July 2019: A Night at the Gala: Ally Summer Intern Jayla Felder Guest Blog


Hey, it’s Jayla, kicking off our first blog post of the summer!

Have you ever attended an event with long drawn out presentations that rarely caught your attention? What about an event with no food? Better yet, have you ever attended an event that lacked drinks with unique and intriguing names that were irresistible to try? What about an event without eye catching decorations that are full of color and life? Perhaps, you didn’t attend Ally Theatre Company’s First Annual Fundraising Gala.

Well, as one of their summer interns I’d be delighted to give you some of the highlights of the night and, to be candid just to rub it in even more how much you missed out on a great evening! Ally Theatre Company’s First Annual Fundraising Gala at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center which had such beautiful architecture and character that definitely added to the evening was one for the books!

Prior to attending their event, I had never experienced such joy, welcoming energy, and just a warm atmosphere of people in a “work setting.’’ There wasn’t a single person in the room not engaging in conversation, viewing a silent auction piece, grabbing a few hors d’oeuvres or yummy cupcakes for those who had a bit of a sweet tooth, or partaking in drinks with names such as ‘’Holla Back,’’ or my personal favorite ‘’Prince George’s Finest H2O’’ as those who are in the 18 years and under club would understand!

The event was just full of laughter and love which was so appropriate for the launch of Ally Theatre Company’s First Annual Fundraising Gala. As someone who truly has a passion for theatre it was simply gratifying to be in a room amongst those who were interested in contributing to the world of theatre and supporting Ally Theatre Company. Some of the many highlights of the evening for me were viewing a film selection from Federica Cellini to preview her play Dhana and the Rosebuds, meeting Sarah Byrne and learning about the support and sense of community she has built in Hyattsville, MD through her blog Route One Fun, hearing from Matt Ripa who is directing The War Boys for Ally coming in August, and experiencing Jhonny Maldonado give the audience a sneak peek of what we’ll be seeing from The War Boys. Last but not least, Mayor Candice Hollingsworth, who little did she probably know, educated me on the history of Hyattsville and the ‘’Hyattsville Juneteenth Festival’’ and how this event gathered the community specifically African-Americans to honor the historical significance of this day.

There was so much I learned and had the opportunity to take away from that evening, but one highlight that truly impacted me and the word I’d say summed up the evening was community. Ty Hallmark and Tai Alexander, in addition to their small but mighty team that I had the pleasure of meeting and working with, possessed the meaning of community. The sense of community, whether it was all of us joining together to set up decorations and chairs before the event or just simply witnessing the devotion and passion everyone has for Ally and the Gateway Arts community and ensuring that everyone’s voices and stories were told in a genuine and authentic way, is what this event was really about for me. It was so much more than just great food, the finest H2O, and great conversation with attendees, although that was pretty great! It was about how people from different walks of life could join together for an evening of supporting, encouraging, and learning more about Ally Theatre Company. The community that was formed that evening at the Gala proved that when we each come together the impact and great strides we can make not only within theatre, but also in our communities is immense.

April 2019: Ally Theatre Company Receives 2019 John Aniello Award


Ally Theatre Company is thrilled to announce we will receive the 2019 John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company at this year's Helen Hayes Awards! The John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company is selected each year by the Emerging Theatre Committee of theatreWashington. Qualifying theatres must produce at least one show per year, with a minimum of nine performances each, for two consecutive years. In receiving this award, Ally joins a prestigious group of previous honorees such as The Welders, Taffety Punk, 1st Stage, Constellation Theatre, and Monumental Theatre Company.

Founding and Producing Artistic Director Ty Hallmark and Managing Director Ivana (Tai) Alexander said in a statement: “We are honored to be the 2019 recipient of the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company. This represents the recognition of our commitment to illuminating unheard voices and unseen spaces in our community and in our world. We are especially grateful to our wonderful partners at Joe's Movement Emporium for their constancy and support from day one. Our neighborhood community in Mount Rainier, the Gateway Arts District, and Hyattsville have welcomed and embraced our company, mission, and ethos. We look forward to working together as we spark urgent, meaningful, and thoughtful conversations through art and community service for years to come.”

This year's awards ceremony will take place Monday, May 13th at The Anthem, in Southwest DC's District Wharf. A celebratory party will follow the ceremony.
Tickets are on sale now and available to the public.

January 2019: The Head That Wears the Crown: Playwright's Note


This play came from a self realization that I had years ago, that I've always had a very hard time trusting other women and girls. My best friends are male, for the most part. While I have female friendships now, they did not generally come as comfortably as the male friendships. I wanted to write about what would happen if I extrapolated that mistrust to an extreme but realistic place. From there, I asked myself, "What was the worst possible thing a group of girls could do to one of their own?" and this was the seed of THE HEAD THAT WEARS THE CROWN.

