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American Stage debuts new show, ‘Save Park’ campaign

Bill DeYoung

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The world premiere of Doug Robinson’s "The Figs" begins tonight at American Stage. Photo: Tyrese Pope.

American Stage is back in action this week, with the opening of its midsummer, season-ending show and the official launch of a fundraising campaign to “save” the annual spring musical production in Demens Landing Park.

On May 31, Producing Artistic Director Helen R. Murray said that mounting production and labor costs threatened the end of the so-called “Park” shows, which have been going since the mid 1980s: “It probably seems to those who have attended a park show that we must make fistfuls of cash from something that big,” she wrote in an open letter. “And while it is our biggest money maker, it is nowhere near enough to pay for such a colossal endeavor. Not one park show has ever paid for itself.”

While the 2025 production, Hair, will go on as planned, a serious uptick in funding will be required for the “Park” spectaculars to continue.

Related reading: American Stage: Demens Park show may be a thing of the past

The fundraising goal, announced Tuesday, is $500,000. In her letter, Murray had explained that each Demens production costs between $600,000 and $650,000. American Stage’s annual operating budget is $4 million.

American Stage’s Trustees and Strategic Advisory Board members have pledged to match every donation made to “Save Park” – dollar for dollar – up to $75,000. More information is available here.

Murray, meanwhile, is directing the final show in the company’s 2023-24 seasons, Doug Robinson’s The Figs. While it appeared in staged reading form during American Stage’s Lift Every Voice: New Play Festival in 2023, the fully-produced mainstage version (tonight through Aug. 4) is a world premiere.

The Washington, D.C.-based Robinson discussed the origins of The Figs in an American Stage promotional video created for the Lift Every Voice event:

Enamored with folk tales, myth and fantasy, Robinson said that, as a young man, “I didn’t see myself, this Black body, represented in those stories.”

As an aspiring theater artist, he felt that the medium was not doing enough to make such topics inclusive onstage. “I wanted to see a Black boy go on an adventure; I wanted to see a queer love story coupled with swords and magic and myth.”

The Figs is the whimsical story of a king, obsessed with figs but with little access to the tasty fruit. There’s a princess, and a heroine. That sets the plot in motion. “I learned that folk tales don’t necessarily have to have a large moral,” Robinson said. “It’s about a journey, an adventure, and it’s up to the reader to take that moral – what they choose.

“I wanted to create a play (that was) a tapestry of things, and it’s not for me to say ‘Hey, here’s the lesson,’ it’s for you, in your experience: ‘Here’s what I heard, here’s what I gained, here’s what I’m going to take with, or even leave behind.”

The Figs, he said, “is not just about these characters, but about the act of telling a story. And that is a beautiful thing to share and listen and feel … everything, when given an opportunity to be heard, will connect and matter.”

Tickets for The Figs are here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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