Transcript, Part 2 of our Conversation with Reginald (Reg) L. Douglas

In Part 2 of our conversation with Reginald L. Douglas (“Reg”) we discuss the challenges facing Mosaic Theater Company as it continues to rebuild following the pandemic. With an infectious joy, Reg presents compelling examples on what the theater is doing to create a diverse and equitable creative environment for both artists and audiences.

Elizabeth: So given this emphasis on resilience and celebration and joy and fun, you must have extraordinary responses from audience members. Certainly, the performers and the artistic teams and the entire Mosaic family is deeply affected. But can you talk a little bit about the responses from communities that perhaps have not had this celebratory focus on resilience and just how transformative that is for individuals and organizations?

Reg: One of the things that we really pride ourselves on at Mosaic, and have done since our founding, is dialogue. So, we do post-show conversations. We have a program called the Reflection Series, where we purposely partner with other [00:33:00] organizations whose work reflects the themes in our plays. And we try to do those in really interesting, cool ways. So, events at the theater, but also events around the city. We’ve done things at Library of Congress, at the DC Public Library, at the Emancipation Memorial in Capitol Hill, where our playwright, Psalmayene 24, was writing a play about that statue, so we did an event at the statue with the Hill Center and Howard University.

So we’re really trying to engage audiences to let us know what they think and let our plays be a catalyst for them talking. And a great example of that was our 2022 production of the The Till Trilogy by Ifa Bayeza. Three plays reflecting on the life, death, and legacy of Emmett Till. And boy, is that a heavy subject matter, but we found ways through conversation to find, again, resilience. Let the story be about his legacy. What does his death in 1950s mean to us now? Was the question that guided that production. And [00:34:00] we piloted a program that we’re so proud of called Intergenerational Matinees. We purposely invited high school students and seniors to see the plays together and then have a conversation about it after.

Elizabeth: Oh, seniors as in elders.

Reg: Seniors as in elders, yes, in senior centers would come, nursing homes would come. And you put two different demographics. One who lived through the Civil Rights Movement. And one experiencing the Black Lives Matter movement in dialogue and having those conversations was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had at the theater. An older woman raising her hand and saying, “I didn’t want to come and relive this history, but doing it and watching these young people learn gives me so much hope, and their responses to the play give me hope.” That’s the work we want to do.

So that’s a great example to me of, oh, the subject matter might feel heavy on first glance, but the how we’re producing and in the space we’re offering people to respond to the work, to [00:35:00] think deeply about the work, and do it purposely with their neighbors, is really what we’re trying to keep building at Mosaic.

Elizabeth: Yeah. I can imagine the connection between social space. Emmett Till’s mother’s decision to have an open casket of her son, whose body had been just brutalized and was unmistakably traumatized, that was a decision to use the social space that was available in the 1950s, which was television and newspapers. And young people, of course, have social spaces that we could never have imagined and are using it in similar but very different and dynamic ways. I want to talk a bit more about the current expanding horrors of the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza and elsewhere, not to be serious and focus on the trauma, but can you speak a bit more about the urgency of this larger project of immigrant voices given [00:36:00] what is happening in the world today?

Reg: Sure. I think the word voices is where my answer goes right away, is what I think our job at Mosaic is to do is to let artists speak. And one of the first projects we worked on was in partnership with Theater J, the JCC, a company here in Washington, DC, the largest Jewish theater in the country. We did a reading of plays by Ukrainian playwrights. And we let their voice be our response.  We currently have under commission a Palestinian artist, Amer Hlehel. His voice, he’s in Palestine right now, we want his voice to be our response.

I don’t believe our job as a theater company or as artists is politics. Our job is conversation through creativity. And we want to let the creativists who we know of all different backgrounds speak. And so for [00:37:00] us, it does feel urgent that those voices don’t get denied or unheard, dismissed. I don’t think the voices of people are what’s being put in the news right now. We’re not really hearing from the people experiencing the traumas of war. How can theater be a place where those voices get heard? That’s the question that we’re asking.