This play lived in a digital drawer for a number of years while I focused on a different play that was getting a lot of attention. At director Megan Behm's request, I sent it to her to read and she pointed out that four years after it was originally drafted, the play's themes of coping with and surviving sexual assault were far more pointed in the heart of the #MeToo movement. Not long after, one of the producers for Ally went to see a production of one of my other plays. When her response was very supportive, I asked if she wanted to read another piece, sending THE HEAD THAT WEARS THE CROWN to her. Within 24 hours, she emailed back saying that she was only at the end of Act 1, but that we needed to look at Ally getting involved with the play. Nothing buoys a playwright more than the support of their fellow artists and knowing that this was a company that valued a female perspective and female story made it even more invigorating.

With more development and a Kennedy Center (with Ally Theatre Company) reading under our belt, Brett Kavanaugh was nominated for the Supreme Court and Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her story. I was hit with a sense of urgency. We were watching a woman's nightmare being played out before us: A smart, accomplished woman begin torn down for speaking out, holding her dignity and composure, while the accused man ranted and cried like a spoiled teenager. We needed this play in the world. In an uncharacteristic move, I wrote back to the Ally team, saying that I felt it was this play's time. Maybe it was for a production. Maybe it was for just a reading, or something educational. But the young women of the world need to be able to see themselves reflected.

I was thrilled to find they agreed and had a home in their season for this production. My hope is that audiences will walk away from this play, having experienced the story of a survivor, but also questioning the inner workings of female relationships. Women provide a support and understanding for each other that is one of a kind, but so often, we are pitted against each other. It starts from babyhood, as our individualism is stripped away and we're labeled cute and we're held up for being pretty. We compete for attention, jobs, men. And it doesn't have to be that way. I want audiences to use THE HEAD THAT WEARS THE CROWN as a jumping off point to begin conversations about all these things, so we can learn, move on, and do better for each other and ourselves.


Playwright Hope Villanueva hails from Central California, is a current resident of Washington, DC, with her first full production, THE VEILS, produced as part of the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival 2018. THE VEILS has previously received a number of staged reading presentations at conferences and festivals to include a reading at the Kennedy Center, an audio podcast recording, The Black and Latino Playwrights’ Conference 2016, at Texas State University, at the Discovery New Play Festival at Ball State University in and The Kitchen Dog New Play Festival in 2017. She directed and wrote/co-devised THE LITTLE CRANE AND THE LONG JOURNEY at the 2015 Capital Fringe Festival. She had the good fortune to spend several years living and working on the islands of Hawaii, inspiring PACIFIC, which was performed in a staged reading at the Next Act! New Play Summit in Schenectady, NY in 2013. Ms. Villanueva is a graduate of the Drama Department at University of California at Santa Barbara, completing the playwriting emphasis. Her final project for the degree was a musical called ROOFTOPS, which was selected for staging by the department and was fully produced the following year at Center Stage Theatre in Santa Barbara. While at UCSB, she had the additional tutelage of Paula Vogel, who shared a week with the playwrights as a guest artist. During her time in Hawaii, she had a short piece entitled TIDAL (formerly RENOVATIONS) included in Honolulu Theatre for Youth’s collaborative piece, WHERE DO THINGS GO? in 2011 and is being published by YouthPlays in 2018. At the end of that year, she began work on PACIFIC and was able to return to Honolulu Theatre for Youth in the summer of 2012 for a reading of PACIFIC. By day, Ms. Villanueva works in another realm of theatre as an AEA stage manager in DC, New York City and on tour. She continues to write, in hopes of helping people to look at the ordinary world from a new perspective and to experience emotion.

April 2018: #POOLPARTY: The History by playwright Jennifer Mendenhall


In 1974 a family was denied membership at a private, neighborhood swimming pool, all the members of which were white. The father reached out to the NAACP. They contacted the Department of Justice. Letters were exchanged, a lawsuit was hinted at, and membership requirements were changed. The family was offered membership, but declined, out of concern for the children’s safety.

In 2015 the president of the pool board discovered copies of those letters while sorting old papers, and this event was unearthed. He thought the pool community should acknowledge this part of their history, and invite the surviving family members to a ceremony to honor their father. A pavilion that had recently been built would be dedicated to him, with a plaque that bore his name and credited him with desegregating the pool.

The family came, and spoke about their experience. I was there. It was breathtaking. The atmosphere was charged with an awareness of the history of racism in America, and how it landed on a group of ordinary people, at a swimming pool.

