Pulitzer finalist gets Cleveland premiere at Dobama
Dobama Theatre will present the Cleveland premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-finalist “Dance Nation,” March 6–29.
In the play by Clare Barron, an army of preteen competitive dancers from Liverpool, Ohio, are plotting to take over the world. If their new routine is good enough, they’ll claw their way to the top at the Boogie Down Grand Prix in Tampa Bay.
Partly inspired by the reality-TV show “Dance Moms,” the play is about ambition, growing up, and how to be oneself in the heat of it all. It explores the exhilaration and terror of being a kid through the story of a group of 13-year-old dance troupe members, as portrayed by adult actors.
“I don’t remember exactly how I came to [the decision to cast adults,] only that it was always part of the play,” said Barron in an interview with Broadway Blog. “I think in part I was tired of the casting convention of hiring petite 25-year-olds to play 13, 15, etc. Thirteen-year-olds are very different than 15-year-olds. . . . I was more interested in people of all ages who had the creature spirit of a 13-year-old than people in their 20s. And I was interested in how those people and their bodies moved regardless of any virtuosic talent.”
The theme of ‘creature spirit’ carries through “Dance Nation,” which focuses on the animal side of adolescent girlhood. With adults embodying each dancer, the audience is able to see both the adults these teens will become, and how their teen selves carry over into adulthood. The dancers are confronted with their own changing bodies, budding sexuality, competition, and violence. Through it all, they are a community of women figuring out what it means to raise their voices—an overarching theme in all of Barron’s work.
“I’d say that for me writing is all about fighting repression and saying things out loud that you feel in private but are too ashamed to admit,” explained Barron. The playwright’s own sense of imposter syndrome, which followed the success of her first play, “You Got Older,” inspired her to write “Dance Nation.” “In a way this play and all my plays are about letting something out,” Barron said. “As a writer, the tricky part is knowing when that purge is life-affirming and when it’s destructive.”
Barron is a playwright and performer from Wenatchee, Wa. In addition to being a Pulitzer Prize finalist, “Dance Nation” received the 2017 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and The Relentless Award, established in honor of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Barron is the recipient of a Whiting Award for Drama, the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award at The Vineyard, and the Page 73 Fellowship.
Dobama’s production of “Dance Nation” is directed by Shannon Sindelar, and features Wes Allen, DeLee Cooper, Carolyn Demanelis, Sidney Edwards, Avani Hamilton, Anne McEvoy, Mariama Whyte, Tom Woodward and Calista Zajac.
Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $32 to $38; senior, student and military discounts are available.
In an effort to remove economic barriers and make Dobama’s performances accessible to everyone, the first Sunday of every production is a 7:30 p.m. pay-as-you-can performance. For “Dance Nation,” that performance is March 8.
For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit www.dobama.org, or call the box office at 216-932-3396.
Colin Anderson is the general manager of Dobama Theatre and a graduate of Oberlin College. His training is in directing and dramatic literature.