It’s what led us to produce Mona Mansour’s play Unseen. She’s a Turkish American playwright. We produced it in 2023 to great acclaim. We’re very proud of that production. And what Mona was doing, the play’s called Unseen, and it centers on a white American photographer who goes to Syria and around the Middle East taking photos for The Atlantic or a publication like that. But what is the human inside those photographs? We just gloss over them and skip. We turn the page. But Mona is saying that’s her community. That’s her family. She’s saying, what about their stories? Who’s [00:38:00] behind that camera?

And that to me is a great example of how we want to respond to these conflicts is to allow artists to ask us to think more deeply about the humans inside these wars and conflicts. And because we do believe in new work, letting that work be of this moment, so they can speak to what they’re feeling right now. And ideally with hope. I think the thing that artists, the pandemic proved it. Artists are vigilant. And artists are forward thinking. And the artists that we’re proud to be supporting through our projects at Mosaic, whether it’s commissions or development or full productions, are, again, reflecting on the trauma, the pain, the hardship that they’re feeling, particularly, like you mentioned, Gaza, Ukraine, Haiti. But they’re doing it with the power. Pain is a powerful weapon. There’s a quote that I really believe; Pearl Cleage says we have to speak their names. If you don’t [00:39:00] speak their names, they go erased. And we want to give more artists the chance to speak their names, to tell their stories, to lift up their voices.

So, it’s an ever-urgent mission for Mosaic. I think you’re right, it feels more important than ever, dare we say, to maybe push through some of the noise of the news cycle with some humanity and some honest reflections from those communities themselves, not newscasters or photographers speaking on their behalf.

Michael: Speaking of that, I still have vivid memories of a production of Trojan Women by Joanne Acolytes, done at the Shakespeare Theater, I think in ‘98. And here was this ancient play, Euripides’s ancient play, but it ultimately was reflecting on the Iraq war, and it was bringing humanity to the suffering of the people of that war. And, again, that’s, this is [00:40:00] what, 35 years later, maybe 25 years later. I still have vivid memories of that. Can you maybe just talk about be, beyond the pen or the word. I have vivid memories just because of some of the images that were created by that production. And Acolytes’ genius for imagery. Can you talk about the role that imagery plays in the production of the creation of empathy?

Reg: Oh, sure. I always, there’s nothing more magical to me than when the lights dim and go black and then, bam, the lights come back up. They’re artists, they’re painters, great designers. And so for Unseen, for example, Mona Mansour’s play, wonderful, vivid projection design, video design Mona Kasra Persian American video designer based here in the DMV, proudly, just did gorgeous images of the land that the photographer was in, the people, and those images I think at one point cascaded over the actors, these [00:41:00] three actresses. So then there, the truth and humanity of these global citizens was put onto these bodies right before your eyes. And music is another one for me, so I love that Mexodus is a musical. It would have been a great play, but there’s something so magical about them, the shared language of guitar, the shared language of music. I, I really, I agree that there’s something so powerful about imagery for sure, but also just how great design and feeling. The goosebump-inducing things make you think a little more, so, yeah.

Elizabeth: Yeah. That is definitely something live theater brings. Where you’re in, you go into this space and the lights dim and you’re in this other place of vision and imagery.

Reg: And I never want to take—I think one of the things the pandemic reminded us is to not take liveness for granted, right? Concert music is great, right? A vinyl is awesome, [00:42:00] but there’s nothing like seeing the concert. There’s nothing like being in the room with the actor breathing with you, they’re breathing with you! And there’s something so magical about that is the shared give and take of live theater. And one of the things we pride ourselves on at Mosaic is our space is intimate. So you really are there with the story.

