Today, I caught up with Daniella Topol, the Artistic Director of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater since 2016. Daniella is a powerhouse in the not-for-profit theater world, and GVSHP is very proud to be amongst her friends!
Founded in 1994 by Gary Bonasorte and Davis van Asselt, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater is an Obie-Award winning theater that has developed and produced over one hundred world premieres. Rattlestick’s mission is to present diverse, challenging, and provocative plays that might not otherwise be produced, and to foster the future voices of the American theater. And Rattlestick, my dear friends, is right in the heart of the Village, creating and innovating right here in our midst.
They have produced an astonishing number of the first plays and seminal works of some of the country’s leading contemporary theatrical voices, including Annie Baker (The Aliens), Sheila Callaghan (That Pretty, Pretty), Jesse Eisenberg (The Revisionist), Samuel D. Hunter (The Few, Lewiston and Clarkston), Craig Lucas (Ode to Joy), Martyna Majok (Ironbound), Diana Oh’s (mylingerieplay), Dael Orlandersmith (Until the Flood), Adam Rapp (The Hallway Trilogy), Daniel Talbott (Slipping), Lucy Thurber (The Hilltown Plays), Jonathan Tolins (Buyer and Cellar) and Craig Wright (The Pavilion).
Daniella had some big shoes to fill when she was hired to take the reins in the spring of 2016. Initially attracted to RPT because of its well-earned reputation as a force in American theater, she was deeply inspired by the adventurous and unflinching aesthetic and mission of Rattlestick when working there as the director of Charles Ives Take Me Home by Jessica Dickey. In Daniella’s words, “Rattlestick truly offered me, the playwright, and the actors, the artistic space and freedom to go out on a limb.” She experienced the mission of the theater first-hand, and liked what she was a part of.
Now, after three years at the helm, Daniella is awed and moved by how many diverse stories are told at Rattlestick. “Dynamic theater can be a vehicle for gathering as a community,” says Topol. Under her leadership, Rattlestick continues to further plumb the depths of theatrical possibility. Their upcoming spring offering is Lockdown by Cori Thomas, presented in partnership with the Fortune Society. Lockdown presents a milestone in the development of Rattlestick: it is the very first fully produced play that they have actually commissioned for the theater itself.
Lockdown tells the story of a writer who agrees to help a longtime inmate craft his parole statement. Their growing bond forms the heart of the play, an intimate and powerful look at the impact of long-term incarceration. Inspired by playwright Cori Thomas’s work at San Quentin State Prison, Lockdown explores the magical possibilities for transformation through human connection.
Rattlestick is working with the Fortune Society to host a series of post-show conversations after every performance. They have, together with the Fortune Society, designed an in-depth post-show series along with others of their community partners.
Which brings me to another unique aspect of the mission of Rattlestick, which is especially close to my heart and is so closely aligned with the mission of GVSHP. Under the direction of Daniella, Rattlestick has made a deep investment in and commitment to making theater that is relevant to our immediate communities in the West Village, which subsequently resonate on a larger, universal level. I first encountered the new mission back in the fall of 2016 when, out of the blue, I was invited to take part in an immersive piece Rattlestick was producing called Storytelling Through the Village. It was a memory piece written by Cusi Cram, with art direction by Neil Goldberg and music by Scott Johnson. I was astonished by how powerful and relevant the piece was and how it was a true love story to the Village itself. I could not wait to speak with the artistic team again to explore the possibilities of the intersection between preservation and theater.
And thus began a partnership! GVSHP is honored to be a partner on St. Vincent’s Project: Novenas for a Lost Hospital, written by long-time Villager and playwright Cusi Cram, and starring another long-time Villager, Kathleen Chalfant (Angels in America, Wit). Saint Vincent’s Project: Novenas for a Lost Hospital is inspired by those who dedicated their lives to care and those who were lost. Guided by the character of St. Elizabeth Seton of the Sisters of Charity (played by Chalfant), the piece theatrically explores the 161-year history of the hospital. It uses theater as a vehicle to remember, to honor, and to celebrate the life and impact of St. Vincent’s Hospital.
The project was produced as a workshop at Rattlestick in the summer of 2018. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the cry for more was heard. St. Vincent’s Project is slated for a full production in September of 2019 and will be the second full production of a play originally commissioned by Rattlestick.
People often ask “Why the name Rattlestick?” I take the answer straight from part of their mission statement because it sums it up so beautifully: “Rattles are an instrument that reminds us to wake up and come together as a community. They unite all ages, race, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and families together in celebration. A rattle stick is an instrument used by many Native American/Indigenous Nations. We acknowledge our theater is on the traditional land of the Lenape Nation People in Manahatta (Island of Many Hills) or Manhattan.”
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater defies all who would ring the death knell for flourishing arts in the Village. It is truly the little theater that can!