Stages Repertory Theatre to Bring 'Battle of the Sexes' Tennis Match to Life in BALLS

Stages Repertory Theatre to Bring 'Battle of the Sexes' Tennis Match to Life in BALLS

Stages Repertory Theatre, in conjunction with New York's acclaimed One Year Lease Theater Company, has announced the World Premiere of Balls, a spectacular new work that bounces one of the most memorable tennis events of all time - the 1973 Houston Astrodome-hosted "Battle of The Sexes" match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs - off the cultural debates it ignited.

Co-written by Tony Award nominee Bryony Lavery and Stage Edinburgh Award winner Kevin Armento, and co-directed by One Year Lease's Co-Artistic Directors Ianthe Demos and Nick Flint, Ballsincorporates a high-intensity, shot-by-shot reimagining of the entire match all in a carnival-like atmosphere. Balls is part technical showcase of the tennis match, and part social commentary on the topics of sexism, chauvinism, and how this singular event helped shape the women's movement and the pursuit of gender equality. This production is the first of four World Premieres that Stages will produce for the 2017-2018 40th Anniversary Season.

"Balls is the kind of theatre that quickens your pulse while expanding your mind," Stages Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin said. "It is at once a visceral sporting event and a soaring exploration of language and ideas. It is what great theatre is about. And the care that One Year Lease has taken to uncover every possibility - it is as thrilling as the creative process gets. I couldn't be more proud of Stages' partnership with this extraordinary company."

Founded in 2001, One Year Lease Theater Company has been called "riveting theatre" byNPR, "fiery and fantastical" by Village Voice and "first rate actors" by The New York Times. Its mission is to premiere bold international works of art, contribute to the advancement of international collaboration in theatre, provide training and education to young artists, and to advocate for the importance of theatre as a means of community enrichment.

In development since April 2016, Balls features a diverse cast and creative team of over 20 artists from New York who are currently in residence in Houston for the final development of the play. Lavery, known best for her Tony-nominated play Frozen, co-wrote the play with Armento, whose play Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally received the New York Times Critic's Pick and a Drama Desk nomination. Balls has close ties to Houston beyond just its setting - Costume Designer Kenisha Kelly attended the University of Houston, and Movement Director Natalie Lomonte is a native Houstonian - making Houston and Stages an ideal location for the premiere. Following the performances at Stages, Balls will premiere in New York City in January 2018 at 59E59 Theatres for a 6-week Off-Broadway run.

True to One Year Lease's focus on physicality, Balls features a highly complicated interplay of movement, action and dialogue, all timed to the second against the original match. In addition to the usual work of learning their lines, places and technical elements, the Balls actors must understand the precise timing and duration of each moment of the competition and how it fits into the larger context of the play. The run time of the play itself will be the length of the real-life tennis match.

According to OYL's Artistic Directors, Balls is by far the most complex project the group has ever undertaken "Art should question what is possible and thereby shift our daily reality," Demos said. "King did this in a single theatrical tennis match in 1973. To bring this event to stage is to honor what King achieved while also delving into the complexities and layers of how the struggle for gender equality has progressed over time."

While the show does re-create the match in exacting detail, the artists quickly realized that doing so with actual tennis balls was impractical. The resulting imaginative interpretations distinguish the play very clearly from the Emma Stone/Steve Carrell "Battle of the Sexes" film recently released in theatres. Balls is a highly theatrical experience, with actors at times being suspended in the air for a certain shot, or even portraying the balls or nets themselves.

44 years after the original match, the Battle of the Sexes continues to resonate, inspiring both the film and the play. "We wanted to explore pulling back the skin of the match and look underneath," Flint said. "The play doesn't make any judgments, but it does raise all the questions and puts them under the microscope. What has changed? What was achieved? It was such an important moment culturally. But what did it do, and what didn't it do? Hopefully, it will make people wonder what more we have to do."

This production is made possible through special support from producers Richard L. Danforth, Cynthia and Ben Guill, and Jane and Dick Schmitt, and the City of Houston, as well as education sponsors Victoria and Alex Lazar.

Performance times are Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2:30pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2:30pm. An additional performance will take place Tuesday, October 24 at 7:30pm.

A special student matinee of Balls will take place Friday, October 27th at 10am. For more information contact Greg Warrington at gwarrington@stagestheatre.com.

Regular tickets start at $25 with savings for groups of 6 or more Wednesday-Saturday matinee, and groups of 10 or more on Saturday evening & Sunday. To purchase, call the Stages Box Office at 713.527.0123 or reserve online at www.stagestheatre.com.

Founded in 1978, Stages is a professional Equity theatre that produces new work, presents established work in new ways, nurtures and develops talent, and cultivates and strengthens relationships with Houston audiences. Characterized by courage, generosity, ingenuity and intimacy, Stages works to advance theatre and enliven community to make a more vibrant Houston.

Stages presents a broad scope of plays and musicals in an intimate setting, generating critical acclaim and creating powerful connections between plays and people. The third-largest theatre in Houston and the sixth-largest in Texas, Stages performs year-round, one of only a handful of Texas theatres that offers year-round employment for creative professionals. On average, Stages produces 12 productions per year totaling more than 375 performances and reaching 65,000+ patrons. Almost all of Stages' shows are rehearsed and constructed on-site in Houston, brought to life by an exceptional community of locally-based artists and craftspeople along with occasional guest directors, actors and designers from around the world.

For more than a decade Stages has made a strong investment in nurturing emerging artists and craftspeople who have now become field leaders and working professionals. Stages' learning opportunities include performance and production internship programs for college students and conservatory-style training for middle and high school students.

Through this robust scope of activities Stages encourages conversation about important ideas, provides insight into other cultures and viewpoints, and helps develop each new generation of artists, audiences and citizens. For more information visit www.stagestheatre.com.

One Year Lease Theater Company (OYL) creates and premieres bold new works of theater. OYL uses physically powerful, ensemble-based theater to create experiences that are raw, poetic, and visceral. In 2016, OYL received a Drama Desk nomination in NYC, as well as a Stage Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

In addition to its work in the USA, OYL runs a summer education program annually in northern Greece for students from across the U.S. The summer of 2017 marks the eleventh year of the program. Since 2017, 115 students have participated from Adelphi, Atlantic Acting School, Arizona State, Bard, BU, CalArts, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Columbia, Connecticut College, Emory, Harvard, Ithaca, Marymount, Mcgill, Muhlenberg, Northwestern, NYU, Oberlin, Otterbein, Pace, Princeton, Reed, Rice, Southern Methodist University, SUNY Purchase, Tisch, University of Michigan, USC, Universidad de Chile, Vassar, and Wesleyan.

OYL is also currently working on a piece entitled Crowd Control. Through the lens of the sport of soccer, Crowd Control explores the parallel experiences of two distinct and disparate groups of males: the vivid and extreme nationalist world of British soccer thugs alongside the desperate helplessness of middle eastern teenagers in refugee camps throughout the Mediterranean. United by their passion for the sport and its function as a vital emotional outlet, Crowd Control will be an intense and visceral journey through group mentality, explosive divisiveness and what it means to truly belong.

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