‘I want to give you goosebumps when you’re at Mosaic’: Reginald L. Douglas

Understudying Peter Marks at Mosaic Theater's season-reveal party, Ramona Harper asked the new artistic director new questions.

Editor’s note: The event was to be Mosaic Theater’s VIP season-reveal party at the 14th and V Busboys & Poets on March 5, 2022, and the Washington Post’s Peter Marks was announced to interview Artistic Director Reginald L. Douglas. But that morning a coal train derailed near Baltimore and stopped all Northeast Corridor traffic, so Marks could not get to DC from New York City, where he lives. Just hours before what would be Mosaic’s first in-person party since the pandemic — and in the time-honored theatrical tradition of the understudy who goes on so the show can go on — Douglas called on none other than DC Theater Arts’ Ramona Harper.

Reginald Douglas is a dream to interview. His inspirational energy and passionate enthusiasm are feel-good moments whenever I’ve had a chance to talk with him. And I’ve had a few. Last year, when he was new associate artistic director at Studio Theatre, this year as new artistic director at Mosaic Theater, and most recently with the announcement of his first full season at Mosaic.

Every time I’ve talked with Reg, he leaves me with a smile on my face and a tear in the corner of my eye. His infectious joy and uncompromising belief in theater’s transformational potential is a thunderbolt jolt of power that transcends the head and goes straight to the heart.

Hours before the Busboys event, I quickly read over an embargoed press release about Mosaic’s 2022/23 season, so I knew Reg wanted to talk about Mosaic’s exciting lineup of productions, new-play development, community engagement, and citywide projects connected with the season’s opener, The Till Trilogy, with playwright Ifa Bayeza.

Much to my surprise, having no idea about the evening’s planned setup, I arrived at the restaurant and was ushered onto a dramatically lit stage with dimmed house lights in the community room of Busboys before a live audience, à la comfy arm-chair style. Saving the day onstage had not been on my agenda, but the show did go on!

With Reginald Douglas leading the charge for collaboration and empathy, Mosaic Theater has a super-exciting, ground-breaking 2022/23 lineup that I hope DC theatergoers will fully embrace in support.

And Peter Marks missed out on a great party!

Reginald L. Douglas, Mosaic Theater Artistic Director, interviewed by Ramona Harper, DC Theater Arts, at the 2022/23 Mosaic Theater Season Reveal Party March 5, 2022, at Busboys & Poets. Photo by Jhon Ochoa.

Ramona: In your first full year as Mosaic’s artistic director, your 2022/23 season strikes me as super-exciting. It’s intergenerational, it’s multicultural, it’s works that are not only entertaining but also challenging and provocative. Can you talk about your intentions for the new season?

Reginald: Mosaic’s mission is that theater can connect across communities, across cultures, across the things that we think divide us, and that’s my mission too. So it’s a dream job to be able to work with a staff and a board that really believe in the power of theater that activates. Yes, we can be entertaining, but let’s also be enlightened. And I like to think that the best plays start after the curtain call when we engage in dialogue with our neighbor, and we start to see in one another empathy come alive. That’s what was guiding our thought process.

It’s what guided Mosaic since its founding, and as we go forward my mission is to build on that foundation with new energy and new insight. And as our brilliant marketing team says, with a new kind of joy. As we look to the future of this organization, these are the things that are guiding us: work that is thought-provoking, work that’s full of joy and energy, and work that I hope speaks to what it means to be an American citizen today and imagines the world, not just as it is, but as it could be. And as we thought about the season, the theme that kept arising was: how do we look to our past in order to understand who we are now, and where might we want to go?

The new season opens in October with The Till Trilogy by playwright Ifa Bayeza. Thinking about recent events such as the Ahmad Arbery trial, what light can the Emmett Till story shed on our country’s current fight for racial justice?  What’s the relevance?

We wanted to produce The Till Trilogy in a way that allows us to reckon with racial injustice in our country, but also get inspired about the chance to respond differently when we leave the theater, and to think about what DC as a community wrestles with, what justice means to all of us.

I’m a big believer in the African proverb Sankofa, which is symbolized by a bird whose head is facing back but its feet are facing forward — to look back in order to look ahead. And I think what Ifa and director Talvin Wilks are doing so brilliantly is taking a moment from our past that ignited civic change and the Civil Rights Movement and infusing it with imagination. It’s not docu theater; we’re not giving you the encyclopedia; we’re not giving you a history book. We’re giving you the magical thing that can only happen in a theater — the goosebump-inducing reality of adding music, a nuanced, emotional journey, fully formed human characters, poetry and rhythmic language. All in service of feeling the history.

