This Is 90: The 5th Commemorates the Anniversary of Our 1926 Opening

Compiled by JORDAN LUSINK, Communications Coordinator

THIS FALL, THE 5TH CELEBRATES ITS 90TH BIRTHDAY. Since the beautiful, historic theater opened in 1926, The 5th has reinvented itself several times, leading the nation today as a home for musical theater.

this-is-90Our historic location was modeled after three of Imperial China’s most spectacular architectural achievements: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heavenly Peace and the Summer Palace. Designed and built a year before Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, The 5th has been called “the largest and most authentic example of traditional Chinese timber architecture and decoration outside of Asia.” From the lotus blossoms and phoenixes to the dragons featured throughout the interior—most notably the Great Dragon in the dome of the theater—The 5th has been celebrated for its exquisite design and authenticity.

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NextFest Artist Spotlight – Greg Schaffert, Line Producer


  1. What is your job in NextFest? Explain for us.

I’m the line producer. Basically, I make sure the writers are happy and that they have what they need to do their work. I also work on dramaturgy and story structure with the writers, directors and 5th Ave team, and basically make sure everything keeps running on track.

  1. What are the aspects of your work that excite you?

Working with the writers. Asking questions that stir ideas and guide (gently) to help THEM tell the story they want to tell. Helping them discover their story.

  1. How does producing a festival like this differ from working on a fully-staged commercial production?

At a festival, you get to work on many different projects and with many different writers, of all ages, as opposed to putting all your efforts into one project. Every day, there are challenges that need to be handled when producing on the commercial level. Time is very precious (expensive) and you need to continue to keep everyone on task and working on the “same” show. To be successful, the entire team has to be focused on telling the same story. As a producer, you have to be everything for every team member. The conductor. Driving the bus.

  1. Why is a program like NextFest important for new works?

NextFest gives the writers of the future the opportunity to hone their craft and develop their shows and learn all the skills they need to tell a story. Developing new works takes years and Festivals are a way to move the shows down the pipeline. Invaluable. And exciting!

Interview conducted by CHARLIE JOHNSON, NextFest Media Manager

To find out more about NextFest, and other New Works programs at The 5th, click here.

10-Minute Musicals

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Rising Star Project and Internships

Eight high school students and two adult mentors are seated around a large table in The 5th Avenue’s Rehearsal Studio B. Everyone has a freshly photocopied script in hand. Old scripts and well-worn notepads are strewn across the table. Otherwise, the fluorescentlylit studio is an unassuming space, furnished with some chairs, a large folding table and an upright piano waiting in the corner. Yet the room transforms as the students begin to read from the draft of a recently written scene.

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NextFest Artist Spotlight – Christine Sumption, Dramaturg

Christine served as a dramaturg for the writing intensive of Stanford Story (working title) which was workshopped last week.


  1. What is a dramaturg’s job in the theater – in general?

In the new play process, a dramaturg is like a midwife. I support the playwright through the process, provide historical context, consult on the development of the dramatic action, serve as a sounding board and work to make sure that the writer has the circumstances that he or she needs in order to do their best work. I share ideas, ask questions, listen to the playwright’s intentions and mirror back what I see emerging from the work. While also being very clear that it’s not my play. I’m not the writer (it’s not my baby).

Every playwright is different. Every project has different needs. It’s the dramaturg’s job to be flexible in the service of the play and the playwright. Sometimes it’s a deeply collaborative process, while at other times it takes place at a bit more of an arm’s length. It depends on the relationships and the specific requirements of the project at each step along the way. There’s an intangible element of chemistry involved; playwright and dramaturg have to be a match, have to trust each other and find value in the working relationship.

In the production process, the dramaturg’s work continues to be about supporting the playwright, but may also extend to supporting the director and cast. I work in consultation with the playwright and director, provide concise written material that contextualizes the work (and may be useful to the theatre’s marketing and development staff as well as the Board). I serve as an extra set of eyes in the rehearsal process, keeping the playwright’s goals front and center and offering constructive feedback as needed. Just how active the dramaturg is in the production process relates significantly to the specific personalities of the artistic team and the particular needs of the project.

There are certain playwrights I would drop anything to work with, and Cheryl L. West is at the top of that very short list. She’s an amazing writer, a keen intellect and a genuinely good person, and her work is full of joy, dignity and deep exploration of human complexity. I always know when I work with Cheryl that we will roll up our sleeves, work hard, ask tough questions, tell the truth and have a ball. Laughter is a big part of the process.

  1. As a dramaturg, how does your job differ when working on a piece in the early phases of development- like Stanford Story – from working on an already-complete play?

