Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater’s latest world premiere docudrama, “The 51st State,” received its world premiere through Arena Stage’s Supper Club on Sept. 16. Viewers later joined artists and creatives for a post-film discussion and after-party on Zoom. The film, available online to the general public on Thurs., Sept. 17, can be viewed on both Arena Stage and WTOP.com websites.
The hyper-local 60-minute film created by District artists through the voices of 11 residents was inspired by protests and the reigniting of a movement after the murder of George Floyd and the quest for creating the 51st state and sovereignty in D.C. From a first-time protestor to a fourth-generation Washingtonian political scientist, to artists, an attorney, people of faith and a retired couple who moved to take part in the movement despite the COVID-19 risks, the diverse perspectives and real-life stories represent poignant reflections transformed into narratives by 10 local playwrights.
“This is a hyper-local docudrama about a city in transition. What an amazing and overwhelming time to live in, in the midst of a pandemic with tragedy after tragedy and yet people continue to come together for positive change,” said Artistic Director Molly Smith.
“I cannot remember a time in my life that was both more tumultuous and creative,” she said. “Everyone in the arts is seeking ways to continue telling stories and to keep making art. It doesn’t matter if you’re putting it on a page or on film – it’s finding ways to continue the work and continue connecting to audiences, Smith said.
Smith further shared how the appearance of federal tanks in downtown D.C., dispatched by the Trump administration shortly after the murder of George Floyd, added further urgency to why District advocates should continue to press for sovereignty.
“The film is a combination of a story about people taking action to protest for racial justice and it’s about racial justice in D.C. which also includes full statehood,” she said. “It’s all part of the same story. Until we’re a state, and not just a city, there’s only so much Mayor Bowser can do. But both she and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Border have been brilliant in their fight D.C. statehood.”
Featured playwrights in the docudrama include: Dane Figueroa Edidi, Farah Lawal Harris, Caleen Sinnette Jennings, Teshonne Nicole Powell, Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe, Gregory Keng Strasser, Deb Sivigny, Mary Hall Surface, Aria Velz and Karen Zacarías.
Filmed throughout D.C., 11 actors from among the District’s theater scene portray one of the real-life citizens and vividly recount their stories.
“We wanted to provide a window through which viewers can learn what’s going on and what residents are thinking here in the District,” Smith said.