So I think audiences will not just learn but they’ll feel, and that’s the power of empathy — that we can deepen our understanding by feeling what it means to be our neighbor. I do hope that the audience we foster for that production will be wonderfully diverse in age and race and zip code. One of the key ways we’re making sure of that is by hosting intergenerational matinees, where we put seniors who lived through that moment in time in the fifties with young people who are living through a very different yet sadly similar reality, in conversation. That is what Mosaic Theater does best. We unite different perspectives in a brave dialogue. Ifa and Talvin’s production will ignite conversation that, yes, makes us think differently, but also makes us feel differently.

Reginald L. Douglas at the 2022/23 Mosaic Theater Season Reveal Party March 5, 2022, at Busboys & Poets. Photo by Jhon Ochoa.

I’ve been wanting to ask an artistic director this question: Why is community engagement and community building so important for American theater today?

To me, the core of why we do what we do is the audience. You know, we don’t write novels. We engage purposely in a give and take. And for Mosaic, our vision forward is transcending transactions. It’s more than ticket sales. It’s about relationship with the community. So we have projects that are deeply engaging our hyperlocal community through our H Street Oral History Project, playwrights interviewing H Street residents from the 1968 uprising to today about what does this changing neighborhood mean to you? And then we’re going to put those narratives in the DC Public Library, put the voices of our community into the record book, and also artistically engage those voices by creating original plays inspired by those interviews.

That’s what community engagement means for Mosaic. It’s more than a group sale. It’s a dynamic relationship that says: Your voice matters. Your opinion is valid, and we make Mosaic together. I can’t speak for other artistic directors, but for us, our north star is the desire to continually welcome more people to the team and to the family and to the creative table. When we get to that table, I want to make sure we say: You are welcome as you are. That is what Mosaic believes. And that’s why community engagement is not some silo thing for us. It is the core of every artistic choice we make and will be for all of us on staff, from marketing to development to artistic. As we build the next chapter of this organization, how do we build our community through the art is the question for us.

Can you give us some details about the many community events you have planned around the trilogy of plays about Emmett Till? How can a theatergoer be involved?

We’ve built The Till Trilogy Reflection Series in partnership with about 25 cultural organizations, all of whom will be spreading the message of Mosaic’s production of The Till Trilogy and creating their own work, whether it’s a play reading, panel discussion, concert, poetry, dance, music, theater. The goal is that every ward of our city is engaging in a reflective conversation about the role of justice and how we as artists and arts leaders can activate audiences to own their responsibility to make this world a better place. I am so honored and grateful to those partner organizations, from the Library of Congress, Busboys & Poets, Ford’s Theatre, Folger’s, Theater Alliance, Theater J and the JCC, Woolly Mammoth, Arena Stage, ACLU, the Washington National Opera, our universities like Howard and Gallaudet and Georgetown, to our friends at Eaton DC, and the list goes on and on. I cannot be more grateful for our peers in Washington, DC, and beyond who believe in Mosaic’s vision. We waved the flag and everyone said, Yes, we got your back, and we want in too.

I know from previous conversations with you that you are “a new-play junkie.” And the 2022/23 season prominently presents new works including a new play festival. Why are new-play development and new works so important to you? Why not just stick with the tried and true?

I believe that the job of an artist is to think about the next generation. And so when I think about play development, I think about the canon that is, and the canon that could be, and I want Mosaic to be a place where we foster the next great American story, the next great international story. Stories that reflect who we are today that take the truth of our experiences, the joy and the pain, and add curiosity and imagination, and put them into the canon of what American theater means so that the next generation can read plays that spark their imaginations in ways that we don’t even know can be sparked. That is why new plays matter.

And I think it’s so vitally important that we as an arts organization provide vital steadfast support to artists. It’s not just about us. It’s about supporting those thinkers at every stage of their process. And that’s why I’m so honored that we have a world premiere production from a master dramatist like Ifa along with inklings of new ideas that we will support from playwrights in one season. That is the range of work that we want to be fostering — not so Mosaic can have our name on it but so that the next generation of artists and audiences can look back and say, Oh, that’s what it meant to be in DC in 2022 — and because that was possible, the sky is endless for my imagination and my creativity. That’s what I believe theater can do and be. If we are the creators of culture, I want to make a culture that celebrates our diversity. Those are the stories and the plays that we will be developing and producing.

