ObamAmerica- Two months to go! Thoughts from the Artistic Director of Over Here
ObamAmerica! Two months to go till kickoff and I'm excited and nervous. I'm super lucky to have such a great team. I met Marie Kearney, my assistant producer, a couple of years ago as she has been resident Stage Manager for Little Pieces of Gold, a theatre group I direct for run by Suzette Coon, our wonderful head reader. Marie is the kind of person who goes above and beyond the call of duty. I ask her to find a graphic designer, she designs our fantastic theatre poster herself! Robert Bradish, my co-producer, I met through friends and he is one of the most patient, together people I know. Thank goodness!
So, how did I come up with ObamAmerica? I haven't lived in America for many years and was feeling a bit left out that I knew so little about Barack Obama. It seemed to me that he was a welcome change from George W Bush and such a symbol of hope. Obama is well educated, handsome, eloquent, somebody to make Americans around the world feel proud. What I was hearing from people in the States was quite another story- yes, he was all that, but nothing was really changing. The poor are still poor, unemployment high, wars are still being waged with troops and drones, civil rights are being infringed upon with the NSA. At least there is Obamacare! Was this the work of the man we elected or was Obama being stymied and forced into decisions by the Republican senate? I decided to keep an open mind and ask Americans what they thought of Obama through the medium of theatre. I put out a call for submissions to literary agencies, playwrights organisations, off-Broadway theatres, writing groups, anywhere I could think of to reach out to playwrights. I received two hundred and fifty submissions! Thanks to an amazing team of readers we whittled it down to twenty one for the short list and then the final fourteen for festival. It took me ages to make a final decision even with valued input from Lisa Cagnacci at Theatre503, Suzette and Marie. The plays on the short list were all so good I was hard pressed to choose. Eventually it came down to suitability for the festival and just choosing which ones I thought were the most accomplished writing.
So, why Theatre503? I've been a reader there for two years and have always been impressed at their dedication to new writing and the high standard of work they produce. I approached them way back in July about doing this festival and with their encouragement, we're bringing it to life. I love the intimacy of a small space which makes theatre so immediate. It's an experience you can't recreate in film or TV, having an actor almost in your face; they have to be that good and that real to draw you in and make you believe what is happening on stage.
One of my other missions with Over Here Theatre Company is to bring in as many authentic North American actors as possible. Having been an actor myself for many years I know what a tough time American actors have here even getting cast as Americans! My theory is people think they can't be very good or they would be in Hollywood earning a fortune. Not true! Like many Americans here, I am married to a Brit and have brought my children up in the UK and made it my home. We love it here. Except today when Saharan dust is covering London and leaving us with weirdly grey skies.
Two months to go to ObamAmerica and so much to do. Robert, Marie and I met yesterday in the trendy Hospital Club in Covent Garden, of which Rob is a member because he is young and fabulous, and we got loads done, brainstorming about our Kickstarter rewards (Campaign starting imminently!) press releases, casting and directors. Without them I would probably be headed for a nervous breakdown, but Rob and Marie are both so capable and knowledgeable that I feel instead thrilled that my dream is becoming a reality.
We have twelve directors on board right now and have almost matched up all of them with plays they love. I'm looking around ahead of time for American actors and especially for African-American actors! We don't actually have a play with Barack and Michelle, but we have Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden making appearances as well as a real American teenager, Joe Frederick, who took a case for free speech to the Supreme Court! Exciting stuff. I'm still pondering which two plays I will direct. Yes, two, because the festival is my baby, but I have a good idea. Now, back to tweeting theatre critics in New York!