"What to Send Up When It Goes Down" by Aleshea Harris, directed by Whitney White
"What to Send Up When It Goes Down" by Aleshea Harris, directed by Whitney White

What comes to mind when you think of theater? Shakespeare, a musical of some sort perhaps? Seldom do the words contemporary, thought-provoking or participatory come to mind but that’s exactly what you get at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. A hell-raiser among the more traditional playhouses, Woolly has always been known for pushing the envelope and highlighting the stories of those often deemed unworthy or too uncomfortable, to be told.

This fall season, the theater has chosen to explore several works written by black playwrights and featuring predominantly black casts, with a strong showing of millennial actors.

Woolly’s artistic director, Maria Manuela Goyanes, a first-generation immigrant and Latinx woman, took the helm in 2019 with a full understanding of her charge and platform. Choosing to open the season with Pulitzer Prize-winning FAIRVIEW by Jackie Sibblies Drury, Maria dove right into making space for the black experience.

The Second City's "She The People: The Resistance Continues!" directed by Carly Heffernan
The Second City’s “She The People: The Resistance Continues!” directed by Carly Heffernan

“I had done some anti-racism facilitation training with this fabulous organization named ArtEquity, and I remember feeling so galvanized and centered by the training that I thought, anti-racism is something I care deeply about, so I could use the opening of my inaugural season to show DC what I’m about. But doing a production of FAIRVIEW wasn’t enough for me.” She said with much conviction.

“FAIRVIEW does not really center the black experience until the end of the play, and the audience is left with a challenge at the end about making space for, by, and about people of color. It became clear to me that we at Woolly needed to center people of color as a complement to FAIRVIEW, to really rise to that challenge.”

The season’s upcoming shows have sought to do just that. Opening at Woolly on Oct. 30 and running to Nov. 10, What To Send Up When It Comes Down uses community ritual, song, dance, and call and response to create a cathartic space that is by, for, and about black people. This performance will be followed by the delightfully satirical Second City production of She The People.

But, making space isn’t always enough. We need only look at the news to see that millennials aren’t among the top demographic of earners and theater tickets are not cheap. To get younger audiences in the door, Woolly offers roughly 10 “Stampede Seats” for all of its mainstage performances. These $20 tickets go on sale at the box office 2 hours prior to showtime. The company also has $20 tickets available for anyone who is 30 and under and “Pay-What-You-Will” tickets through the TodayTix app for a select number of preview performances throughout the year.

You can learn more about Woolly Mammoth and its millennial-based initiatives online. And, be sure to check out the fall season!

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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