Elizabeth: I completely agree. You referenced, Reg, that how Mosaic is in, obviously, is in Washington, DC, which is the center of the American political universe, and its deep tentacles, as you talked about, go deep into geopolitical world affairs, et cetera, et cetera. And you’ve touched on this, but can you speak a bit more about the ways in which a theatrical production in Washington, DC has ripple effects potentially in the larger world of policy and geopolitical affairs, how Mosaic reaches audiences that traffic in those world, the actual decision makers and policymakers, et cetera.

Reg: In a macro way, perhaps, we [00:43:00] invite Congress folks to come see shows and some have. Eleanor Holmes Norton has been very supportive of Mosaic, and we’re thrilled for her support and her attendance. The Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian has been very supportive of our current show by a Navajo playwright, Rhiana Yazzie. We did an event there through the Reflections series. We went to the Smithsonian and they came to Mosaic and did a talk back and their executive director was there. The Assistant Secretary of the Interior who works with the brilliant Deb Haaland came to see the show. Policymakers are seeing the work, but also, think about it, staff members are coming. They need something to do too. We forget that they live here. You mentioned it earlier that you may work in Washington, but you live in DC and you want to have something cool to do on a Friday night. We’re glad that many people pick Mosaic. More can pick it, but we’re glad many people pick Mosaic. And so, I do think that we’re reaching the, yes, the big policy makers, the politicians, but also their staff members, the legislative aides. And I have to [00:44:00] believe, that ultimately the plays that we’re producing make you, hopefully, spark thought. And for all of us, those thoughts ideally stay with us when we go to the ballot box or the school board meeting or to the grocery store or before we go get our phone and call the cops on our neighbor. Maybe you might think about something that you learned or felt at that play. And I think as a result, that does have ripple effects beyond the 90 minutes in the theater because those thoughts stay with you. And if you happen to be someone who has the power to make a policy or to affect and inform policy, I hope that the thoughts you felt seeing a show show up at the office too.

Elizabeth: Interestingly, H Street, where you’re located, is really close to Capitol Hill.

Reg: Not far from Capitol Hill.

Elizabeth: So, I don’t know, you’re less than a mile, I think, from the US Capitol itself. And a lot of staffers [00:45:00] a lot of policy people, as well as news people live in that neighborhood, and so you’re their local go to theater in many ways.

Michael: Let’s go back to this, this notion of the in-person event and how important, sort of, in-person experiences are. I was in Maryland for a number of years and then the pandemic hit and I just was shocked by people accepting online education as being somehow anywhere equivalent to actually in-person. Because I’m a firm believer in the whole in-person experience and the whole engagement of the mind-body experience that happens only when atoms are actually being connected to one another. And so, obviously, you as a theater artist, you’re trying to rebuild an audience from this two year closure during the pandemic and people suddenly got used to this online work, online everything, and so it’s a, it’s an incredible challenge and you’ve mentioned [00:46:00] some of the ways which you’re trying to inspire audiences to return to the theater. What have you found works best in terms of just convincing them or reminding them of just the vitality of in-person experience?

Reg: I don’t know what’s best. I think we’re all figuring it out. What I know has been successful so far for us, and we’re going to keep doing it, is really thinking about partnerships, working with other organizations who have like-minded partners, aims. So, for example, we’re opening next season with Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, a musical about Billie Holiday. We’re partnering with Washington Performing Arts, the organization that’s really centered on music events here in DC. We’ll do shared marketing, so we’ll be getting the word out through double the channels, but also, they’re deepening the work because they’re bringing their expertise about music and musicians to the project. And they’ll do conversations and events as well. So—

Michael: Do you find yourself building a new audience in the process?

Reg: That’s exactly, yeah, that’s [00:47:00] very much my hope. To me, it’s a win. You get new audience members who maybe go, “I didn’t know Mosaic existed,” or “I didn’t know they were doing this show.” “I found out about it because I’m a member of Kama DC,” or “I’m a member of the Washington Performing Arts Community,” or “I’m familiar with Arena Stage,” or Shakespeare Theater, where we’ve done partnerships. “And now, maybe I’ll try this out too,” and then vice versa, they get new audience members.

