Acts of Faith Season Preview Sunday, January 18 at Sara Belle and Neil November Theatre
Richmond, VA. For the eleventh straight year, Acts of Faith kicked off another remarkable season for faith in theatre. Sustained by the support of a variety of faith communities and nearly every professional theatres in the greater Richmond area, this festival continues to be the largest faith-based theatre festival in the United States, with 16 area theatres offering 22 shows.
In honor of the festival’s 10th year, The Richmond Theatre Critics Circle awarded the Acts of Faith with the Liz Marks Memorial Award for Ongoing Contribution to Richmond Area Theater at their annual awards ceremony on October 19, 2014.
Alex Evans, Pastor at Second Presbyterian Church, the convening sponsor of the Acts of Faith, says, “The Acts of Faith Festival continues to bring people together from regional faith communities with the theater communities. We appreciate so much the recent Liz Marks Memorial Award, given by the RTCC, celebrating these contributions. Our goal is to deepen dialogue and bring civility and grace to the Richmond area, and we are so delighted again to be part of this scene for this coming year.” Diverse faith communities have sponsored the Acts of Faith, coming from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions. The ecumenical basis of the Acts of Faith festival and the willingness of theatres to choose shows that challenge and nurture many different faith traditions is what has kept the Acts of Faith fresh and relevant since 2005.
The 2015 festival kicked off with the Acts of Faith Preview on Sunday, January 18, 2014 at the Sara Belle and Neil November Theatre, 114 West Broad Street at 7:00 p.m. In recent years, the Preview packs the house, drawing nearly 500 people. During the Preview event, participating theatres spoke about their selected plays and presented brief scenes to give a taste of the upcoming festival. This event was free and open to the public.
The festival runs from January 18 through April 15, 2015. Each theatre participating in the festival chooses a play with significant issues pertaining to faith. During designated performances, theatres offer talk-backs, placing the audience in conversation with the cast, the director, and sometimes even the playwright. In dramas or comedies, musicals or readings; stories of faith often take risks and can be quite challenging. Yet these are the stories that generate the most discussion. The hope is that the festival conversations will enhance commonalities despite differences, engender a sense of community, and generate a desire to deepen faith. In 2014, over 1,300 people participated in post-show conversations at the theatres. They continue to be the most meaningful aspect of this festival. In addition to the talk-backs, the festival encourages adult and youth groups to see the plays together and continue the discussions beyond the theatre.
This year The Acts of Faith is also very excited to be a part of the inaugural Marcia Powell Festival of Religion and the Arts entitled, “Rebirth of Images: A Global Dialogue on Spirituality and the Art,” held by Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of World Studies from April 10-12, 2015. Five shows from the festival will be available for conference participants.
The Acts of Faith Main Stage offerings come from Richmond’s professional theatres to ensure a high level of artistic quality and professionalism. Three to four non-professional theatres are also invited to be Associated Theatres in the festival because they provide diverse religious viewpoints that might not otherwise be explored on the Main Stage alone. The Acts of Faith Fringe rounds out the festival by providing an opportunity to see important shows that do not fall into the Main Stage or Associated categories.
Forgiveness and redemption are favorite themes for the festival. Richmond Triangle Players will produce the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tony Kushner, Angels in America: The Millennium Approaches, delving into LGBT themes and relationships during the 1980’s AIDS epidemic. HATTheate presents The Whale, a story about a 600-pound man coming to grips with his relationship with his daughter. The Firehouse Theatre Project offers the world premiere of This World We Know, a play dealing with the aftermath of family abuse. And a new player, 5th Wall Theatre, presents The Lyons, an end-of-life story for the father of a dysfunctional family.
Several festival shows explore racism as it relates to faith. Cadence Theatre will offer the Civil Rights era story, Caroline or Change, also by Tony Kushner. Virginia Repertory Theatre uncovers post-Civil War Richmond in The Whipping Man, as well as producing an original play, The Maggie Walker Story, bringing to life the nation’s first woman bank president during Richmond’s Jim Crow era.
War and violence also play a part in the festival this year. Chamberlayne Actors Theatre’s contribution is Book of Days, a story of murder in a small town. 5th Wall offers a second show in the Fringe festival, The Human Terrain, about ethics from a women’s perspective in the War on Terror. Henley Street Theatre & Richmond Shakespeare perform a reading of Songs from Bedlam, giving voice to the mentally ill who lived in London’s infamous asylum. The Jewish Family Theatre takes on the 1913 trial for the murder of Mary Phagan in the musical Parade, and For Our Children Productions will show the play ISIS: The Unimaginable, laying out a timely story about terrorist factions in the Middle East.
Of course there is lighter fare. Several comedies dot the lineup. TheatreLAB offers two: On the Main Stage is Oblivion, an amusing story of two uber-hip, secular humanist parents confronted by their daughter’s decision to become a Christian; and for the Fringe they present When Last We Flew, a companion show to RTP’s Angels in America drawing parallels strong connections in their stories. The On the Air Radio Players will produce a radio play based on the classic film, Here Comes Mr. Jordon, a comedy about a soul taken by accident. Freud’s Last Session, produced by The Stable Theatre, is a fun conversation about the meaning of life between the famous psychiatrist and C. S. Lewis.
Swift Creek Mill Playhouse will offer another world premiere, “Those Harvey Girls,” a musical about three sisters sharing their faith through gospel music. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown a musical based on the beloved comic characters created by Charles. M. Schultz and staged by Virginia Repertory Theatre asks audiences what it really means to be a good person. And a newcomer, Free Jambalaya, will produce the original musical, Source, exploring acceptance and personal responsibility.
Two love stories also make it to the festival this year: Another world premiere in the festival, Sam & Carol: a play where everything is true will be produced by Henley Street Theatre & Richmond Shakespeare. And the second love story, Now then Again, is a brainy romantic comedy about two physicists. Both shows explore trust, destiny, and letting go.
Many theatres offer discounts for groups or Acts of Faith participants, and Richmond.com will offer ticket giveaways during the festival.
Sponsors include Community Idea Stations, the Huntly Foundation, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and Richmond.com.
Recent Co-sponsoring Faith communities have included Second Presbyterian Church (convening sponsor), Bon Air Presbyterian Church, Centenary United Methodist Church, Congregation Beth Ahabah, First Presbyterian Church, Gayton Kirk Presbyterian Church, St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, St. James’s Episcopal Church, St. John’s United Church of Christ, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Tabernacle Baptist Church.
Participating professional theaters include 5th Wall Theatre, Cadence Theatre, Chamberlayne Actors Theatre, Firehouse Theatre Project, Free Jambalaya, HATTheatre, Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare, Richmond Triangle Players, Swift Creek Mill Theatre, Theatre Lab, and Virginia Repertory Theatre at Willow Lawn, the November Theatre, and the Hanover Tavern. Associate theatres include For Our Children Productions, Jewish Family Theatre, and The Stable Theatre. Fringe theatres include The Gayton Kirk and On the Air Radio Players.
For more information on the Acts of Faith, a listing of play dates and discussion forum times, and ticket information, go to www.theactsoffaith.org
or call 804-304-8379.
To purchase tickets for Caroline, or Change, visit www.va-rep.org or call (804) 282-2620. Special Acts of Faith Discounts for groups of 10 or more. Cover Design by Noel Ritter.