I’ve done a substantial amount of work on Ibsen, Shaw and Shakespeare, as well as on the work of contemporary writers whose plays are being produced for the second, fifth or tenth time. In those circumstances, the primary working relationship is generally with the director of the production. I analyze the play in depth and detail, investigate its production history and research its historical and cultural context in an effort to provide a solid foundation for the director in developing his or her approach. Sometimes the research is primarily text-based, while at other times it’s mainly visual or auditory.

I do my best to anticipate the questions that may arise in the rehearsal process, making active use of traditional research methods (libraries, archives, online databases, etc.) as well as seeking out the input of experts in various fields. In 2002, for example, I was the production dramaturg for Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen at Seattle Repertory Theatre, a play about the relationship of physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. Since I possess only the most modest understanding of physics, I sought out Mott T. Greene, a MacArthur Award winning science historian, who was able to not only enlighten the artistic team about the scientific principles explored in the play but to help us all understand why this meeting of Bohr and Heisenberg was so significant. He helped us see them not only as icons but as men.

Through the rehearsal process on an existing play, I keep my eye on the big picture, noticing how the story unfolds onstage, and offering observations as the work progresses toward production. It’s useful for the director to have a fresh set of eyes on the work, to get response from someone who understands what he or she is aiming for but hasn’t been in the room every day.

  1. Why do you do dramaturgy? What aspects of the work excite you?

As a dramaturg, I’m a kind of professional question-asker. I love the pursuit of understanding through research, discussion, and the exchange of ideas. I spend my days exploring history, literature, art, music and humanity, and discovering how much more there is to learn. What could be better than that?

And I love playwrights. I love their ability to make language sing, to take human experience and mold it into a dramatic form that has the power to inspire, move, challenge, offer insight or call us to account. I consider it a privilege to support the work of artists who are engaging in meaningful questions about the world we live in.

  1. What was your preparation process for this writing session?

When I joined the project in late June, early July, my first task was to dig into the factual background of the play. I read whatever I could find about the ATO fraternity at Stanford and the furor that erupted when they challenged the white, Christian clause of the national organization in the early 1960s. Lucky for me, Stanford has excellent libraries as well as generous archivists who shared documents from the period. From there, I branched out into the history of American fraternities and the process they went through in the mid-20th century to become more inclusive. That naturally turned to a larger exploration of what was happening in the U.S. during that time period, in society, politics, music, television, you name it.

Cheryl and I met regularly to talk about the aims of the project and what would help her create a dynamic world for this play. It was important to her from the beginning that this not be a superficial, self-contained story. (“Gee, isn’t it great that these fraternity guys at Stanford in the early 1960s invited Jewish men to pledge?”) She wanted to create an experience that would not only tell the story of what happened at Stanford, but what was happening in the country as a whole during that time. She wanted to spark audiences to consider how events then relate to the world we live in now.

In April of 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a huge crowd at Stanford, urging them to join the movement for racial and economic justice. “Human progress never merely rolls in on the wheels of inevitability,” he said. “There is always a right time to do right . . . and that time is now.” It was a galvanizing moment for students, many of whom joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Mississippi for Freedom Summer that year. For Cheryl, those historical events provided a crucial foundation for the combination of heightened stakes and purpose to drive the characters in her play. The events of 1964 provided an opportunity for her to speak to the idealism of the Stanford students as well as their relative innocence about the world beyond their relatively privileged existence.

I compiled the highlights of my research into a booklet for the artistic team to prepare for a trip to Stanford organized by Stanford alum Jim Towne, so they would be prepared to meet with ATO alumni and learn about their experience in the early 1960s. Then, when they returned from Stanford, I supported Cheryl as she developed a preliminary outline of the play and some scenes to launch the work. We walked into the writing retreat with a framework for the project and open minds about how it might grow and change.

  1. Any time periods you love to work in? Any you despise?

For me, it’s less about time period and more about the people involved in the project and the depth of their thinking. I’m interested in work that embraces the full expanse of humanity.

Interview conducted by CHARLIE JOHNSON, NextFest Media Manager

To find out more about NextFest, and other New Works programs at The 5th, click here.

The Impossible Musical

By DREW LICHTENBERG, Literary Manager/Resident Dramaturg at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, D.C. (Reprinted with permission.)

dale-wassermanOne of the first things to know about Man of La Mancha, perhaps the most popular adaptation of Don Quixote, is that it isn’t an adaptation at all. During a 1959 trip to Madrid, playwright Dale Wasserman read the book (or parts of it, it isn’t entirely clear) and came away convinced that this book, considered the greatest novel of all time, this “monument to human wit and folly could not, and should not, be dramatized.”