But also I think it makes the art richer. I really think it makes the work better to have more perspectives coming around the table to help make it. So that’s been a really big driver for us. It’s helped us rebuild our audience. We’ve seen double attendance from 2021 to where we are in 2023. Monumental Travesties, the world premiere comedy that opened this season in fall 2023 is now one of our top 10 highest grossing shows. So we’re seeing the growth happen. We want to keep building on that growth.

The other thing we can’t take for granted, you mentioned liveness, is the power of the [00:48:00] story and the need to see it live. That’s been a big driver for the work. Why pick these plays? For Mexodus, for example, you’re going to see amazing musicianship right before your eyes. You can’t watch that. And feel it the same at a movie theater. It’s something that happens magically before your eyes. That live event is so crucial, I think, for getting people to say, “Oh yeah, I don’t want, I can’t get that on Netflix. I really, I really can’t feel that thing on my couch. I need to be in a room with other people for this event.”

Michael: And do you find this new audience to be younger? Cause for years, since I’ve been in DC for 40 years, they’ve talked about the audience is only aging. It’s only getting older. It’s always been predominantly white and then it’s getting older, but are, there was always this challenge. How do we get younger people to come to the theater?

Reg: I, gratefully have been working in theater my whole life. And [00:49:00] again, that’s the age-old question. I just say the people who have been asking it, they keep getting older too. Like, how do we solve a problem like Maria? You don’t. You just move on. I think it’s easy to get caught up in data as opposed to truth. And I think the reality is just there are young people going to theater. There are people of color who love theater. The myth is it’s all old white people. And that’s just not true. And I’m glad that at Mosaic, from our board and staff and definitely the artists in our audience, it’s racially diverse, it’s age diverse.

I do think you have to be intentional about reaching new audiences of any age and any background. It needs to be a genuine invitation that meets people where they are. Something that Sabrina, our Marketing Manager, has done really well, I think because she’s in her twenties, is social media. What she’s done with our Instagram and Facebook is remarkable. She’s got the numbers up, the [00:50:00] impressions, and how many followers. And now we have a content creator creating cool reels. I don’t even know what a reel is, but we’re doing them! It’s reaching, and I think it does show. And the ticket buyers being some new folks who are in their twenties and thirties, they’re being met where they are.

Michael: Oh, and it sounds like Mexodus would appeal to the younger—

Reg: I got a lot of hope that this history meets hip hop will appeal to—

Michael: Like, you shouldn’t call it a musical. It should be some other term for it.

Reg: It’s funny you say that. Just like a little bit of maybe insider baseball, it purposely, we call it a theatrical event because it is such a genre-, form-defying event. It is spoken word, it is rap, it is traditional musical theater song, it’s acting, it’s bookwork, but also musicianship. It is an event. It’s a theatrical experience. I also think it’s important people know it’s a musical, right? Because that is a hook for a lot of people. People go, what is a theatrical event? So it’s trying to meet—and that’s where marketing has the hardest job [00:51:00] ever. It’s like, how do you let people know what anything is in a way that matters to them? It’s the hardest job I think right now is theater marketing because you are trying to rebuild an audience, which means welcoming back people who’ve been coming to your organization and encouraging them to know we’re still here and we still need you and want you, but also, hey, new folks who’ve never tried us out, can you come join us too? And trying to do that with the same postcard is really tough. And so, diversifying the ways you reach people, which is why the partnerships has been so vital, is key. It’s really key right now to rebuilding and growing the audience.

Elizabeth: That leads me to ask you, I want to talk to you some more about Mosaic as an institution that has been in the foreground, in the forefront of innovations in terms of organizational redesign, areas like decentralized leadership. You’ve talked a lot about the collaborations that happen [00:52:00] and the work-life balance and a kinder, gentler showbiz. Can you talk a little bit—and you mentioned your marketing people and how central all these different staff members and all the different participants in the Mosaic institutional kind of journey are. Can you talk a little bit more about your innovations as an institution in things like organizational behavior and management.

