rachel Russo serves as the Production Stage Manager for all of Civic Acts and Stage Manager for Bee Trapped Inside The Window, with Walter Chon as Dramaturg. Carrell Johnson is the Costume Designer and Carin Estey serves as Stage Manager for Fast Blood. Christine Hughes is the Graphic Designer and Lucy Walker is the Marketing Coordinator.

There will be matinee and evening performances of both productions, all followed by post show conversations. Dates and times can be found online at civicensemble.org/civicacts. All tickets are $20. Free tickets will be available day of for those who find cost a barrier to seeing theatre.

All performances will take place in Ithaca, New York at the Lehman Alternative Community School. Fast Blood will be performed outside in the Maggie Goldsmith Amphitheatre and Bee Trapped Inside The Window will be in the Black Box. LACS has once again generously donated Civic Ensemble the space and time for rehearsals and performances, having previously hosted Civic Ensemble productions The Class Divide, She Persists: Women's Performance Workshop, and My Children! My Africa! as well as workshops with Civic Ensemble staff.

Civic Acts is made possible in part by the support of private donors, CSP Management, Lehman Alternative Community School, and a grant from the Tompkins County Tourism Program.

Civic Ensemble is a non-profit theatre company serving Ithaca and Tompkins County that produces new plays by or about women and people of color, re-imaginings of classics, and community-based plays that explore and explode the social, political, and cultural issues of our time. Through the production of plays, after-school and in-school education programs for young people, and civic engagement programs with Ithaca community members, the company works to bring audiences of different races, classes, and experiences together in a public forum on the American experiment. Civic Ensemble is committed to employing Ithaca-based theatre artists whenever possible. It is our vision that theatre be accessible to all people, onstage and off. "Theatre is Everyone's Birthright."



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