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Meet the Dreamers: Rufus Bonds Jr.

Last but certainly not least, find out a bit more about our fantastic Cervantes/Don Quixote: Rufus Bonds Jr.!


Rufus Bonds Jr.

Man of La Mancha marks Rufus Bonds Jr.’s first foray at The 5th. He is an actor, director and writer who recently performed the role of Porgy in Porgy and Bess at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London. Rufus has been seen at Carnegie Hall in Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music as the baritone soloist. His Broadway credit’s include RentOnce On This Island and Parade (for which he received a Drama Desk Nomination for Best Supporting Actor). His National Tours include The Color Purple (Mister), Lion King (Mufasa) and Miss Saigon (John). As a director, Rufus’s projects include Tarzan, The Wiz, Into the Woods and The Wizard of Oz. He is also a Eugene O’Neill semi-finalist for his play The Sisters of Rosewall High.

Don’t miss Rufus and the rest of our dreamers in this epic, inspirational musical. Man of La Mancha runs October 7-30, 2016. Click here to find a full cast listing, more about the show and to purchase tickets.

Meet the Dreamers: Nova Payton

Meet the D.C. powerhouse who is following the star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far: Nova Payton!

Nova Payton (Aldonza)

Nova Payton blew audiences away last season at The 5th in A Night With Janis Joplin, and we couldn’t be more excited to have her back with us for Man of La Mancha. DC Area credits include Jelly’s Last Jam, La Cage aux Folles, Diner, Elmer Gantry, Crossing, Defying Gravity: Making of a SuperNOVA, Dreamgirls, The Best Little Whorehouse…, Xanadu, Hairspray (Signature Theatre); A Year with Frog and Toad (Imagination Stage); Freedom’s Song (Ford’s Theatre); Godspell (Olney Theatre Center); Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Washington Savoyards); Happy Elf (Adventure Theatre); Kiss Me, Kate (Shakespeare Theatre). Regionally, Nova has been seen in Dreamgirls (Milwaukee Rep); Dreamgirls (Prince Music Theatre). Audiences may also have seen her in the National Tour of 3 Mo’ Divas (PBS Special), Smokey Joe’s Café. You can find out more about Nova at her website.

Don’t miss Nova and the rest of our dreamers in this epic, inspirational musical. Man of La Mancha runs October 7-30, 2016. Click here to find a full cast listing, more about the show and to purchase tickets.

Subscribers Made Our Summer Renovations a Reality!

We are so thrilled about the progress of The Next Stage at The 5th! With the support of 670 subscribers this summer, we were able to meet and exceed our goal of $500,000 for the Subscriber Challenge. Thank you for your generosity! Continue reading “Subscribers Made Our Summer Renovations a Reality!”

Meet the Dreamers: Don Darryl Rivera

Meet the Seattle-native reaching for that unreachable star: Don Darryl Rivera as Sancho!


Don Darryl Rivera (Sancho)

is beyond thrilled to be back in his hometown! Rivera currently stars as the dastardly Iago in Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway. Regional: The 5th Avenue, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Taproot Theatre Company, Intiman Theatre, The Guthrie Theater, Children’s Theatre Company, Shakespeare Theatre Company and Chicago Children’s Theatre. Rivera is a Gregory Award winner. Special thanks to Disney and The 5th Ave! Love to his wife Kate, daughter Eloise and pup Baxter. @dondarrylrivera

Don’t miss Don and the rest of our dreamers in this epic, inspirational musical. Man of La Mancha runs October 7-30, 2016. Click here to find a full cast listing, more about the show and to purchase tickets.

Meet the Women Leading Man of La Mancha

By ANYA RUDNICK, Director of Education and Outreach

“To Dream the Impossible Dream/To fight the unbeatable foe/To bear with unbearable sorrow/To run where the brave dare not go” sings Cervantes/Don Quixote, the hero of Dale Wasserman’s tour de force musical, MAN OF LA MANCHA. He continues, “This is my quest/To follow that star/No matter how hopeless/ No matter how far.” And so we are offered a glimpse into the mind of a man who dares to dream and who chooses to use the power of imagination to overcome struggle and adversity. This stunning production is brought to life by a trip of women- Director Allison Narver, Music Director Cynthia Kortman Westphal and Choreographer Maria Torres. I asked them each to reflect on the experiences of bringing this musical to The 5th Avenue stage.

Continue reading “Meet the Women Leading Man of La Mancha