Nine months after going on hiatus, the New Repertory Theater will return to the stage with a show that is part of the Watertown-based theater company’s new direction.
New Rep’s We Are Storytellers series begins at the Mosesian Center for the Arts on Saturday, April 23. The two-show festival showcases the stories of people who haven’t always had the chance to be seen and heard on stage. It’s part of the strategy New Rep adopted when they returned from the break.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, New Rep was unable to present performances inside the Mosesian Center, but continued with a pair of virtual plays in 2020 and a historic outdoor play. on the grounds of the Arsenal on the Charles in 2021. Meanwhile, the company’s artistic director, Michael Bobbitt, has left to become executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
In July 2021, New Rep announced that it would temporarily suspend operations. The move was made primarily because the company has struggled to stage productions and fill seats due to COVID-19 restrictions, said New Rep board chairman Chris Jones. .
“The suspension was never related to the financial situation. (New Rep) has always been in good financial health in terms of liquidity,” Jones said. “It was more about uncertainty in the fall with the pandemic. We didn’t know how we would put on the shows. And we had a renovation going on at the Mosesian.
The company has also had support from subscribers, Jones said, many of whom have not requested refunds for shows canceled due to COVID.
Bevin O’Gara, the acting executive creative director, worked with the New Rep board, Jones said, and the board decided to take a break and use the time to consider what kind of business they wanted to be when they came off the break.
“A lot of other theater companies (in the Boston area) do great work. We’re fans of them,” Jones said. “We don’t want to relaunch doing the same thing as Central Square, Company One, SpeakEasy or Lyric Theatre. They do it well. Let’s do something new that adds to the landscape.
Along with a focus on new productions from different voices, New Rep has opted for a shift in leadership models, said Danielle Naugler, vice chair of the New Rep Board.
Instead of having one person in charge, New Rep hired four resident artists to take the lead: Resident Director, New Drama Jaime Carrillo, Resident Producer/Director Lois Roach, Resident Director, Community Involvement Michael Hisamoto and Resident Artistic Advisor Maria Hendricks. .
“I think of this as a pilot season for something new, emerging from COVID, post-George Floyd,” Naugler said. “One thing that excites me is not necessarily having an artistic director, an executive director, but more hierarchical. We pilot the co-leadership model. The board wants artists to lead the charge with what they bring to the scene.
While companies in other parts of the country have used the model, New Rep is the first in the Boston area.
New Rep hasn’t ruled out putting on established plays, but putting on new works is something that dates back to the company’s beginnings in the mid-1980s, Jones said, when they put on plays at a church in Newton. . Additionally, while New Rep will continue to call the Mosesian Center home, Naugler said they haven’t ruled out setting up productions in other locations.
“If a job is site-specific and benefits from being connected to the community, or to a community outside of Watertown, we’re open to that as well,” Naugler said.
New Rep’s April 23 debut will actually feature two shows. We celebrate: telling stories through song, music and sound will be on the main stage of the Mosesian Center at 4:30 p.m. The show will feature Geraldine Barney, a singer, songwriter and visual artist from the eastern part of the Navajo Nation in northwest New Mexico, whose music was a central part of New Rep’s Listen to Sipu in 2021. She will be joined by local jazz, gospel and R&B favorite Athene Wilson.
In the Black Box Theatre, New Rep will present a pair of performances of Solo moments, at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. The hour-long performance of spoken word, movement and music features Fulani Haynes, who “connects threads of the past to the next generation as stories are shared by a multi-generational group of ‘artists’, according to the new representative.
Then, on Saturday May 14, multi-talented artist Valerie Stephens will present her latest production NINA Tribute, NINA SIMONE and hip hopat New Rep. She will also take part in the first performance of New Rep’s Sunday Celebration series.
“Valerie Stephens’ second show will involve catchy expression using the words of Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou and Peggy Lee,” according to New Rep.
The Sunday Celebration series will feature monthly performances featuring “a mix of artists who all specialize in creating interactive experiences with their audiences,” according to New Rep’s announcement.
Later in May, New Rep will host the New Voices Theater Festival, “with performances May 21-29, will feature three 20-minute plays by underrepresented playwrights,” according to New Rep.
New Rep launched a call for pieces in March and received over 150 submissions. A committee of local artists reviews the pieces and the three selected pieces will be announced in April.
Tickets for We Are Storytellers start at $20 and can be purchased online via www.newrep.org. Tickets for the New Voices Theater Festival will go on sale later in April.