Azuka Theatre presents the world premiere of Boycott Esther by Philadelphia playwright Emily Acker. In an urgent response to the #metoo movement, Acker's new work chronicles the aftermath of a young woman's career once her boss, a Hollywood mogul, becomes enmeshed in a workplace sexual misconduct scandal. In a world where information is spread and opinions are formed in the click of a mouse, this hilarious drama begs the pressing question, what is our collective capacity for forgiveness? Boycott Esther is directed by Azuka Artistic Associate Maura Krause and stars Alison Ormsby (Esther), Alexandra Espinoza (Mary) and Steven Rishard (Barry Bloom). This new work runs from May 1 to May 19, with opening night set for Saturday, May 4, 2019 at 7:00pm. Azuka continues its pay-what-you-decide model for this show where audiences are invited to experience the art on stage and pay based on the value of their experience after. For reservations, visit azukatheatre.org. Boycott Esther runs 90 minutes with no intermission and is recommended for audiences 13+.
Acker was inspired to create Boycott Esther in the wake of the sexual misconduct scandals that rocked the Weinstein Company. Acker was working for the company when the news broke. With the national scandal roaring through the company, her project was shelved and never saw the light of day. In the wake of the national discussion that erupted, she was compelled to write the play.
“Once the news hit it spiralled quickly across the internet and media. That was right when we were on the cusp of selling our show. The larger controversy at Weinstein made it clear though the project wouldn’t move forward. After my first big break in TV, I had to take time to process all the hard work we did and how it wasn’t going to hit the next level,” said Acker. “I was balancing my personal disappointment with my feelings of solidarity with the movement and empathy toward the women speaking out. In order to process those feelings, I started writing - it was a cathartic way to work through this - and lend a voice to the important issues arising.”
Acker is no stranger to Azuka. She started out as an intern with the company and became an employee. She was a member of the playwriting collective Orbiter 3, which produced inclusive, accessible theater that embraced risk, valued local artists, and chased the playwright's vision. There she debuted her play I Am Not My Motherland. She left Azuka for the writing job in New York. Boycott Esther brings her career and her relationship with Azuka full circle with this world premiere.
“I think the ideal outcome of this play is to foster conversation -- about the #metoo movement, about the lack of nuance on how we position ourselves online, and what we project online by choice or not. Personally as a playwright and young member of the millennial generation, I also wanted to spark discussion on how theatre represents our modern world in the digital age How should we represent the internet and digital experiences on stage? What does the art of theatre look like with social media, video projections, video chats, social media hangouts? I am interested in the intersection of the live artform of theatre and the increasingly digitized world we live in,” said Acker.
Bringing the story to life on the stage will be Maura Krause, who will make her directorial debut with Azuka since she joined their staff last year as Artistic Associate. Krause also has special insight as she has been involved with the development of the show for the last year. She was part of Orbiter 3 with Acker. Krause is excited to direct this exciting new work from her longtime friend and colleague.
“I love Emily’s writing and I love stories that are about messy flawed human beings, especially women,” said Krause. “Emily is a great collaborator and an incredible presence in the rehearsal room. As a writer, she is receptive to feedback, but clear-eyed about what's right for her script -- and she rewrites like nobody's business. As another eye on the production being built, she is generous and detail-oriented.”
She adds, “On the content level, both the #metoo movement and the phenomenon of internet shaming are very compelling to me,” said Krause. “As a society we're grappling with new levels of communication and visibility, and while mostly I think that has resulted in transparency and righteous action, the internet is obviously a double-edged sword that I'm very wary of. Beyond the thematic resonance, the challenge of manifesting the force of the internet onstage really excited me”
Boycott Esther’s production team includes regional familiar names and Azuka alums, as well as new team members, including Jorge Cousineau (Scenic & Video Design), Mike Inwood (Lighting Design), Asaki Kuruma (Costume Design), Shannon Zura (Sound Design), Avista Custom Theatrical, LLC (Properties), Jamel Baker (Stage Manager), Lauren Tracy (Production Manager), Joe Daniels (Technical Director) and Flannel & Hammer (Scenic Construction).
Together, they will bring Esther’s New York studio apartment to life through the use of three huge screens that represent a part of her digital life. Krause teased and said, “There's a ton of video -- even a few Philly favorite cameo appearances -- and we've been exploring how music can transmit the raucousness and pace of social media.”
Boycott Esther is supported by Executive Producers Karen Kruza and Richard Quinn, and Gayle and David Smith.
Azuka continues its commitment to the community by extending the innovative pay-what-you-decide box office initiative for the 2018-2019 season.
No money is exchanged before the show. Audience members reserve tickets in advance, see the production, then decide on a price which they think is suitable based on their experience and pay as they leave the theater. Ticket payment can be made after the performance by cash, check or credit card. All money collected helps to pay Azuka artists and further support future productions.