It is impossible to grasp the depth of feeling, or the thoughts, of the family members who were there. One can only imagine. It is impossible to undo the damage done. But that gathering felt like a gleam of hope in the darkness. It felt like the beginning of a way forward, of truth and reconciliation, of acknowledgement, apology, and atonement, initiated and led by those whose work it is to change the course: the people who have allowed unjust systems that supposedly benefit them, and do so much damage to others, to continue.

Racism in America is vast, and pervasive, and entrenched in our thinking, our language, and our governmental system. It is institutionally encoded in a person’s access to housing, financial tools, education, environment, and opportunity of all kinds. In every arena, there are regulations and accepted norms which are rooted in racist thinking, designed to exclude, oppress, and deny. Racist thinking is pinned firmly in place by myths that obscure logic and compassion, and which are used to justify the accepted norms.

I asked for, and received, permission from the family to create a piece of theatre based, in part, on their story. I wanted others to experience that gathering. I wanted them to witness how deeply racist thinking hurts our fellow human beings, and to sense the powerful gifts of acknowledgement and apology. I wanted to understand why and how this had come to pass, in a pool community I had been a member of for twenty years.

As I set to work researching the reasons for the segregation of swimming pools, I found a wealth of information. I read Jeff Wiltse’s book, Contested Waters, which details the history of swimming pools in America from the late 1800s to today. I followed the court cases that shut down or allowed access to the water, and learned how the civil rights movement held swim ins at the Monson Motor Lodge in St Augustine, FL, in 1964, and wade ins in Biloxi, MS, 1959-1963, to protest regulations and laws governing pools and beaches. I found a thesis paper by Kevin Dawson about African swimmers and slave divers. I read about the court case that shut down the racial discrimination practiced by the YMCA in Montgomery, AL, in 1972. In Baltimore, a judge said that education was easier to desegregate than swimming pools, when talking about Brown v Board of Education (1955). Overwhelmingly, communities made the decision to shut down municipal pools rather than integrate them. Friends sent me articles and talked about their memories as children.

That summer, in 2015, was when the McKinney, Texas, pool party incident happened: suddenly, journalists and thinkers were writing about black people, swimming, the history of segregation, and the myths and racist thinking that people ascribed to. I researched the myths surrounding African Americans and swimming, and their fatal consequences: black children are more likely to die by drowning than any other ethnicity. Black Kids Swim is an organization that promotes swimming skills for children and adults of color: I got in touch with them and learned more about the reasons why many black people do not know how to swim, and why those people’s children are more likely not to be able to swim. I read about the tragic loss of six teenagers who drowned in the Red River in Shreveport LA in 2010, trying to save their cousin, with their parents standing helplessly on the bank.

In 2016, Simone Manuel, a black swimmer, won the gold medal at the Olympics. This unleashed a tsunami of articles about the significance of her win, about why swimming is seen as a white sport, about the cost of competitive swimming, about black hair and the history of hair treatment and care and expense and coconut oil and Vaseline and swim caps and good hair vs bad hair and how hair is political. And the weight on her young shoulders, being held up as a beacon, as an example, a refutation of four hundred years of racist thinking.

Wanting to better understand racist thinking, what it is and how it is employed, I read Dr Ibram Kendi’s book, Stamped From The Beginning. This is a brilliant book, because of its author’s clear eyed gaze, his steady, deep, and comprehensive examination of the reasons why and how and to what purpose racist thinking has been employed. Dr Kendi is newly arrived at American University, heading the Antiracist Research & Policy Center Department of History. This book was so helpful in organizing my research: every law governing access to the water was created by a person whose thinking and understanding of history was shaped by the beliefs to which their community ascribed, and the evolution of those beliefs can be tracked through the years.

​ And all this while, I was working to hone my skills as a brand new playwright. This is the first full length play I have written. Service to a mission has always galvanized my work as an actor: knowing that you are actively promoting a greater good helps to take the heat off and give you the courage to extend yourself. I called on my DC theatre community of thirty years for help. A playwright friend, Audrey Cefaly, invited me to a writers’ retreat, where the first five pages were written, and read aloud by my companions. I cannot say that I wrote them. I took dictation from the characters who were living in my mind. Gregg Henry and Gary Garrison at the Kennedy Center invited me to the Playwrights Intensives, a workshop where I had worked as a reader for fifteen years and now joined them as a playwright.

An invitation to the 2017 Page to Stage Festival followed. Woolly Mammoth agreed to sponsor me, as a company member. Jennifer L. Nelson directed the cast: Natalie Tucker, Jeremy Hunter, Reginald Richard, Heather Gibson, JJ Johnson, Keith Irby, Bill Newman, and Otis Ramsey-Zoe was the dramaturg. We presented the first forty five pages to an audience of over a hundred people, and the talk back from the audience was illuminating. They said, we want to know more about this history. They said, you reminded me that my uncle drowned when he was a child. They said, think about the fact that in the Caribbean, white people swim for recreation, and black people swim for work. I understood that there were two audiences: one who had lived the history, and one who had not. Everyone I spoke with, when they heard the subject matter of the play, told me a story about swimming pools. They told me about pools that had been filled in and grassed over. They told me about family history no one had told them about. They told me about learning that family members did not know how to swim. They wanted to know more.

