Avant Bard and Longacre Lea to co-produce Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’

Joint venture will blend innovative approach to the classics with intellectually adventurous artistic vision.

Avant Bard Theatre and Longacre Lea have started rehearsals for their co-production of William Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy, Coriolanus. This co-production promises to bring a fresh perspective to the classic play, blending Avant Bard’s innovative approach to the classics with Longacre Lea’s intellectually adventurous artistic vision.

“Avant Bard Theatre and Longacre Lea share a commitment to pushing artistic boundaries and engaging audiences with thought-provoking productions. This collaboration brings together the best of both theaters, promising a dynamic and unforgettable rendition of Coriolanus,” said Alyssa Sanders, Avant Bard Producing Partner.

The addition in August 2023 of Longacre Lea Artistic Director Kathleen Akerley to Avant Bard’s leadership team is a testament to this shared commitment. Akerley adapted and directed Julius Caesar for Avant Bard last season. Soon after joining Avant Bard, Akerley proposed the idea of a co-production. Both companies found the idea to be a win-win, not only because of their shared artistic commitment but also because it made financial sense during a time when budgets are shrinking due to the decline in funding for the nonprofit performing arts sector.

“It’s been nearly six years since Longacre Lea was involved in a full production, but all of the leadership are here in this co-production: Séamus [Miller] as Adaptor/Director and Video Designer, Solomon [HaileSelassie] as Lighting Designer and Stage Manager, and me as Co-Producer and Standby Dogsbody,” shared Akerley. “We’ve also got company member Tom Carman on Sound Design. I can’t speak for them, but I will acknowledge feeling rusty, feeling the pressure created by new roles, and feeling the hesitancy to treat theater production in 2024 as business-as-usual, but it certainly helps me get started to have the artists at Avant Bard to co-produce with.”

Séamus Miller’s adaptation of Coriolanus uses violent video games as a metaphor for the creation, manipulation, and destruction of the protagonist. “I think this is Shakespeare’s most American play, possibly his most misunderstood play, and certainly his most misunderstood protagonist,” Miller said. “We’re re-examining the character from a trauma-informed lens; how sending him into combat as a child and celebrating his brutality has rendered him unable to behave in a prosocial environment, and how those around him share responsibility for his dysfunction. We’re using video game elements to create a layer of alienation between Coriolanus and the other characters—as well as the audience—and to explore Coriolanus’ experience of flashbacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

Returning to Avant Bard’s stage as the title character is local DC-area actor James Finley. “I’m very excited to return to Avant Bard (and debut with Longacre Lea!) to tackle one of Shakespeare’s most visceral tragedies,” shared Finley. “Coriolanus is a man shaped by and capable of incredible violence, but also unscrupulous honesty and integrity. I’m looking forward to exploring how those traits, at first prized by his community while he’s away, become a liability as he attempts to live and lead within it.”

In addition, the cast of Coriolanus includes Kim Gilbert playing Volumnia and Eric Hissom as Menenius. Both local DC-area actors are renowned for their versatility and impressive repertoire.

Coriolanus plays February 29 through March 23, 2024, presented by Avant Bard Theatre and Longacre Lea performing at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA. Pay-what-you-can previews are February 29, March 1, and March 2. The press/opening matinee is Sunday, March 3. Purchase tickets online.

Note: As part of a commitment to making theater open to all, Avant Bard offers pay-what-you-can tickets for all previews as well as Saturday matinees, complimentary tickets to all Arlington middle and high school students and half-price tickets for their parents/guardians, and, for Coriolanus, offers two “Mask Required” performances: Saturday, March 16, 2 pm and 7:30 pm.

Avant Bard Theatre produces thought-provoking theater. Avant Bard dedicates itself to productions of classic works—both time-tested and contemporary—that take provocative, bold approaches in intimate settings. Since 1990, Avant Bard has delivered high-quality, diverse, and accessible arts to the Washington, DC, region. Avant Bard is committed to talent development, equity, inclusion, and programmatic excellence.


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