George Mason University

News at Mason

As TFA Ceases Operations, Theater at Mason Initiative Announced

March 6, 2012

The following information was provided by Theater of the First Amendment

After 22 seasons, Theater of the First Amendment (TFA) will cease operations as Mason’s professional theater company in residence in order to focus on expanding programming and advancing theater at Mason, TFA Artistic Director Rick Davis announced.

TFA’s artistic leaders have always served as faculty members of Mason’s Department of Theater, where every faculty member is a working professional. It is toward the growth and stability of this academic enterprise that TFA’s leadership now turns its collective attention.

Theater at Mason is an initiative defined by the continued emphasis on work with professionals and shaped by the hybrid demands of a contemporary, multimedia marketplace. As a training ground for work in stage and screen, Theater at Mason commits to the transformation and empowerment of young artists and helps connect the world of academia to the vast professional community found in the greater Washington, D.C., area.

Through master classes, guest artist appearances and a new artist residency program, Theater at Mason will continue the legacy begun by TFA as it provides interaction between students and working professionals. Theater at Mason’s undergraduate students will train and work with theater professionals who encourage them to engage their skills in professional, academic, regional and global communities. Unique resources, exciting work and academic rigor will blend to provide a professional approach in a liberal arts environment.

Department of Theater Chair Ken Elston observes, “Theater at Mason is defined by the dynamic of the working professional mentoring the emerging artist, empowering students of theater to create, while modeling the best of professional processes and ethics. These ideals and priorities are played out every day at Mason and provide a shining example of the positive impact not only for our students, but for the greater community as we continue to engage our audiences through the activities of the Friends of Theater at Mason.”

Under its new banner, Theater at Mason will present “The Life of Galileo” by Bertolt Brecht, March 29 through April 7 in Mason’s Harris Theater. Equity actor Matthew Vaky will portray the title role under the direction of Davis, working with a company of student actors and stage managers.

The design team for “The Life of Galileo” is drawn from among Mason theater faculty and graduates of the theater program who now work as professionals in the region. The production will feature scenic design by Dana Maier, costume design by Ivania Stack, lighting design by Liz Replogle and sound design by Kevin Dunayer. Each designer and the director will be assisted by students selected from the theater program.

Playwright and Robinson Professor of Theater and English Paul D’Andrea founded TFA in 1990 as a bold experiment in producing professional work within an academic environment. TFA focused on developing and producing new plays, new adaptations and new translations of plays across a broad spectrum of styles, including contemporary drama, family-friendly musicals and re-imagined classics. A number of highly regarded theater artists premiered or developed their work at TFA, including Heather McDonald, Karen Zacarías, Jennifer Nelson, Anna Theresa Cascio, Sherry Kramer, Dianne McIntyre, the team of Mary Hall Surface and David Maddox, D’Andrea and many others.

In its 22 years, TFA’s productions and artists won 12 Helen Hayes Awards out of 38 nominations. Many of its productions have been published, recorded as original cast albums on CD, broadcast on PBS, aired on NPR and produced nationally and internationally after TFA’s premieres. TFA produced several arts festivals and for 12 years has offered select playwrights its First Light Discovery Program in which scores of new plays were developed and presented as staged readings.

TFA Managing Director Kevin Murray notes, “The Mason community has been extremely supportive of our work over the years. They have provided us the opportunity to soar and have allowed us to stumble. TFA’s leadership, our board and our university benefactors reached this mutual decision knowing that we are ending our journey on a high note.” Murray will now become program manager for Theater at Mason.

TFA’s most recent year was also one of its most ambitious, with the world premiere of three new works. Jennifer Nelson’s “24, 7, 365” and Kaiulani Lee’s “Can’t Scare Me, the story of Mother Jones,” were performed at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, and “STAY,” a collaboration between playwright Heather McDonald and choreographer Susan Shields, was performed at the Lansburgh Theatre of the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

A new adaptation of Federal Theatre Radio Archive material titled “Live Wire” played both the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas and the Center for the Arts in Fairfax. Playwrights in Mind: A National Conversation was a conference offered in partnership with the Dramatists Guild of America at the Mason Inn last summer, drawing hundreds of writers from across the United States.

Davis explains, “It’s easy to point to the obvious challenges of producing professional theater today — companies across the country are scaling back and rethinking, and some important ones have shut down — but truthfully, we have accomplished what we set out to do. TFA leaves a rich legacy of new work for the American stage. We have been instrumental in the growth of the arts, both at George Mason University and in Northern Virginia. Now it’s time to focus on the next generation of theater practitioners.”