Reg: Sure. It’s really simple to me to treat people—it’s sad that, particularly in show business and in theater, that hasn’t always been the priority. The show must go on by any means necessary culture. And we’re just not producing that way anymore. We’re not working that way. We purposely limit the hours that the staff is there. Production teams in the old days, you worked from sunup to sundown and if it’s not done, you keep going. And so, we just built in more time. The magic of two more days to get to the [00:53:00] finish line, it makes everything better. We purposely have raised our salaries to match DC’s living wage. You’d be sadly, maybe shocked, maybe not by how underpaid artists and arts administrators are. We put that as a core non-negotiable value. I always say, when I’m, gratefully, a part of national panels and boards and other organizations I’ve worked at, if it’s your values, then they’re non-negotiable. You can’t compromise your values and sleep well at night. That keeps you up. If there are things you think about, you want to do, then yeah, you can ignore them. But Mosaic has a value of respect, of equity, of care. And these are non-negotiable ways we need to show up for our staff and for our artists.

All artists at Mosaic, regardless of whether or not you’ve been on Broadway or trained at Juilliard or have built your career from the ground up here in Washington, you’re paid the same. [00:54:00] “Favored Nations” is what it’s called. There’s no pay gap based on where your how many Tonys you’ve got. All directors are paid the same. All lighting designers are paid the same. All set designers are paid the same. Because, historically, the rules of who gets paid more are sexist. If it’s built on how much experience you’ve got who had more opportunities to work in leadership? Women or men? Yeah, the answer wasn’t women. People of color versus white people, who had more opportunities to act in certain shows? White people, so we want to get out of that by actively changing the formula. So, we make it fair. These are non-negotiables for us.

Elizabeth: In our Theatre in Community series. We talked to a lot of people from the 1970s forward and something that was, Joy Zinoman, for example, at Studio Theatre, talked, or founder of Studio Theatre, talked about at length was the emergence of the Actors’ Equity, kind of, small contract, all of this and how [00:55:00] that played out in terms of who got paid what and this and that. So it sounds like Mosaic is not as wedded to Actors’ Equity as some of the other companies?

Reg: No, we are. I just believe that the union minimum is too low. So we pay above the union minimum. I’m a proud union member of SDC, Stage Directors and Choreographers. What I always say is your job as a leader is to make choices and the choices that I’m making, and that Serge is making alongside me as Managing Director and that our board are supporting are choices that actually center people. And that does mean equity when it comes to pay. It also means making sure people take breaks and have a rest. Mosaic, at one point, produced eight, nine shows a season. That meant inevitable burnout. You never get a break. We now produce four. It allows us to put more resources into those four full productions. It also allows for a breath between shows, where you can [00:56:00] actually recharge creatively, administratively, logistically, you can learn from the mistakes of show one before you get to show three.

If you’re at a breakneck pace, you never learn, and you just keep repeating the same bad habits and going, why did nothing change? So we’re purposely adding in space for evaluation, but also space for people to go take a vacation, to actually have a day off. It’s so sad to me that feels so foreign to so many people. But it’s something I’m very proud to have done since I joined Mosaic in 2022.

Elizabeth: Yeah. Interestingly, we talked with Roberta Gasbarre, who you doubtless know, and she said one of the things that theaters, or that the theater community never stopped to do is to document its legacy. That she was very happy that we were doing the Theatre in Community series because there’s all this rich history but people aren’t writing it down or talking about it because they’ve got to go on to the next show. So it’s interesting.

Reg: That’s what I meant by the job of the artist is to curate [00:57:00] culture. We’re the time capsule keepers. And I think Roberta is so right that if we don’t document the history lessons that we’ve learned, the next generation is going to just repeat the same bad habits. And so, I love that. We’re hopefully, leaving a record for the next Reg Douglases is who lead an organization of how maybe to think about their staff structure or their pay structure, how they take care of artists.

