LENOX — WAM Theatre is marking its 10th anniversary season with two, rather than one, Mainstage productions — one in spring, the other in fall; two Fresh Takes readings; and expansion of the WAM education program to include a new Elder Ensemble for women.
"As we celebrate our first decade of the WAM dream of using theater to benefit women and girls coming true, we are growing our programming to two Mainstage productions," artistic director Kristen van Ginhoven said in a news release. "As WAM continues to learn about working at the intersection of arts and activism, more and more, we are understanding the importance and necessity of inclusion — of race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, geography and more." van Ginhoven continued.
WAM's 2019 season begins April 18 with the first of two preview performances of a world premiere, "Lady Randy" by Berkshires writer and actress Anne Undeland. Jim Frangione is directing. The production officially opens April 20 in Shakespeare & Company's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., where it is scheduled to run through May 5.
The Bernstein also will house WAM's season-ending fall Mainstage show, Dominique Morisseau's "Pipeline," Oct. 25-Nov. 10, presented in partnership with Multicultural BRIDGE. This play was part of last season's Fresh Takes readings series.
Undeland's "Lady Randy" is a historical drama about Winston Churchill's mother, American heiress Jenny Jerome, a young, rich beautiful woman who was considered ahead of her time. The play was developed by Undeland and Frangione at the Berkshire Playwrights' Lab, where Frangione is one of the three founding artistic directors.
In "Pipeline," Nya, an inner-city public high school teacher, is committed to her students and desperate to give her only son opportunities they will never have. When a controversial incident in his upstate private school threatens to get him expelled, Nya must confront his rage and her own choices as a parent.
"BRIDGE is thrilled to collaborate with WAM Theatre again," Multicultural BRIDGE chief executive officer and founding director Gwendolyn Hampton Van Sant said in the news release. "Through the story of one young black student's successes and challenges, we share the experience of a black family facing long-standing cultural and systemic barriers. The school-to-prison `pipeline' affects not only the poor; the constant pressure and trauma of racism can touch any family at any moment."
"Through the arts, we look forward to creating more local opportunities for authentic discussion around the stark ethnic disparities that exist for black families as we identify solutions through activism. 'Pipeline' helps us enter these conversations with courage."
In keeping with WAM's philanthropic mission, each production will have a beneficiary that will receive a portion of the box office proceeds. WAM's beneficiary committee will announce the recipients for each production in the coming months.
The two-program Fresh Takes Play Readings Series begins May 4 with Karen Zacarias' "Native Gardens" featuring WAM Theatre co-founder Leigh Strimbeck, and ends Nov. 2 with Laura Maria Censabella's "Paradise." Both readings begin at 3 p.m. in the Bernstein Theatre.
In "Native Gardens," Pablo, a rising attorney, and doctoral candidate Tania, his very pregnant wife, have just purchased a home next to Frank and Virginia, a well-established D.C. couple with a prize-worthy English garden. But an impending barbeque for Pablo's colleagues and a delicate disagreement over a long-standing fence line soon spirals into an all-out border dispute, exposing both couples' notions of race, taste, class and privilege.
WAM associate artistic director Talya Kingston directs "Paradise," about the partnership between two researchers — Yasmeen Al-Hamadi, a Muslim, Yemeni-American senior at a struggling inner-city Bronx high school, and Dr. Guy Royston, her disaffected science teacher, a former Evangelical with a mysterious past. Together they embark on a neurological study, leading to stormy conflicts over love, faith, and culture.
In addition, WAM's Teen Ensemble, a performance group for young people ages 13-18, will premiere its new devised theater piece at the WAM Annual Summer Gala, 5:30 p.m. at The Stationery Factory in Dalton before embarking on a small tour of the show that ends at The Mount in late July.
At the other end of the age spectrum, WAM's new Elder Ensemble makes its bow this year.
"During our auditions last year, I noticed an enormous amount of interest from talented older women in sharing their stories," Kingston said in the news release. "WAM has long been interested in collaborating with these members of our community."
According to Kingston, WAM Elder Ensemble will be structured similarly to the Teen Ensemble, with the two ensembles working together around the same theme to create an inter-generational piece that will premiere at the WAM Gala and then go on a short local tour.
January and February find WAM's Ensemble Program in residence at Reid Middle School, Pittsfield High School, Richmond Consolidated School, and the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School. Each ensemble will devise a new short piece under the theme "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," exploring ideas of truth, lies, credibility. This project will culminate in a shared invite-only performance in February at Reid Middle School.
"Through our plays, our readings, our community partnerships, and our ensembles," van Ginhoven said, "we're consciously featuring stories that look at the world through an intersectional feminist lens. We look forward to celebrating our first 10 years of impact all year and especially at our 10th anniversary gala in July."