Amid a slow season during the COVID-19 pandemic, downtown Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre Company is driving ahead, hosting a virtual new play development workshop in association with New York’s Ma-Yi Theatre.
Amidst the unique and grave challenges posed to theater and arts companies all across the country by the pandemic, the desire and necessity to create and perform new work is more important than ever. “There’s a lot of conversations in our country — in our world — that are shifting right now and that are in flux. My belief is that new plays are often a snapshot of a certain moment in time,” said David Winitsky, Interim Producing Artistic Director at the Kitchen Theatre. “It gives us a chance to reflect on our own moment, and it gives our future generations the opportunity to look back on a play.”
And these snapshots often contain details that remain relevant to us today — such is the case of China Dreams or The Conservation of Parity, the subject of the first of two new development workshops the Kitchen Theatre Company is unveiling this season.
Written by playwright Stefani Kuo, China Dreams chronicles the life of Wu Chien-Shiung, a Chinese physicist who immigrated to America and ultimately became the only woman and foreign-born scientist working on the Manhattan Project.
Winitsky detailed how, in light of the current rise in discrimination against the Asian American community, China Dreams tells a vital story, saying that “this is not new history. But it’s history that we don’t often spend time with.” In keeping with its mission, the Kitchen specializes in telling new stories and bringing new perspectives into theater, which involves giving voice to lesser known stories and broadening their audience’s points of view. “It’s not necessarily an antidote to hatred,” Winitsky said of the play, “but I do believe it’s a counter narrative that hopefully, you know, moves us past things.”
China Dreams depicts many different facets of Dr. Wu’s life and identity, examining her experiences of navigating through America as an immigrant while also dealing with the challenges stemming from being isolated from China. As a result of this, the play contains closely interlaced English, Mandarin and Cantonese dialogue to add to the story the authenticity these aspects deserve. This linguistic aspect not only makes the play stand out as a bold, unique work, but also makes it especially well-suited for being developed through a virtual workshop.
Indeed, Winitsky declared the virtual format as one which “gives us the opportunity to work with actors all over the place, so we have a really, really top notch cast of folks who are fluent in both English and Mandarin and Cantonese, because that’s really a key element of Stefani’s writing.” The proceedings have already included various subscriber offerings, with a video context conversation delving into the play’s more specific components and a prerecorded design presentation granting insights into the play’s visual aspects. The workshop will culminate in a virtual presentation on Friday, March 19, showcasing various scenes from the play, along with a question-and-answer session with Stefani Kuo and other events.
China Dreams is premiering as a workshop rather than a fully-staged performance — a prominent aspect of the theatrical process, but one whose existence usually goes unseen once it accomplishes its goal of solidifying components of the production. Unlike a finished performance, actors might not be wearing full costumes, blocking for the performance space might not be completely refined and the material within the play itself might not even be set in its final state.
“This is a play that is much earlier in development,” Winitsky was quick to remind us. “Stefani is actively rewriting, changing and moving things around and really discovering what the landscape of that play wants to be.” But while the performance itself might not possess the same amount of polish and finish that audiences are used to, it still grants an exciting look into the creative process of producing and staging theatrical works themselves. “This will be great for [the audience] to learn more about the process [of play development]. And this is a play that is very much in a process place.”
This new play development workshop reflects the Kitchen’s goals for managing during the pandemic: “We’re using the time to support artists, to move the field forward and to think about our own organization and how we should be structured,” said Winitsky. Until the Kitchen is able to begin performing in the theater again, the public can view events such as this through buying a full subscription or their new Pay What You Want Subscription. All of this might be happening during a time where the future for artistic communities seems more and more uncertain, but even then, the resilience of the Kitchen and its commitment to producing powerful, high-quality work shines through as clearly as ever.
Emma Leynse is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. She currently serves as an Assistant Arts Editor on The Sun’s board. John Colie is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. He currently serves as an Assistant Arts Editor on The Sun’s board.