You might best know Trinity Rep for its annual production of A Christmas Carol, but each season the company produces a variety of shows at the Lederer Theater Center for our audiences. This year, we’re staging four different shows: the humorous and heartwarming Tiny Beautiful Things; August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, an epic tale of history and justice; the metaphysical dramedy Sueño; and Fairview, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Communications Associate Laura Weick spoke with Artistic Director Curt Columbus to get a sneak peek of this subscription season’s shows.
Laura Weick: We have four shows this season. How were these shows chosen, and why did you go with these four specific shows?
Curt Columbus Well, before we chose the specific plays for the season, we thought a lot about what kind of plays we should be looking at. After doing everything online and virtually for 18 months, what kind of experiences did we think audiences would be looking for? What would get them out of the house and what would get them to choose theater over all of the other experiences they’d been missing out on? And here’s where we landed on that – we believe that people are going to come out for things that are events, that are “full meals.” Television and streaming options can do a lot of things, but they can’t capture the intimacy and spectacle like live theater can. So, we moved in that direction – plays that captured what only theater can and topics that are meaty and unique.
Then we had to choose specific plays, so we looked at intimacy, spectacle, humanity. We also looked, of course, at budget and logistics. And then we did what most other theaters don’t get to do. We looked at our people – our insanely talented resident company. We talked to them to find out what kinds of projects they were passionate about. Unlike other theaters which choose plays and then hire directors and cast actors, having a resident company means that they are often involved as collaborators from the very early stages of play selection. That passion makes every aspect of the process better – including the experience for the audience. We’re so lucky that we get to do that.
Laura: I want to go through each show just a bit. Let’s start with Tiny Beautiful Things. You’re directing that! What’s your vision for that right now?
Curt: We’ve been talking a lot with Angela [Brazil], who’s playing Sugar and is a huge fan of the book it’s based on, as am I. She actually proposed the idea of this script a few years ago and I’m thrilled that it’s made it into this season. We’ve been talking about how we engage the audience in a conversation around letter writing and personal letter writing, and what does that mean? I’m interested in the ritual of it.
People in ancient times used to put their problems and their prayers into writing and then leave it at the temple for the gods to read. And on some level, that’s what the self-help guru is, as you’re putting your problems and your wishes into a letter and hoping that someone responds. That’s what we’ve been talking a lot about. I’m just very excited because this writing is very beautiful and very moving and very real.
I’m also interested in having music, so we’re going to have live music in it. And I’ve got a live musician as a part of it.
Laura: Next, we have Gem of the Ocean, which is Trinity Rep’s sixth production from August Wilson’s American Century Cycle of plays.
Curt: Gem of the Ocean is literally one of my favorite plays. I’ve been talking about doing this play for over a decade. Our beloved (late resident company member) Barbara Meek and I talked about this when she was still alive. It is something that I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. And we have the artists here, in particular, having director Jude Sandy, who is really passionate about this play. It will also reunite Joe Wilson, Jr. and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley who both appeared in Radio Golf in 2020, directed by Jude. It’s the timing of artists, plus the play, plus the moment. The play asks us
to think about how the roots of violence toward Black folks are hundreds of years old, right? It’s all about history, but it’s also about now. And it’s a spectacular play. I felt like this is the perfect moment to do this particular work of August Wilson’s. Radio Golf is the last of the American Century Cycle of plays, chronologically. Gem of the Ocean is the first and it has the history of the characters who are in Radio Golf. You get to meet their parents and grandparents in this first play!
Laura: Then we have Sueño. What are we looking forward to there?
Curt: Our company member, Danny Duque-Estrada actually brought this play to me and said, “Hey, I really want to play this part.” And I read the play and it’s so funny and so provocative. And it’s by a playwright we love, José Rivera. And, it’s such an odd and unique contemporary retelling of this great Spanish Golden Age play, Life is a Dream. So it’s a classic play and the contemporary play together. Then I gave it to Tatyana-Marie Carlo,who’s one of our new company members, and she was like, “Oh, my God, I love this play. And I have this very specific vision for it. I feel like it’s taking place in a telenovela studio.” So that’s how it ended up in this season, because you have these artists who are passionate about it, you have a playwright who we love, you have a play that has been considered great for 500 years, and you have a great vision for it. How could we not show it to our audience?
Laura: Last we have Fairview which we have been very tight-lipped about in all our marketing! A lot of stuff that happens that we aren’t going to talk about.
Curt: Because you can’t give away the great things in this play! This is a play that is so funny. It’s so provocative. It’s so about our current moment, but it’s also just profound in what it asks the audience to think about in their participation in the narrative of American race relations. There’s nothing like it. And it is by a playwright who was here at Brown/Trinity Rep and did some of her first great work here. She’s gone on to be this giant Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and I just want to do this play so badly. So I’m feeling really good about showing the audience.
Laura: This is for all the shows: Is there any casting that you’re particularly excited about?
Curt: I’m excited about seeing Angela Brazil play Sugar (Tiny Beautiful Things). I’m really excited that Ricardo Pitts-Wiley is back with us, a long-time Trinity Rep collaborator, artist, and friend, who was such an instrumental part of the brilliance of 2020’s production of Radio Golf. To have him back to play Solly Two Kings in Gem is just breathtaking.
I’m also really excited to have Danny Duque-Estrada play that part of Segismundo (Sueño) because it’s so precious to him. And I’m also really excited for people to see our new company member, Rachel Christopher, in Fairview, and also to see our beloved Mia Ellis come back for that show; when we get to Fairview, it will be three years since audiences
have seen her on a Trinity stage. So it’ll just be great to have those women as a part of that particular production.
Laura: Is there anything about these shows that stood out to you technically or from a directorial standpoint? One thing you’ve already talked about was the telenovela aspect of Sueño. So with the staging of these plays, is there anything unique that you think we should look at?
Curt: I’m really excited for (director) Jude Sandy to go back to the August Wilson canon, because his Radio Golf was definitive, quintessential. If I think of great interpretations of August Wilson’s work, that’s one of the greatest that I’ve ever seen. And so I’m just really, really excited for him to return to that.
Laura: What sort of challenges and opportunities have come from producing these four shows at this time in history, this time in our lives?
Curt: It’s so hard to see six months out. We don’t know what the world is going to look like. I do know that Trinity Rep has been really responsive and vigilant about keeping our people safe and our spaces cleaned and will continue to be that way because we care deeply about our audience, artists, and staff. That’s because we strive to be in a long-term relationship with the people who come to see our plays, really. And so that’s why people can rely on us to take this very seriously, and to take their health and our actors’ health and our staff’s health incredibly seriously. So, they can come back in good faith.
As a season subscriber, you can see all four of these shows for at least 25% off compared to individual show tickets. Four-play packages start at $80 with payment plans for all price levels.
Looking for more flexibility? Mix and match your favorite shows with a Flex Pass while still getting subscriber savings. To learn more or to purchase a subscription, visit www.trinityrep.com/subscribe or call the ticket office at (401) 351-4242.