COURTESY DEPT OF PERFORMING ARTS
COURTESY DEPT OF PERFORMING ARTS

This coming Saturday, March 26, marks what would have been playwright Tennessee Williams’ 100th birthday.

Williams’ legacy will be his contributions to the evolution of realism into expressionism. Through the efforts of over 200 students and professionals, and the collaboration between the Georgetown Theater and Performance Studies Program, the American Studies department, the Arena Stage and the Mead Center for American Theater, Artistic Director professor Derek Goldman will be able to witness his vision, two years in the making, come to fruition.

The Tenn Cent Festival officially opened on Thursday with an event titled, “An Onstage Conversation with Edward Albee,” a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning American playwright. This event took the form of a conversation, directed by Susan Stamberg, intertwined with performances curated by Edward Albee. Following this event, there was a reception and a performance of “The Glass Menagerie,” Williams’ first Broadway hit. The play has been running since Feb. 24, and will show for the last time this Saturday, March 26, throughout the day and Sunday, March 27 at 1:30 p.m.   Events will include readings of some of the works of Tennessee Williams, panel discussions focused on his work and different aspects of society and, of course, performances of his original plays.

The Tenn Cent Fest will have about 30 total events featuring students, professors and other non-Georgetown professionals. Moreover, a wide array of the works of Tennessee Williams will be spotlighted, giving festival attendees a very thorough look into the mind of one of the greatest American playwrights.

As described by Goldman, Tennessee Williams was the “American Shakespeare in terms of the particular power of the work, the sort of poetic sensitivity of the work, the elevated language in the work and great storytelling.” As an artist, Williams soaked everything in his own personal experiences to compose works like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “The Glass Menagerie” and “Camino Real.” For instance, Williams’ sister and closest family member Rose suffered from a botched lobotomy, and, after this experience, Williams was never the same. As a result, themes of madness and lobotomy are found throughout his works.

As a homosexual playwright during a time when intolerance was common, Williams understood what it meant to be an outsider. As a result, he knew how to create worlds where castaways could find refuge. “‘Camino Real’ really creates this world, this weigh station, for desperate souls to go to, and I think it’s a beautiful and complicated play,” Goldman said. Professor Maya E. Roth, who will be participating in the festival by leading panel discussions and putting on the play “Suddenly, Last Summer” said, “his plays engaged homosexual themes sometimes in veiled ways, sometimes in explicit ways. My play is one of those — more explicit.”

Tennessee Williams is also recognized as one of the first well-known playwrights to focus on and include women in his plays. This may be a result of his close relationship with his sister Rose. To highlight this aspect of Williams’ work and personality, the Tenn Cent Fest will have a panel entitled “Women in Williams” as well as a performance of “Elegy for Rose,” a student project that grew from the Tennessee Williams class offered last semester. Moderated by Roth, the “Women in Williams” event will feature D.C. actresses Sarah Marshall and Kim Schraf.

Other famous faces that will be participating in the festival include Tony Award nominee Michael Kahn, the artistic director for Shakespeare Theatre who has previously done a lot of work on Williams’ plays.

Filmmaker and writer John Waters (“Pink Flamingo” and “Hairspray”) and American playwright and Obie Award — the Off-Broadway Theater Awards given by The Village Voice — winner Christopher Durang will also be participating in the festival. Durang will be sharing experts from his comical parody about Williams, “Desire, Desire, Desire.” Waters will put on a one-man act entitled “This Filthy World,” highlighting topics such as pedophilia, drug use and gay marriage. “He feels directly influenced [by Williams] as a queer artist,” Roth said, explaining Waters’ involvement with the festival.

With so many international festivals celebrating Tennessee Williams, what makes the Georgetown University Tenn Cent Fest stand apart from the rest? Outside of the large-scale nature of this festival, Roth believes there are several unique factors. One outstanding characteristic she pointed out in particular was the fact that Goldman was able to gain rights and access to parts of Tennessee Williams’ estate that had never been released before.

The depth of student involvement is also a noteworthy characteristic of the Hilltop’s festival. Additionally, a class on Tennessee Williams was offered here in the fall semester. As a result, many of the students are quite familiar with the works, adding to their ability to carry out all of the events in a way that truly celebrates the legacy of Tennessee Williams.

Goldman and his colleagues have worked hard to put together an event that fully conveys the importance of Tennessee Williams’ works in American culture. “We can’t pull something like this off every few months, but when we put our minds and our hearts to it, we can really pull together something very extraordinary,” Goldman said. Because Williams’ thematic content included familial life, women’s issues, homosexuality and many other politically charged issues, there will be something for everyone at the Tenn Cent Fest. If you haven’t had the opportunity to experience the Davis Performing Arts Center, this festival is a great chance to see the talent found within the Georgetown community. To find out more about the Tenn Cent Festival, visit the Georgetown University Performing Arts website.

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