You are really walking your talk moving forward to make Mosaic and DC arts not only locally but also nationally known through new partnerships. Can you tell us about some of those new collaborations?

We think about three Cs, a lot: curiosity, collaboration, and connection. And we do that in service of our community. And so, when I think about collaboration, I think, wow, DC has all of these great theaters, now how do we let people know that DC’s got it goin’ on? We want the nation to know that we are uniquely making work that speaks truth to power in this moment, and they should pay attention to what’s happening here. We want New York to pay attention to the great new plays happening here, the great artists living in DC. We do that at Mosaic by making sure our work is locally grown and then becomes nationally known. I’m very proud to say that all our creative teams next season will be primarily local talent. We have a steadfast commitment to employing local artists and being a home for their artistry. From actors to playwrights, directors, designers, we want to be a place that nurtures the next generation of artists and the brilliant ones who call the DMV home.

We also recently joined the National New Play Network, which I’m a proud board member of, to spread our work nationally. We are making sure that that special, unique DC Mosaic story is amplified around the country. We are a company that believes we have something special that is worthy of attention and acclaim around the country. And dare we say around the world.

Why was it important to create a season that connects across artistic disciplines? You’ve got theater, but you’ve got dance. You’ve got music, you’ve got poetry, educational experience.

To me, it’s so important because I want to say as many welcomes as possible. I want as many people to know they are welcomed here, and I want to meet people where they are. I want to meet new audiences where they are, going to Busboys & Poets and saying, Hi, welcome, come join us. Hey, opera lovers, we got something cool too. Hey, dance, come to us. We want to be expansive, not restrictive. We want to be more welcoming, more inclusive, which is a core value for our organization: to be a welcoming place that says, Come join the party.

And for me, it’s just more fun. It’s fun to have different creative dynamic art happening together. So we have a gripping play like Bars and Measures, a beautiful script, nuanced characters, dynamic acting, ripped-from-the-headlines truth about justice for Black men in this country, and it’s amplified by our original jazz score. It makes it all the richer.

We want you to think and we want you to feel too. We want to create artistic experiences that are genuinely exciting. I want to give you goosebumps when you’re at Mosaic.

Please tell us more about the new H Street Oral History Project, which sounds so ground-breaking and innovative.

It is the work of visionary Psalmayene 24, who is Mosaic’s Andrew W. Mellon playwright-in-residence, partnered with three brilliant local Black playwrights, Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi, Gethsemane Herron-Coward, and J.J. Johnson, and dramaturg Jordan Ealey, a team of artists supported and led by the wonderful Chelsea Radigan, our artistic producer. They are going into the community to activate our mission that we believe DC stories matter. We want to amplify them. For me, there’s no greater project that exemplifies who Mosaic is uniquely than our H Street Oral History Project because it says you are welcome here. Your voice is valid. We want to make sure more people hear your story and are moved by your story for both civic and cultural change — by writing in residents whose stories are not told and putting them into the canon of our city at the library and also creatively told through these world premiere plays. That to me is what Mosaic does best. And I can’t wait for the next step of that project to grow next season. And if you’ve ever met Psalm, you know we’re good hands.

Summing up, what is it about your new season that makes an important contribution in helping to create social change in building a country that works for all?

I think it’s exactly what you said. We are after something that is bigger than a sold-out house; we’re reaching for a star, a north star, that is united in our vision, our mission, and our values. Putting the issues of our time, the pressing critical and social justice conversations about race and gender and war and community, in conversation through art — that’s what we do. And we do it in a way that centers audience first. We center the dialogue that our work creates. Our work is a catalyst to conversation. When I think about what Mosaic brings to the table, it’s that steadfast belief — not because it’s the thing of the moment, but because it’s who we are in our DNA. The unique magic of perfectly timed light cues and design, excellent dialogue, and brilliant acting combined with a story that centers our history and our humanity, not just as it was as it is, but as it could be, being shared with audiences that reflect the fullness of our community, every ward seeing themselves in one room. That is the new Mosaic magic and we’re ready.

Mosaic’s 2022/23 Season

Mosaic announces its next chapter with powerful 2022/23 lineup (news story)
Reginald L. Douglas on the next chapter at Mosaic Theater (interview by Ramona Harper)
‘The Till Trilogy’ at Mosaic Theater Company (John Stoltenberg’s column on concert readings of the three plays in summer 2018)

Mosaic Theater Company performs at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, H Street NE, Washington DC. To purchase season subscriptions and for more information about the season, visit mosaictheater.org.





Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here