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The Block Party is Back at the Douglas

With Playwrights' Arena, Critical Mass Performance Group, and Celebration Theatre

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(L–R) Michael O’Hara, Tracey McAvoy, Jay Marcus, and Michael Shepperd from Celebration Theatre, Nancy Keystone from Critical Mass Performance Group, Adrian Centeno, Raul Staggs, Mylette Nora, Boni B. Alvarez, and Jon Lawrence Rivera from Playwrights’ Arena. Photo by Luke Fontana.

In March 2018, the Kirk Douglas Theatre opens its doors for the second year of our annual Block Party program, a celebration of Los Angeles theatre featuring three recent productions from local companies. Over the course of months, 50 staff members across seven departments ranging from the Box Office to Artistic Development to Education painstakingly reviewed the 50-some-odd applications that poured in from across the city. The result is a thrilling display of some of the best L.A. theatre in the last year—Playwrights’ Arena’s Bloodletting, Critical Mass Performance Group’s Ameryka, and Celebration Theatre’s Die, Mommie, Die!

Block Party is already a favorite tradition for the organization, said Center Theatre Group Artistic Director Michael Ritchie. We cherish the opportunity to work alongside others in the L.A. theatre community and look forward to continuing to learn, share, and experience with our colleagues.

The Artistic Directors of the selected companies echoed Ritchie’s sentiment.

The two things that always move me about the Los Angeles theatre community are the incredible and exciting diversity of the artists and the work, and the sense of collegiality and sincere support that people bring to each other, said Critical Mass Performance Group Founding Artistic Director Nancy Keystone.

The three Block Party shows are emblematic of all this, as well as the quality of work being produced.

Block Party opens with Bloodletting by Boni B. Alvarez from Playwrights’ Arena, onstage March 29 – April 8. Playwrights’ Arena is dedicated to discovering, nurturing, and producing bold new works for the stage written exclusively by Los Angeles playwrights. I hope that Block Party will help Playwrights’ Arena prepare for its move to a permanent, larger theatre starting in 2019, said Founding Artistic Director Jon Lawrence Rivera. We hope to leverage our experience by learning valuable information about marketing, development, and board expansion.

L-R: Boni B. Alvarez and Alberto Isaac in the original production of Playwrights’ Arena’s “Bloodletting.” Photo courtesy of Playwrights’ Arena.

Bloodletting is the story of a woman who travels to the Philippines to spread her father’s ashes, and discovers her supernatural powers in the process. "It’s a special production because it is set on a remote Philippine island and shines light on native folklore through the eyes of Filipino Americans," said Rivera.

The second show, onstage April 19–29, is Ameryka from Critical Mass Performance Group. Founded in 1985, Critical Mass Performance Group invents category-busting new works, including historical-poetical epics, adaptations of classic texts, intimate interactive salons, public happenings, and social practice art, performed in traditional and alternative spaces. Charting a course that begins with the American Revolution and continues through the struggle for civil rights, the fight against Communism, and the war on terror, Ameryka is an epic exploration of human longing for freedom and justice.

L-R: Nicholas Santoro, Danielle K. Jones, Ray Ford, Curt Bonnem, Valerie Spencer and Christopher Salazar in the original production of Critical Mass Performance Group’s “Ameryka.” Photo by Turner Munch.

One of the unique aspects of Ameryka is that it is an ensemble-created piece. We developed it together, from nothing, over six years. Each moment of the show is filled with the specific energy, ideas, and inspiration of each person in the company, said Founding Artistic Director Nancy Keystone, who also wrote and directed Ameryka in collaboration with the company.

L-R: Drew Droege and Tom DeTrinis in the original production of Celebration Theatre’s “Die, Mommie, Die!” Photo by Matthew Brian Denman.

The final Block Party show, which plays the Douglas May 10–20, is Celebration Theatre’s Die, Mommie, Die! Celebration Theatre was founded in 1982 by gay rights pioneer Charles Rowland and is dedicated to telling the stories of the LGBTQIA community. Today, the company is led by Co-Artistic Directors Michael Matthews and Michael A. Shepperd. Die, Mommie, Die! is the story of an aging Hollywood actress (played by Drew Droege in drag) scheming to kill her husband. It’s an over-the-top comedy of gay Hollywood proportions.

The biggest thing about our entire company is that we really care about each other, we really like each other, said Co-Artistic Director Michael A. Shepperd. We drink together, we laugh together, we create together, and I think that sense of community that we have at Celebration is reflected in the work that we do.

That sounds like exactly what we hope for the 2018 edition of Block Party: drinks in the Douglas lobby, laughter (and maybe some tears) in the audience, creation by some of our city’s most talented theatre artists and companies, and a sense of community for everyone involved.

Block Party receives major support from Aliza Karney Guren and Marc Guren, with generous funding also provided by Joni and Miles Benickes. Block Party is also made possible in part by a Culver City Performing Arts Grant with support from Sony Pictures Entertainment.

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