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Rising Stars: Meet Transformation Theatre

Today we’d like to introduce you to Transformation Theatre. Them and their team share their story with us below:

Transformation Theatre was incorporated as a 501 (c)(3) on April 22, 2019. It was founded by Actor/Director/Producer/Professor, Carl Randolph along with Set Designer/Professor, Dr. Heidi Castle-Smith and Actor/Playwright, Craig Houk.

According to Carl Randolph, “I founded the company after working as an assistant director during grad school. An actor/friend said that he was so thrilled to finally be playing a leading role that was specifically written for a black man. This gave me pause and I realized that we needed to do more.

It is also my response to ‘color-blind’ and non-traditional casting practices. Rather than looking back and trying to alter or re-write history, I wanted to look at today and what theatre can do to create the future we want to see.” Thus, Transformation Theatre, Inc was born with a mission to find and tell new plays that tell stories by and for underrepresented people.

We want the stories to be specifically about underrepresented cultures and people as well as opening the theatre to an audience from those same communities. We also strive to cast authentically whenever possible. That can often be challenging, but it is well worth the challenge.

Transformation Theatre (TT) provides a collaboration venue with ‘up-and-coming’ and established theatre artists to focus on socially relevant original, unpublished plays, and adaptations celebrating underrepresented groups. TT typically promotes the works of playwrights in the DC/MD/VA region, however, playwrights throughout the country, as well as those outside the US may submit work for consideration.

Through the live productions of these playwrights’ work, TT strives to enhance and stimulate an understanding of ourselves and others.

We created a process by which we solicited for playwrights to submit their work for consideration. Our process begins by selecting the plays and then bringing on a director and a dramaturg to work with the playwright prior to the staged reading with professional actors.

We then hold a “talk back” after the reading to discuss the play, the performance, and the subject matter. After the reading, consideration will be given to the possibility of being produced as a full live production the following year.

Since that time, Craig has moved on to other adventures, however, Heidi and Carl continue to work towards growing the company and finding the new plays that need our process and that tell the stories that we feel will have the most impact on society. We were thrilled to bring on Kea McKoy as our Executive Director in September of 2020 and a strong board of directors that continues to grow.

During the pandemic, we needed to make a shift to online readings, and through this shift, we have grown a talent base from across the world, as well as a unique audience that may not have had the opportunity to see theatre, had we not been doing readings online.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
By the simple nature of the theatre industry, it has not been an easy road. Some of the complications or roadblocks have been challenging but sometimes rewarding.

The first challenge of a 501 (c)(3) arts organization is funding. The majority of grants do not become available until a company has three years of producing productions. This means that all funding at this point is provided by individual donors. We have been very fortunate to have some wonderful donors who have made our first two years possible.

Unfortunately, the donations raised have only been enough to meet the production costs of the shows and not the administrative fees. Thankfully, our team is devoted to our mission as we currently work as volunteers. In another year we will become eligible for grants and then be able to meet the needs of our staff.

Timing has been a huge issue. Since we began in 2019, we started with a few staged readings with the plan to produce one of those readings in 2020. Well, 2020 had very different plans with the pandemic. This became as much of a blessing as a curse as we moved our readings to an online/virtual presence.

This enabled us to continue to tell the stories that need to be told, but it also broadened our outreach. We have now worked with directors, dramaturgs, playwrights, and actors from across the globe, including South Korea, Bogotá Colombia, Canada, London, and across the US. Our audience has become global as well and has reached an audience that may not have otherwise seen theatre or the stories that represent their particular community.

Time management is certainly an issue for a small company. When we first requested new plays we received almost 200 submissions. We can only produce six per year so that becomes time-consuming. In our second year, we received 300 submissions! This forced us to be much more specific in the communities we were able to represent.

There are so many different communities that are underrepresented, that we decided we would give focus to six different communities each year. By creating a more specific focus for our season we were able to have more focused submissions for the 2022 season.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
Our mission is what really sets us apart. There are many theatres that have a portion of underrepresented voices that they try to support, but very few take on new plays and only new plays. We want to help playwrights at all stages of their careers to find their voice or deepen their perspectives. We strive to create artists’ teams that directly or indirectly reflect the community that is represented in the play.

So far we have only been able to produce readings of new plays and the majority have been online. Our plans are to continue to present the readings online and hopefully (funding pending) we will produce a full production of one or two of the plays in 2022 for which we have already produced readings.

The themes we have worked on have been and continue to be challenging and oftentimes triggering. Due to the sensitive topics, we have held roundtable discussions with the community the month prior to the play’s reading to discuss the issues the plays will tackle. We also provide whenever possible resources for our artistic team as well as the audience in case they or someone they know may be dealing with a similar situation.

Our plays so far have included;

  • The Last Catastrophist by David Valdes Greenwood directed by Jenny Male.
  • These Arms of Mine by Philip W. Hall directed by A. Lorraine Robinson
  • Chai by DC Cathro directed by Brian MacDonald
  • Disruptions of the Body Saros by Pharyne Stephney Gremore
  • The Dragonflies by Kayla Hambeck directed by Carl Randolph
  • American Divide by Maximillian Gill directed by Matt Ripa
  • Runtime Error by Elana Gartner directed by Carl Randolph
  • and coming up at the end of 2021
  • Welcome to Hell; Please Choose from the following Options by Janet Preus directed by Monique Holt
  • Four Women in Red by Laura Shamas directed by Jeanette Harrison

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Image Credits

Joe Grimshaw Designs

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