Michael: So obviously that leads to a balancing act. And I think Molly Smith, when we interviewed Molly Smith, she talked about this, the balancing act between you can produce fewer shows, raising more money. It’s a balancing act. Keeping, yeah.

Reg: It’s a balancing act.

Michael: It’s good that you have a supportive board because I guess the board will have to raise more capital or something, right? Cause if you’re, I assume, if you’re doing nine shows, but you cut it back to four, the economics of it at some [00:58:00] point comes into play.

Reg: It comes into play in regards to potential box office. I actually think it’s proven to be better for fundraising because funders want to be partners and funders like smart strategy. And so, putting more resources into fewer things, you’re spinning less plates. Ideally, I, hopefully the product you cook will be better. And so. it actually hasn’t hurt on our support from fundraising side of things.

Of course, this does mean there’s more pressure on those four productions to meet the earned income line at the box office. Which gets into how do you then build an audience? But the thing that’s also tough is right now in the American theater is ticket sales. So why not put less pressure on ticket sales, if that makes sense? If the thing people don’t want, sadly, perhaps, is so much product, maybe offering less product isn’t a bad idea. We have a supply and demand [00:59:00] issue in the American theater, and I’ll be the brave Artistic Director that might say the thing is, people might not want as much art as we’re trying to give them.

Elizabeth: That is so true.

Reg: We have a supply and demand issue. We have a whole lot of supply in Washington, DC.  And, unfortunately, demand is not matching it. So we’re making strategic—and it’s a balancing act for sure. And the great Molly knows it better than anyone! Twenty-five years of doing it at Arena. It’s a balancing act of how much do you offer given the audience you’ve got? It’s why I love that our houses are intimate. I would not want to be programming Harmon Hall.

Elizabeth: Oh, good point.

Reg: I don’t want a thousand seats. I love that we’ve got 150 or less, depending on the configuration. I also love that because of that nimbleness, our sets and our audience configuration changes for every show. We can really let the artists lead. So for Monumental Travesties, we were end stage, for the next show after that, [01:00:00] Confederates, we were in the round. The current show, Nancy, is an alley, like a tennis court.[MM1]  People looking at both sides, political play with both sides of the aisle looking at each other.

Michael: Another selling point for the in-person experience!

Reg: Exactly. And I love when people come in and go, “It looks different than I did last time.” That’s a gift that we have at Mosaic because it’s a flexible space, but it also means I can control how many tickets go on sale. We can control the supply a little bit better. It’s a horrible, scary, painful thing for so many artists to say or arts leaders to say is maybe people don’t want us as much as we want to give them.

Elizabeth: Less is more.

Reg: And I look at that not as scarcity, but as abundance because I can put those resources into other things including paying people a wage that actually allows them to go to the movies and build a life.

Michael: Well, the partnerships with Kama and with these other organizations—

Reg: We put resources there.

Michael: The [01:01:00] whole storytelling phenomenon, that’s a way to get storytelling out.

Reg: The mission of the work continues to live in just different, creative, more affordable ways, which also ideally drives right back to the box office. All of the events I mentioned are happening in conjunction with a full production that has tickets on sale right now, those partnerships, those readings, those storytelling events, Dream Project, Kama, the talkbacks, they’re all connected to people coming to see the production. So, you have to buy a ticket to Mexodus to also have this add on special experience. And the hope is that full production in that one time only event. That happens live and only that one night drives you to buy a ticket to see the show. And then come back. And back and back and back.

Elizabeth: I think your focus on the intimate experience cannot be underestimated. As I mentioned, we interviewed Joy Zinoman and she spoke about how [01:02:00] her vision was no seat was more than eight—

Reg: Eight rows away.

Elizabeth: Which has been a salvation.

Reg: Remember, I worked at Studio, so I know those eight rows well.

