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A British Play Set in the Netherlands Comes to Los Angeles

Skylight Theatre Company Brings Us 'Rotterdam' at a Poignant Time


L-R: Ashley Romans and Miranda Wynne in Skylight Theatre Company’s original production of “Rotterdam.”

Photo by Ed Krieger.

You may be familiar with the saying change is the only constant in life. While we deal with small, everyday changes without much thought, how we deal with major changes that challenge what we know and believe are the struggles that keep us up at night, and feature prominently in countless powerful plays. Such is the case with Skylight Theatre Company’s production of Rotterdam—onstage March 28 – April 7, 2019 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre—which brings poignant questions of identity, sexuality, and our responsibility to those we care about to our Block Party 2019 lineup.

Taking place in (unsurprisingly) Rotterdam, the multicultural port city in the Netherlands, the play follows Alice and Fiona, UK expats whose relationships with each other and their friends and family are rocked when Fiona reveals that she has always identified as a man and now wants to live as one. Written by Jon Brittain, the play first premiered in the UK in 2015, where it won a 2017 Olivier Award, and had a limited run in New York in 2017 before its West Coast premiere at Skylight.

For the last 10 years, Skylight Theatre Company has built a reputation as a leader in developing and producing new and relevant works from L.A. as well as around the world. Our mission has been really kind of like a newspaper theatre—what’s going on out there, let’s talk about that, explained Co-Artistic Director Tony Abatemarco. In fact, Rotterdam was so relevant that things had already progressed politically and in terms of the trans community—terminology was ready to be updated between the play’s premiere and Skylight’s production. Literary manager Joshua Gershick, who is also serving as engagement facilitator on the Block Party production, helped in that regard.

Rotterdam is also a cross-continental collaboration. Producing Artistic Director Gary Grossman explained that the opportunity came from a relationship between Skylight and London-based Hartshorn-Hook Productions. They were discussing collaborating on a production in L.A., and Hartshorn-Hook proposed Rotterdam as an option. On the train from London to Paris, I’m reading [the play], and I can’t wait to get off and call them and say ‘I’m in,’ remembered Grossman.

Skylight audiences shared his enthusiasm. Unlike talkbacks [for other shows] in the past where some people were interested and a lot of people weren’t, the whole audience would stay because they wanted to be engaged, recalled Abatemarco. Skylight created further opportunities for audiences to engage with a series of panel discussions related to the play’s themes called Beyond Conversations.

That’s what this story does for me: it takes away the fear of what trans is.

This story comes at a time where it is so needed right now because we need to see a love story that shows that it doesn’t matter whether you’re gay, straight, bisexual, trans, queer—love is love, said director Michael A. Shepperd. You have to fight for love, you have to fight to keep a relationship alive, and that’s something we all do.

For Shepperd, the universal struggle of the story helps take something unknown and make it familiar. That’s what this story does for me: it takes away the fear of what trans is, explained Shepperd. Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship—whether it’s been for a year or 30 years or 50 years—they see it, and they recognize it, and it affects them.

For Shepperd, Rotterdam provides a unique opportunity to reach transphobic theatregoers or those who don’t know much about the trans experience. A lot of times in theatre, we’re preaching to the choir. So this time I’m asking the choir to bring one of their fallen flock members to see this show, and hopefully help create change in them, he explained. Even though this is a small step, it is a step, and I need this message to be put out there.

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