Blake in London

Blake with sons Declan and Callum at War Horse

Round House has given me a great gift – the opportunity to travel and work abroad for a brief period of time. Sabbaticals are commonplace in academia and the ministry. In the not-for-profit arts community, they are less common, but gaining ground. Time away lends perspective. For the artist, it brings new experiences, new contacts, and exposure to a wide body of work. Like hitting the refresh button. For the institution, it reinforces core values and fosters collaboration between Board and Management. In giving me the gift of time, Round House has thrust itself to the forefront of the DC theatre community by its adventurous, forward-thinking governance.

And so I write today from London, where my family and I have taken up temporary (and brief) residence. For two weeks, we’re exploring the city – and its celebrated theatre scene – before heading to Berlin, where I will direct an English-language production of Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke.

I arrived full of anticipation for the rich, diverse, British theatre scene – oft cited by Americans as a source of envy and delight. But it’s more difficult to find than you might think. Theatre people often complain that the Brits have taken over New York. Sometimes it seems like you can’t do a straight play on Broadway unless it’s been imported from London for a special limited run with Patrick Stewart, Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren, or Ralph Fiennes. It goes both ways. London is swimming in American imports – from big budget mega-musicals like Grease, The Lion King, Legally Blonde, and Jersey Boys to smaller new plays (already seen in greater DC) like Clybourne Park and Becky Shaw. What’s an artistic director to do?

I began with War Horse, adapted from the moving young adult novel, launched at the National Theatre, and now enjoying an extended run in the West End. It’s the simple story of a young boy and his horse trying to reunite on the battlefields of WWI, featuring life-sized horse puppets (operated by three actors each) of jaw-dropping creativity. This production embodies everything we strive for in our own family productions at Round House. It tells an epic story from the perspective of a young adult. There is sweep and spectacle but never at the expense of story and character. The staging is inventive, and the puppets are magically expressive. It’s everything you’ve heard…and more.

The New York production of War Horse is currently in rehearsals at Lincoln Center and begins previews soon. (In fact, the NY cast includes a recent DC/Round House actor, Joel Reuben Ganz, who appeared in our production of The Picture of Dorian Gray.)  For those of you who travel to The City to see your theatre, I can’t recommend it more strongly.

Next on my agenda: a new play entitled Mogadishu about race relations that ignite in a school classroom. It’s playing at the Lyric Hammersmith, a wonderful theatre in suburban London, not unlike Round House, where they focus on new plays, adaptations, and extensive educational programs for young people in their community. This is the theatre where I saw the premiere of Neil Bartlett’s Camille, my first production at Round House in 2005.

I’ll have a full report soon enough. In the meantime, best wishes to all!

- Blake Robison, Producing Artistic Director

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