Elizabeth: Of course you know that, yes. But it’s so true that if you have, as you say, a thousand-seat Harmon Hall you’re incredibly dependent upon this blockbuster production.

Reg: And that’s why—I was at their gala last night—Macbeth, the Scottish play is starring two movie stars for a reason, and we’re all up against incredible challenges and I love movie stars and we can’t wait to welcome them to Mosaic, too! But it is, I think, all of us, and definitely us at Mosaic are trying to also make sure we don’t lose sight of our missions. And for Mosaic, that mission is to be a theater that reflects the diversity of this world, like a mosaic, and sparks thought about it in community.

We have to do that in creative ways. And that [01:03:00] ideally, yes, encourage people to come buy a ticket and see the show, but also what show are they seeing?

Elizabeth: What show? Yeah. And how much, and to become a priority in the lives of your, sort of, ever-expanding audience. I know people who live in small communities have the advantage of sometimes being the only show in town. Everyone shows up for the high school musical.

Reg: Give and take. It’s a give and take. It’s a blessing and sometimes a curse for Washington, DC. All of us feel it. There’s a lot of us here trying to say, “Come see our show, come see our show!” And there’s also the Capitals saying, “Come see the hockey game.” And people pick what they pick. So our job is just to try to make the most engaging, entertaining event we can that encourages someone to join us for the night.

Elizabeth: So Reg, this is so fabulous. I want to, you’ve talked a lot about different things that have happened that are coming and will happen, but I want to give you a chance to just describe for our audience what is coming up for Mosaic, both in the [01:04:00] summer of 2024 and onward to the ‘24-‘25 season.

Reg: 10th anniversary.

Michael: I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. I remember the first production.

Reg: Unexplored Interior. Yeah. So one of the main themes that’s been guiding the curation of season 10 is celebrating the artists who have built the organization. So, looking back to look ahead has really been a core theme and guiding light as we pick the plays for next year.

So, we’re welcoming back Derek Goldman, who directed Unexplored Interior. He’ll be directing a show next season called The Art of Care. Boy, do we need to be thinking about how do we care for one another in community right now. And that will be happening in October, November of next year. And I think we could all use a little balm of hope as we get closer to fall here in Washington, especially. It’s a hard question every artistic director is facing is what do you produce in an election year, and especially this election year? And so our [01:05:00] answer at Mosaic is we want to produce a play that really centers community and the power of people coming together, regardless of our differences.

So, Derek in that production called The Art of Care, world premiere event being produced in partnership with Georgetown’s Laboratory of Global Performance and Politics. And it’s based on interviews with people, local and global about what care means to them, caregivers, frontline workers, Dr. Fauci’s been interviewed mothers, doctors, babysitters. we want to get a conglomerate of voices and then we’ll distill those in the way the only great theater artists can into an original piece that thinks about care for Washington, DC and ideally beyond. So that will be our world premiere next season. Again, welcoming back one of our first directors ever to Mosaic.

A play called Andy Warhol in Iran. Mosaic has a history of producing work that thinks about the Middle East. This is a very different take on that question [01:06:00] of the Middle East. Because it’s a thought-provoking comedy.

Michael: Obviously! Andy Warhol.

Reg: It’s a thought-provoking comedy that’s based on Andy Warhol’s true visit to Tehran to paint the Shah’s wife. But the playwright Brent Askari imagines now, he takes that real truth story of Andy Warhol going to Iran to paint the Shah’s wife, that did happen. He imagines though that Andy gets a knock on his hotel door from a young Persian revolutionary, and he’s forced to confront the role of what art and artists can mean then and now. So, it’s a play about what is the role of artists in conversations around war? Conversations around difference? Around cross-cultural exchange? But we can laugh while we think those big thoughts. And Serge Seiden, our Managing Director, one of our founding directors will be directing that production. Again, Serge has definitely helped build Mosaic into the company we are 10 years later.

