Gets, Blazer, Rupert Test Ricky Ian Gordon's New Musical in FL Sundance Lab; SITI Also Ripens in Sun

News   Gets, Blazer, Rupert Test Ricky Ian Gordon's New Musical in FL Sundance Lab; SITI Also Ripens in Sun The Sundance Institute Theatre Program is launching its third new-works development initiative, a pilot collaboration with The Howard Gilman Foundation called The Sundance Theatre Laboratory at White Oak Plantation, in Yulee, FL, May 4-18.
Ricky Ian Gordon
Ricky Ian Gordon (Photo by Noah Greenberg)

Created as an extension of the annual Sundance Theatre Lab, "this new program is designed to support ensemble theatre work and innovative musical theatre," the Institute announced.

Both the Institute and the Gilman Foundation have a history of supporting the work of performing artists, particularly in dance and theatre. The artists selected for this pilot program are Anne Bogart's experiment-friendly SITI Company, which will work on Reunion, a project about the Group Theatre of the 1930s; and composer-librettist Ricky Ian Gordon (Dream True and My Life With Albertine) and director-writer Tina Landau (Floyd Collins, Dream True), who will work on Gordon's developing new autobiographical musical about his family, The Family Project.

Gordon's project includes such Broadway talents as Judy Blazer, Malcolm Gets, Jessica Molaskey, Michael Rupert, Diane Sutherland and Lauren Ward. Joseph Bates is musical director. Andrew Gerle and Bruce Williamson are musicians.

The Family Project is subtitled "an oratorio of portraits" and is based on Gordon's family experiences (which were chronicled in a non-fiction book, Donald Katz's "Home Fires," which is not the source of the musical; Gordon owns his own life). The project "chronicles the journey of a typical middle-class family, and the powerful cultural influences that emerged over several decades in post-war America." A New York reading was held at Musical Theatre Works in 2002.

Reunion has a text assembled by Jocelyn Clarke and "explores the Group Theatre of the 1930s, as a way for this contemporary ensemble to better understand their own work through their roots in the past." As with such SITI work as Bob, Room and Score (which focused on Robert Wilson, Virginia Woolf, and Leonard Bernstein, respectively) the material is researched and co-created by the company members. The characters in Reunion include such theatre legends as Stella Adler, Clifford Odets, Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg, Cheryl Crawford, Bobby Lewis, Elia Kazan, Morris Carnovsky and others. The book, "The Fervent Years" chronicles the troupe's history. The SITI company includes J. Ed Araiza, Shawn Fagan, Susan Hightower, Ellen Lauren, Barney O'Hanlon, KJ Sanchez, Michael Severance and Stephen Webber. The SITI company is known for its visually arresting, movement-and-ritual-rich works, and the company is committed to relationships with international companies and use of eclectic theatrical styles and approaches.

The two-week Sundance Theatre Laboratory at White Oak Plantation "offers theatre artists the time and support to rehearse, rewrite, and develop their work." The Lab is overseen by Philip Himberg, producing artistic director of the Sundance Institute Theatre Program, and Robert Blacker, artistic director of the Sundance Theatre Labs.

In addition, Sundance Institute provides a support team of creative advisors and dramaturgs that includes Jocelyn Clarke, literary manager of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin; Marc Masterson, artistic director of Actors Theatre of Louisville; Des McAnuff, artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse; and Janice Paran, dramaturg of McCarter Theatre.

"The two projects invited to participate at the White Oak for this Pilot Program reflect the range of work that Sundance has always supported," Himberg said in a statement. "At our annual summer Theatre Lab in Utah, now in its 24th season, we strive to represent the broad landscape of theatre being created in this country today. The new White Oak Lab is specifically designed to complement the summer Theatre Lab by focusing on ensemble-created works and musical theatre projects that have special needs."

Arlene Shuler, executive director of The Howard Gilman Foundation, noted that this collaboration signals an important next phase in artists' residency activity at White Oak. "White Oak has been pleased to host dozens of conferences and performing arts, especially dance, residencies over the years," she said. "This pilot partnership with the Sundance Theatre Lab expands and deepens our relationship with the theatre community. We have the highest regard for the Sundance developmental process, and are pleased that White Oak can play a role in advancing the work of these innovative artists."

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White Oak Plantation is located on a 7,500-acre property in Yulee, FL. It was conceived by Howard Gilman as a sanctuary for animals, and "a place of peaceful yet productive retreat for the people and activities he cared about." In 1982, Gilman established the White Oak Conservation Center on the property for the conservation and propagation of threatened and endangered species.

White Oak Plantation, which houses the Baryshnikov Dance Studio, has also hosted residencies by performing artists and dance companies; national and international conferences; and seminars and workshops directly related to the Foundation's primary fields of interest: performing arts, wildlife conservation and cardiovascular research.

The Sundance Institute Theatre Program focuses on the support and development of new work for the stage. These activities take place at the annual Sundance Theatre Laboratory and the Sundance Playwright's Retreat at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming.

The Theatre Program identifies and assists emerging theatre artists, and contributes to the creative growth of established artists. Over 36 Sundance Theatre projects have gone on to productions at theatres across the United States, Mexico and Europe, in the last six years.