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The Essential Theatre's 35th Anniversay Logo

Down Stage Center

A Publication of The Essential Theatre

Vol: IX, Issue I - Edition: Special 35th Anniversary

In this Issue: Let the Celebration Begin!!! 

A Conversation in Five Acts with the Founder/Artistic Director…

Kliff's Notes

Caption: Pictured from L to R Actors Collaborator and Playwright Kerry Sandell as Lauren and Marci J. Duncan as Angela in Dissonance. Photo courtesy of Anthony Nolan Artists at Pla

Caption: Pictured from L to R Actors Collaborator and Playwright Kerry Sandell as Lauren and Marci J. Duncan as Angela in Dissonance. Photo courtesy of Anthony Nolan Artists at Play

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A Conversation in Five Acts!
Photo courtesy of Theatre Washington

A sit down chat with Founder/Artistic Director S. Robert Morgan on the who, what, when, where, why and how of a company in transition.


By Tarra Jenkins


DSC like the rest of the country was on Covid suspension. There was indeed a lot to talk about, but everyone in theatre was saying and thinking the same thing, “how do we get people back into the theatre?” And…we did miss our readers. But waat’ a comeback! It’s our 35th anniversary year. In celebration of this unique period in theatre history in Washington, DC and under our umbrella we thought it might be a great idea to give theatre of the past and the original dramatic five act form a nod by having a long awaited conversation with the company’s Founder/Artistic Director, S. Robert Morgan (SRM).


Act I


DSC: How and why did you begin a career in the arts?


SRM:I think it more or less chose me. I was always involved in the arts over time in one way or another. I participated in concert and Marching bands all the way into college. I participated or was more or less drafted by my grandmother into the ole’ church play and I also participated in some school plays. If I were not directly participating onstage I would be involved in the mix in a different way. I have to also say I found invitation when I attended my first professional production at the National Theatre In downtown DC. It was a production of “Annie.” As young as I was, I just remember my mom kept checking in by giving me the occasional glance to see if I was really enjoying it. I also remember that because my legs were not long enough to hang over the edge of the seat. I guess she knows now how much I really enjoyed it hmm?


DSC: Lets go back a little. So, you played an instrument? What did you play?


SRM: Officially the Tuba or Sousaphone. I initially begun with the trumpet and changed instruments each year from the 6th through about 9th grades.

DSC: It can't be ignored that you are blind and the Artistic Director. How does that work?


SRM: Well, it works pretty well because no one wants to do as much work as an Artistic Director. It is really hard hat work that often involves working late into the night and early mornings. I realize how to some uninformed people just having the title affixed to me is a huge contradiction. I cannot say that having had artistic successes has helped stave off doubters or changed minds. And I can’t deny that it is odd and just one of those rare occasions that is an encounter of a slightly different kind. So, you have to just enjoy the new adventure. I can promise anyone it is as good and fluid as any you’ve experienced and in many instances, depending on what kind of experiences you’ve had, ours might be better…as it is.


DSC: What is a typical day like for a blind actor/Artistic Director?


It is pretty similar. I do all of the things people do in a home. I cook, clean house and take out the trash. And cleanliness is especially important to me. I can’t stand a dirty, unorganized house and that’s important especially for the bathroom. That’s not to say things don’t get out-of-order because they do. But because I pretty much lead an active lifestyle, there’s a lot of grab and go. Things have to be organized or there can be a fashion mistake. And there have been some.


DSC: Pray thee?


SRM: Just the other morning I was on my way to the gym. It was early and one of those mornings where I went to bed at about 3 am. I rose at 5:30 to get dressed and get it out of the way. And something felt off but I guess I was too tired to realize I had my brand new sneakers on the wrong feet. (he laughs) I was so confident no one noticed although I never talk much to anyone while working out because my time in there is limited to 90 minutes.

DSC: Do you feel that people discriminate against you because of your...disability?


Of course, they do in some of the most passive-aggressive ways. I think the first thing individuals have to understand that people with special needs are differently abled. That mindset helps a lot.


DSC: What do you mean passive/aggressive?


SRM: As an example, when I fly, I am always alone and it never fails, I always get the question, “Are you by yourself?” and I just kind of look at them…on a good day. Another example, it is very obvious that I can walk. Despite my response to the standard solicited request for assistance from a sighted guide I always get someone who wants to role me through the airport in an unnecessary wheelchair. I always have to give a lecture on why I don’t need a wheelchair. Their response is always easier for them. I’m always wondering why it needs to be easy for them on my dime and them at work. And they still reach for a tip.


DSC: Why did you start The Essential Theatre?


SRM: I started this company because at the time there was a real need as there continues to be. Multi-facetted representation is critical. In this country its always a concept to have productions by and featuring people of color through appropriations. Being able to speak with some perspective has advantages. The question always comes up every ten years or so, Why is there not a thriving Black theatre in Washington, DC of all places? The answer from our own point of view is complicated, multi-layered and simple all at once. First we hat to define what’s thriving in a post-Covid environment. Second, we have to more closely examine why the age old question gets posed and the pop-up efforts that seem to seek to invisabilize’ the few organizations that do exist.


And DSC will address each of those in act II of A Conversation with the Artistic Director in Five Acts…

The AD at work

Caption: The AD at work. S. Robert Morgan directs a scene from People for

Whom the World Spins and Turns, by James J. Hsiao, MD.

Kliff's Notes

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