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Local Theaters Deliver Diverse Casting and Subjects

Ghanaian Play to Open at Round House Theatre During DC Theatre Week

DC Theatre Week, from Sept. 10-29, is designed to connect the theater community with theater lovers throughout the metropolitan area and beyond. It will launch the 2019-20 theater season in Washington area.

The week is organized by Theatre Washington with support from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

This year, DC Theatre Week will showcase a diverse range of offerings with productions about race, disabilities, gender and LGBTQ topics. Productions will include musicals, dramas, comedies, theater for young audiences and more. All tickets will be priced at $15 and $35.

Leading up to DC Theatre Week was the third annual “Broadway in Color: Celebrating Diverse Voices in Theater.” Held in August at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., area theater companies gave sneak-peek snippets of upcoming productions that recognized the range of diverse talent and themes from the local theater community.

Many people may remember that the Tony Award-winning play “The Great White Hope” about boxer Jack Johnson, his struggle with acceptance and his interracial relationship with a White woman, had its pre-Broadway premiere at D.C.’s Arena Stage. That production, starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander, was also made into a movie.

During DC Theatre Week, the critically acclaimed off-Broadway comedy “School Girls; or the African Mean Girls Play” will premiere at the newly renovated Round House Theatre in Bethesda. The play was so successful in New York that it took a while to get the rights to produce it locally.

“The minute it became available, I knew I wanted it and that I wanted to direct it,” said Nicole A. Watson, “School Girls” director and Round House associate artistic director. “We thought it would be a great way to focus on the work we are doing.”

At a recent Round House Theatre community day, visitors were treated to the play’s backstory. The theater was packed with longtime Round House funders, fans and others who were interested in knowing more about D.C.’s theater community.

Round House was clear that “School Girls” is not an African version of the movie and Broadway production “Mean Girls.” That production was written and produced by actress, comedian, writer, producer and playwright Tina Fey, known for television shows ‘Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock.”

“School Girls; or the African Mean Girls Play” is based on true accounts about the all-girls boarding schools in Ghana and was written by Jocelyn Bioh, a Ghanaian-American writer, playwright and actor. She learned about life in those schools from hearing stories shared by relatives and friends.

The play focuses on the Miss Ghana pageant. Like most countries, young ladies start in competition pageants at a very early age. The school’s pretty and popular girl, Paulina, longs to be the next Miss Ghana. She did not count on Ericka, who arrives from America with Western sensibilities, to threaten her dreams.

The comedy explores how mean girls are created and cured, particularly the friendships, self-reflection and doubt every teenage girl goes through, regardless of where they were raised.

“It’s about ‘teenagedom’ and traversing relationships, which is often complicated,” Watson told the Round House Theatre audience on the community day event.

When asked by an audience member how the play might be received, Round House artistic director Ryan Rilette shared this thought.

“I think it’s far more likely that there will be people who come to this play, specifically Whites, who may say, ‘This does not feel like it’s Africa,'” said Rilette to an affirming, laughing audience. “To those people, I would say, that’s a ‘you’ issue.”

“School Girls” also marks a number of firsts for Round House Theatre.

“It’s the first time we will have an all-female, Black-identifying cast onstage and an all-female creative team,” Watson said. “The future is female!”

Learn more about all the productions and tickets for DC Theatre Week at http://theatreweek.org/theatre-week-2019.

“School Girls; or the African Mean Girls Play” will run from Sept. 18-Oct. 13. To learn more about the Round House Theatre 2019-20 season, go to roundhousetheatre.org.

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