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MetroStage — A Happening Venue

Griffin visits Canada; Olympia Dukakis comes to town.

Each year, directors of local theater groups await anxiously for the naming of the Helen Hayes nominees. Carolyn Griffin, producing artistic director of MetroStage, is no exception. Last year, both "Harlem Rose" and "Three Sistahs" were nominated for Best New Musical. In 2001, actor Ron Campbell was nominated for Best Lead in "Thousandth Night" and Catherine Flye was nominated as Best Supporting Actress in "Rapture."

Last year, Griffin also received one other coveted award, one that is only given to two artistic directors every year. She was selected out of multiple entrants to participate in the 2003 Annual Canadian/Washington Theatre Partnership. This partnership entitled Griffin to travel to Canada on an exchange to meet with Canadian theatre professionals. As the recipient of the 2004 partnership is announced, Griffin reflected on her trip, which was taken earlier this year.

The week-long trip was tailor designed for Griffin and gave her the chance to meet with many people involved in Canadian theate. All of her travel costs were absorbed by the Canadian embassy, which showed her a great deal of hospitality. Griffin said that she spent five days in Toronto and two in Montreal.

"I met with playwrights, artistic directors, dramaturges and heads of actors guilds," said Griffin. "It gave me a chance to establish a relationship with artists in Canada. The impetus is to discover something we want to produce. One of the plays I attended, I plan to produce. It was a great thing; I familiarized myself with most of the produced playwrights," said Griffin, who attended several plays and brought home several dozen screenplays.

Even before this trip, Griffin had ties to Canada. The most recent production of "Filler Up!" was produced and portrayed by Deb Filler, a native from New Zealand who now lives in Toronto. Griffin was able to meet with her during the trip; she also had dinner with David Gow, the playwright of "Bea's Niece," which was produced at MetroStage last year. The Canadian Ambassador, Michael Kergin, and Margarita Kergin attended the opening of "Bea's Niece."

The fact that Canada sponsors a partnership such as the one that Griffin participated in shows how supportive they are of the arts.

"The Canadian government is known for their significant support of playwrights," said Griffin. "Theaters like MetroStage are receiving 50 percent of their budget from the government. When I tell them what we get (about .05 percent), they are surprised. They also have far more original works than we do."

METROSTAGE DIDN'T get a nod from the Helen Hayes nominating committee this year, but Griffin attributes that to a new process that was recently put into place.

"A new process was implemented this year and it is being evaluated. This was the first time ever that we have not been recognized by the Helen Hayes Awards in categories like Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best New Play and Best New Musical. I don't think it reflects on our work as much as it reflects on the new procedure," said Griffin.

Nevertheless, they have some great things in store for the remainder of their 2003-04 season. As of this week, Academy Award Winner Olympia Dukakis is in town to direct the world premiere of "Rosemary and I."

"It's a wonderful opportunity to participate in a new play," said Griffin. "She [Olympia] looked at multiple theaters, but chose MetroStage. It's an honor and opportunity for MetroStage, this is how plays get developed."

"Rosemary and I" was written by award-winning playwright Leslie Ayvazian. The show is about the relationship with Julia and her mother, Rosemary, who is a singer.

Dukakis said that she chose MetroStage after she had been in town for the Kennedy Center Festival and had done a reading of the play.

"Carolyn's understanding of the play is the most embracing of the ideas we had," said Dukakis. "It became apparent that this was the best place. I had such a good experience with the reading that I decided to go with it."

DUKAKIS BELIEVES THAT this new show is funny and insightful.

"The play is very much like the author who cares about issues women find themselves dealing with," said Dukakis. "Rosemary has claimed something for herself, and everybody is drawn to it." Dukakis said that she spent this past week getting used to the stage; the first two weeks of rehearsal were held at various theaters in New York City. She will return to New York shortly before the play opens for the filming of "Great New Wonderful." She will also be appearing in a new A.C.T. adaptation and a new pilot.

"The show will open and run and close without me," said Dukakis, feeling confident that it will be in good hands. "I've really enjoyed working with the staff [at MetroStage] and am grateful for the opportunity to develop the play."

Dukakis said, "He [John Hodian] is an interesting composer; so far it's been great, talking about the process of developing a new play. She said, "The process is great, but you have to let go of certain plans and ideas. Itís been hard letting go."

Just the way a writer sits down to edit, she sits down and constantly refines the show.

Dukakis said, "That's a risk, one that's exciting to be part of. Hopefully, when you arrive at the point when you need it, all the pieces are there."

Rounding out the season is "Mahalia," starring Bernardine Mitchell, last seen at MetroStage in "Three Sistahs." In this performance, she will be depicting the life of the Mahalia Jackson, the Queen of Gospel Music, from her beginnings in the segregated South to her performances at Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Memorial. Also scheduled are four free play readings which will be held in April, May and June.