By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer
Raymond O. Caldwell, the new Producing Artistic Director at Theater Alliance, stepped into the company’s top position on the heels of a recent robbery and ahead of a promising season with award winning playwrights.
“I am humbled. I am excited,” Caldwell told the AFRO. “It’s a hectic time. It’s almost like herding cats.”
Caldwell joked but his to-do list would put even the most successful Type A personalities to shame. In between directing, reading scripts and talking to playwrights, he is also in charge of planning the season with his staff, tracking financial growth and development and, of course, selling tickets.
“It’s a multiplicity of things,” Caldwell admitted. “But it’s an exciting job and if you love the arts and if you love Theater Alliance as much as I do it’s a blessing.”
In a city with more than 700,000 residents, 52% of which are women, 47% are African American and 12% are over 65 years of age, according to the numbers from Census.gov, words like inclusivity and diversity are bound to pop up in a board or staff meeting. But Caldwell is ready for the long haul discussion and execution of various stories.
“The Washington theater scene is a very large collective of companies,” Caldwell said. “They’re very supportive. The D.C. theater scene shows up for one another. It is a community.”
“It doesn’t lack problems and issues. I think when you talk representation there are still things in the D.C. theater area that we are working on and towards. The fact that I am an artistic director and one of very few artistic directors here in Washington, D.C. of color… this is something we are working on.”
And those conversations about telling multiple stories for multiple people within a community takes work and patience, Caldwell explained.
“I think right now we are constantly wanting to address equity, diversity and inclusion,” Caldwell told the AFRO. “It doesn’t only need to happen on our stage, but in the upper echelons of leaderships.”
“And once we move past that, we get to have conversations about who gets to to tell what stories. And also what stories. I would love to see more Asian-American plays, or stories about the Latino-American experience.”
An instance of community coming together was the now almost infamous break-in at Anacostia Playhouse during the Christmas season. Caldwell points to that instance when the community rallied around the theater.
“When we had a break in over the Christmas break the Washington theater scene showed up for us,” Caldwell said. “And our community in Anacostia show up for us.”
Theater Alliance is the resident company of the Anacostia Playhouse. A GOFUNDME campaign was initiated and about $22,000 was raised to replenish stolen equipment.
The event was a life lesson for the Theater Alliance and Anacostia Playhouse teams about security but also about connections with community.
“We produce some of the most beautiful shows, but when you think of a “run” there aren’t a lot of audience that shows up,” Caldwell said. “And I always have to antagonize and question that because the work is very strong.”
“I think the lesson we’re learning is about how we can rally around, not only trauma, but how do we rally around the work and the good things as well. And we’re having conversations with the community about that.”
For Caldwell, building a connection with theater and community is not just about a season, but a continuing dialogue with the people he is dedicated to serve.
“I’m thinking of Anacostia and Ward 8 and the community I want to serve,” Caldwell said. “And the stories the people in my community need to hear.”
“The first thing I did when I found out I was going to be the producing artistic director I decided I needed to move to this community because I can’t service a community outside of it.”
Caldwell is also helping to build roots and connection with the future theater community by teaching drama at Howard University.
Up next for Caldwell and Theater Alliance is their production of “Blood at the Root,” written by Dominique Morisseau, a 2018 MacArthur Genius Grant recipient. The show runs from Feb. 22 to March 24, 2019.
“I am so excited,” Caldwell said. “Her work is everywhere.”
“I think it’s done so much because she’d doing something brilliant. She’s having complex conversations about race and identity but she’s doing it the way the Greeks did it. She’s forcing the audience to grapple very deeply with a question. And the play doesn’t answer it.”
For more information about the theater and upcoming shows please visit the Theater Alliance website.