Erica Dickerson-Despenza’s cullud wattah. Erica has won every award you can win as a playwright. She’s a [01:07:00] brilliant Black woman. Writing about the Flint water crisis in that play. Recent history that is still ongoing. A different look at climate change and climate justice because it’s looking at Flint through a tight knit Black women family. Five generations of Black women living in one home. She looks at their what that crisis is doing to their family unit, and she does it with great lyricism, poetic praise—language from the New York Times Critics Pick Review—and Danielle Drakes, a brilliant local director, will be leading that production with Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi, a Baltimore-based brilliant choreographer who helped build that show with her.

And then we open next season with Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, which I mentioned, a musical celebrating Billie Holiday, proud to announce Helen Hayes Award winning Broadway star Roz White will star in that role. She performed in Marie & Rosetta at Mosaic, has been commissioned at Mosaic [01:08:00] to write a musical, won the Helen Hayes Award. She is fabulous and I can’t wait for her to take on “Strange Fruit,” “God Bless the Child,” and other Billie classics in an immersive production. So we are transforming our theater into a nightclub. Champagne, cabaret tables, live band, a real live experience. You can’t help but see that there. You can’t watch it on TV. You’ve got to see it in person. It’s a fresh take on this beloved legendary icon. But also, we’re going to do that play as a call to reflection about DC’s history as a music hub, particularly a Black music hub, and DC’s great love of music and jazz. And so DC Jazz Festival, Washington Performing Arts, will also be partners on that event. And of course, Mexodus. May 16th through June 16th. Can’t wait.

Elizabeth: Wow. Our last question that we like to ask [01:09:00] all of our interviewees, one way or another, is what advice, what kind of concrete practical advice you would give to our listeners on how they can innovate creatively in their own lives and their organizations and their endeavors? Any sort of just down to earth advice you would give to folks who are listening?

Reg: That’s a great question. I think the theoretical advice is be open minded. I think we’re often more closed minded than we should be. One of the things I like to do is go see plays I would never want to direct. See things that push me out of my comfort zone, even if I hate it, and I often do. But it’s not my aesthetic, but it makes me a better artist. It makes me think more differently. What were they going for that maybe I just couldn’t get? So I encourage people to be more open, and listen to a genre you don’t normally listen to. Try a movie you normally might skip over. I also encourage folks to—I’m a people watcher, I love [01:10:00] people and I think being more curious about their community, being more in dialogue with others, I think is really important, particularly for artists, but for all of us creatively to just, try something new and take in someone else’s story that you may have skipped over. I think the most creative people are curious people. Read a book you would have not thought about reading, play that song you would have skipped.

Elizabeth: Go to Mosaic!

Reg: Go to Mosaic and see a show you never thought you’d want to see! And I do, I really think be curious. Be curious about the world. That to me is the core of good creativity. Keep thinking about questions instead of periods, I like to say. More question marks, less periods.

Elizabeth: This has been fabulous. Thank you so much, Reginald L. Douglas who is the Artistic Director of the Mosaic Theater Company in Washington, DC. It’s been lovely talking to you.

Reg: Thank you for this. It’s so great to be able to be in dialogue with creativists. I [01:11:00] love that phrase, that name. And thank you so much for having me.

Elizabeth: Thank you so much. And thanks for listening to the Innovators, Artists, & Solutions series of Creativists in Dialogue.

Tremendous thanks to all our listeners. To those of you who are free subscribers, please consider becoming paid subscribers so that Creativists in Dialogue can continue bringing you insightful conversations about creativity from Washington, DC, and beyond. Thanks.

Special shout out to Creativists in Dialogue’s production team: Audio engineer Elliot Lanes, social media manager Erin Dumas of Dumas83, and transcription editor Morgan Musselman. Thank you all.

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The Creativists in Dialogue podcast is supported in part by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and subscribers like you. The Theatre in Community podcast series is supported in part by Humanities DC. Thanks.

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