As part of this production, Azuka will present pre-show happy hours sponsored by Two Roads Brewing Company on May 10 and 17, from 7:00pm to 8:00pm.
For show, special event and reservation information, please visit azukatheatre.org or call (215) 563-1100.
Azuka Theatre strengthens the connection and shared humanity among its diverse audiences by giving voice to the people whose stories go unheard. Azuka is committed to producing contemporary plays that reflect and speak to the area’s diverse community. Azuka’s audiences are predominantly under the age of 40, with students and post collegiate professionals making up a large part of Azuka’s audiences; they represent the next generation of theatergoers. These new and younger audiences are reached by telling stories relevant to today’s complex society, selecting stories that revolve around people who feel out of sync with the world around them and are unable or unwilling to find their niche in modern society. By presenting plays that are smart, edgy and exciting, new audiences are drawn to see work that speaks to them in a voice they do not often hear on stage. Azuka is currently at 46 productions, 22 world premieres, 19 Philadelphia premieres. Azuka is a Resident Partner at The Drake and an Associate Member of the National New Play Network.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Emily Acker (Playwright)
Acker is a founding member of Barrymore Award-winning playwrights collective Orbiter 3. She is an alumna of The Foundry @ PlayPenn, InterAct Theatre Company's Core Playwrights Residency and Philadelphia Young Playwrights. Her work has been produced and developed at Orbiter 3, Azuka Theatre, InterAct Theatre Company, FringeArts, Theatre Exile, Act II Playhouse, Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Young Playwrights Inc., Northwestern University and Temple University. Her play I Am Not My Motherland was a finalist for the O'Neill Playwrights Conference. She contributed to the final season of All My Children on Hulu+ and is the creator of the television remake of Three Up Two Down with The Weinstein Company. She received her B.S. from Northwestern University in 2013.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Maura Krause (Director)
Krause is an award-winning director, creator, and producer of new work. She was the Artistic Director of Barrymore Award-winning company Orbiter 3, Philadelphia’s first producing playwrights collective, as well as a National New Play Network Producer-in-Residence at InterAct Theatre Company. She is currently proud to be an Associated Artist with Applied Mechanics. Maura has also worked with the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, EMP Collective, PlayPenn, Arcadia University, Philadelphia Young Playwrights, and Tiny Dynamite, among others. Selected recent projects include Red Ash Mosaic (Cleveland Public Theatre), Breathe Smoke by Douglas Williams (Orbiter 3), Tilda Swinton Adopt Me Please (The Greenfield Collective), This Is On Record (Applied Mechanics), and Now More Than Ever by Val Dunn (independently produced).
ABOUT THE CAST AND CREW
Alison Ormsby (Esther)
Ormsby is a recent graduate from the University of the Arts and is thrilled to be back at Azuka! Recent credits include: This Is On Record (Applied Mechanics) and Ready Steady Yeti Go (Azuka). Thank you of course to Maura and Azuka!
Alexandra Espinoza (Mary)
Espinoza is a Philly based theater artist. As an actor her recent credits include William Penn in Peaceable Kingdom (Orbiter 3, Barrymore Nomination for Best Ensemble), Breezy in Now More Than Ever (Philly Fringe, written by Val Dunn and directed by Maura Krause) and she was one of the five performers/co-creators of Pa'lante with Power Street Theatre Company and First Person Arts. As a playwright, she is a first-year member of the Foundry at PlayPenn. Her work has been produced by Juniper Productions, and her play Homeridae will be developed at the upcoming Great Plains Theatre Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. She practices community engaged dramaturgy with Simpatico Theatre and has facilitated the creative expression of people aged 7 to 70 in her work as a teaching artist.
Stephen Rishard (Barry Bloom)
Rishard’s local credits include Cabaret and Doll’s House 2 at the Arden Theater; The Arsonists at Azuka Theater; Straight White Men at InterAct Theatre; Detroit at Philadelphia Theater Company; The Few at Theatre Horizon and at the Wilma Theater: Romeo and Juliet, When the Rain Stops Falling, Adapt, The Hard Problem, Antigone, Hamlet, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Steven is a member of the HotHouse at the Wilma Theater. New York credits include Luz at La Mama, P.S. Jones and the Frozen City with Terra Nova Collective, The Bacchae for The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park, and In the Penal Colony at Classic Stage Company. With the theater company Divison13 Productions: Act Without Words 1, at the Brooklyn Can Factory. Cascado, and Journeys Among the Dead, at HERE. Regional credits include Quartet at The Court Theater, The Rainmaker at Triad Stage, and The Beautiful Dark at Premiere Stages. TV credits include Law and Order, Law and Order SVU, The Americans, Kings, Unforgettable, and Treme. Film credits include Shelter (6 Souls), Hal Hartley’s Meanwhile, and Joy D. Vee.
