A New Virago Theatre Rises
The relaunched troupe will continue to amplify marginalized voices.
Virago Theater gets a new start post Laura and Robert Lundy-Paine. Maggie Whitaker is the new artistic director and is relauching the theater company, promising to keep its experimental roots.
Photo by Matthew Evearitt courtesy Virago Theatre
Virago Theatre both is and isn’t a new theater company.
Founded in 2005, Virago’s previous incarnation was as an Alameda theater focused on developing new works, then run by Laura and Robert Lundy-Paine. When the two went their separate ways and decided to close up shop last year, Oakland costume designer Maggie Whitaker took over as artistic director and decided to relaunch the company, keeping the focus on new work but particularly design-driven and experimental work, especially by and about marginalized voices.
“I had been itching to have more creative control over the kind of work that I get to do, and rather than just always making work that other people decided I might be a good fit for, start making work for other people,” Whitaker said. “The same way that there are theater companies that are creative homes for writers and performers, where they feel like they have this really powerful sense of community, I am hoping that we can create a home that creates that feeling for designers, technicians, artisans, and that integrates their sense of community into the larger community that’s built automatically in a rehearsal space.”
Now the new Virago is cooking up its first new work with Passage by Oakland playwright Regina Evans, a coproduction with TheatreFIRST at Berkeley’s Live Oak Theatre. (Originally slated to premiere in February, the show was postponed until fall right before press time.)
“Slavery was very precise in its degradation and how it meted it out in sorrow,” Evans said. “And part of the precision was in the ripping apart of families. You put that much thought into something, then you know you have a very deep wounding. And so the story is about a young woman named Eliza Jo, and she’s what they call a runner. She would always run, trying to get away. But she’s running for her five family members, trying to find them. And in finding them, she finds herself and her own power.”
Like most of Evans’ work as a playwright and performer, Passage is informed by her work as an anti-trafficking activist and as a human trafficking survivor herself. Her vintage clothing boutique, Regina’s Door, also serves as sanctuary for survivors and an all-around community hub.
“A lot of it is based on my own healing and what I know about healing, what I would have wanted, what I was not afforded, and what I actually do for the young girls that come here,” Evans said.
Whitaker said she went to Evans and just said she wanted to work with her, whatever the project was. “I was just like, please, let me do something with you,” Whitaker said. “Everything about you is speaking to me. I followed my nose and my gut into this relationship with Regina, and I’ve talked to her into being on the board — not just a playwright and the flagship of a new direction for Virago, but also to be part of the driving force of the company itself.”
As for what’s next for Virago, well, they look forward to finding out.
“At no point do I see us producing work that isn’t advocating for a group whose voice doesn’t normally get heard,” Whitaker said, “whether that group is victims of sexual trafficking, people with neurological or physical differences, nonbinary communities, or communities of color. We’ll continue to advocate for those voices and amplify those voices and reinforce that those stories need to be heard.”