Jorge Cousineau (Scenic & Video Designer)
Cousineau is a designer of sets, lights, sound and projections for dance and theater productions. Over the last twenty years his designs have been seen and heard internationally, regionally, and all over Philadelphia. Together with his wife Niki Cousineau and Scott McPheeters he co-directs their company subcircle. Jorge is a recipient of two Independence Foundation Fellowship grants, a Lucille Lortel Award in New York City, and several Philadelphia Barrymore Awards. He was awarded the F. Otto Haas Award for Emerging Theater Artist and is a recipient of the Pew Fellowship in the Arts.
Mike Inwood (Lighting Designer)
Inwood makes his Azuka debut. Philadelphia theatre credits include: Peter and the Starcatcher (Theatre Horizon), Cinderella (People's Light) Touch Tones (Arden), Small Mouth Sounds and RIZZO (both at PTC), ANDY - A Popera (Bearded Ladies/Opera Philadelphia), and Eugene Onegin (Curtis Opera). In New York City, Mike designed the Off-Broadway premieres of Small Mouth Sounds (Ars Nova/Signature Theatre), Miles for Mary and HIR (both at Playwrights Horizons), Stupid Fucking Bird (Pearl Theatre Co.), and Friend Art (Second Stage). Regional credits include productions with: Boston Lyric Opera, Portland Opera, Perseverance Theatre, Magic Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, and the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. In 2010, Mike won an Emmy Award for his work with NBC Sports (Vancouver Winter Olympic Games). www.mikeinwood.com
Asaki Kuruma (Costume Designer)
Kuruma is thrilled to design the costumes at Azuka! She is originally from Japan, and has been working professionally for over a decade collaborating with many theater companies and artists in the Philadelphia area. Costume design credit: Romeo & Juliet;, Complete History of America, Abridged (Commonwealth Classic Theatre Co);, Tiger Style! (Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists);, Las Mujeres (Power Street Theatre Company, Surya Award honoree);, Romeo & Juliet (Lantern Theater Company). Asaki is also a resident artist at Power Street Theatre Company, and currently pursuing her Master's Degree in Theatre at Villanova University. Thanks for team Esther, PSTC familia, friends and supporters. Next up:- Measure for Measure at Commonwealth Classic Theatre Co. https://www.powerstreettheatre.com/
Shannon Zura (Sound Designer)
Zura is thrilled to be returning to Azuka for Boycott Esther. Her most recent design credits include the lighting design for The Craftsman and An Iliad at the Lantern Theatre and InterAct Theatre Company’s productions of Straight White Men, Three Christs of Manhattan, and Some Other Kind of Person. Previous design credits include the lights and sound for Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble’s Leading Ladies and Opera House Arts' Last Gas; lights for Portland Stage Company's Papermaker, Penobscot Theatre's Wit, and Big Picture Show's Switch Triptych; sound for Portland Stage Company’s Veils, Last Gas, God of Carnage, Red, and Our Man in Havana; and sets for PORTopera's La Fille du Regiment and InterAct’s Black Pearl Sings. Shannon holds an M.F.A. in Lighting Design from Temple University and is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Design at Franklin and Marshall College.
Avista Custom Theatrical, LLC (Properties)
Owned by Jennifer Burkhart and Amanda Hatch, Avista was founded in 2007 as a properties design and construction firm. Avista specializes in period paper goods and newspapers, custom prop construction, upholstery, soft goods construction, and maintains a 7,000 square foot rental warehouse in Norristown. This season Avista’s work will be seen locally at Opera Philadelphia, Azuka Theatre, Drexel and Temple Universities, and Maukingbird Theatre.
Jamel Baker (Stage Manager)
Baker is excited to be working with Azuka again. Jamel graduated from Millersville with a BA in Speech Communication (concentration in Theatre) and has worked with many companies in Philly including, Tribe of Fools, EgoPo, Theatre Exile, Act II, Enchantment, Simpatico and more. Jamel is a company member for Tribe of Fools and also on the artistic advisory board for EgoPo. Thanks to Kevin, Mark, Lauren and everyone at Azuka for allowing him to be part of another show.
Lauren Tracy (Production Manager)
Tracy is thrilled to be returning to Azuka again. She’s served as their Production Manager and Stage Manager on and off since 2010. She also serves as the Production Manager for Flannel & Hammer, Inis Nua Theatre Company, Revolution Shakespeare and Cheltenham High School. She holds a B.F.A. in Stage Management from Syracuse University. She would like to thank her friends, family and Andrew for all of their love and support.
Flannel & Hammer (Scenic Construction)
Flannel & Hammer Scene Shop is a Philadelphia based business. The company was founded by Lauren Tracy (Flannel) and Joe Daniels (Hammer). With over 10 years’ experience and 100 productions under their (tool) belts they have the knowledge and skills to bring any scenic construction to life. Their work can be seen onstage here along with Simpatico, Theatre Exile, and Inis Nua Theatre Company.