​ And Ally Theatre said, we want to do this play. To which I replied, you can’t. It’s not even a script yet. And they said, it will be. We love the characters, we love the story, we love the writing. It will be fine. So this is our journey. A belief that by studying the narrow sliver of swimming pool history, we can face the broader issue of systemic racism, and comprehend how those children in our community, back in 1974, suffered the experience of being denied access to a pool, and why. I am honored to serve this family and their story. I am honored to create an opportunity for my theatre colleagues of color to tell it. And I am deeply grateful that Ally Theatre is committed to providing space for those voices to be heard.


Jennifer Mendenhall has been a DC actor, director, and vocal coach for 34 years. #poolparty is her first full length play, and it is the story that made her want to write for the stage. While working on #poolparty, she has written short pieces for Dominic D’Andrea’s One Minute Play Festival, Aubri O’Connor’s Nu Sass the Future is Female Festival and an upcoming bar crawl, and a reading directed by Natalia Gleason at Marymount University. She participated in the 2017 Playwrights Intensives, led by Gary Garrison, and presented an early version of #poolparty at the 2017 Page to Stage Festival, led by Gregg Henry. She is deeply grateful to the many people in the DC theatre community who have generously encouraged her, to her family for their tolerant support, and most especially to the Bowlding family, whose story inspired the play.

November 2017: Ally Celebrates it's First Birthday!


On November 1st, we marked our first birthday. It's been a remarkable year full of milestones including: finding a home at Joe's Movement Emporium, our first production and the regional premiere of The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington, and breaking attendance records with Clover. Next season promises to provoke even more of the dynamic and powerful conversations, we've come to expect from Ally Theatre Company.

Enjoy this look back at our first year with a sneak peek at what is to come!

Photography and video by Teresa Castracane, Angelisa Gillyard, Ryan Maxwell, and the Ally Theatre Company. Original Music by Roddy Rasti

September 2017: Director Angela Kay Pirko on the Opening of Clover


I love ghost stories. When I was a kid, I would read collections of spooky stories that would keep me up at night, waiting for the telltale creak that would mean a phantom was stalking its way towards me. In Scotland, I kept my poor parents awake all night in my absolute certain terror that the eyes of the photographs on the wall were moving. Ghost walks, haunted tours, local legends - I love them all, and the frisson they send up my spine.

​ This is a different kind of ghost story, more like a living memory. We see a woman reliving the life she lost, a life filled with the beauty and pain we all living beings go through. We watch a woman struggle with her demons, knowing something terrible is coming but not knowing how it could be averted. We are swept into her struggles and her world, where the literal embodiment of her depression haunts her steps, ever present and never acknowledged until too late.

Clover is a ghost story, and a love story, and a tragedy. But most of all, it's the story of an extraordinary woman who lived and breathed and died right here in our city. She lived a life that is in many ways not dissimilar to the lives we lead today, in the public whirl and private lives of this City of Conversation. It is a chance to get to know a bit of history through the eyes of someone who lived through it, and in turn we share her tragedy and triumph.

I hope you enjoy.

July 2017: Great Press for Think Before You Holla


“Think Before You Holla” expertly validates the experiences of those who have felt threatened while occupying public space and, without being preachy, addresses harassment as a legitimate problem. It is both artistically beautiful and powerful.
- The Washington Post

"With a stunningly talented and cohesive cast and direction by innovator Taylor Reynolds, Ally Theatre Company brings a zinger to Fringe"
- DC Metro Theater Arts

“As the women and my fellow collaborators were exchanging stories, it became this very therapeutic release,” says actress Jehan Young, who has been working on the piece with Reynolds for nine months. “And I think I realized that I had been sitting on resentment and anger and just feeling weak without even acknowledging it in my daily life. And just being able to give voice to that in a very safe space has been really healing.”
- an interview with DCist.com


May 2017: Doorway Arts Ensemble becomes Ally Theatre Company!


Matt Ripa, Producing Artistic Director and the Board of Directors are excited to announce that Doorway Arts Ensemble is joining forces with Ally Theatre Company under the Artistic Direction of Ty Hallmark. Ripa and Hallmark made the announcement at the closing performance of Ally Theatre Company’s production of The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington.

Doorway Arts Ensemble is dedicated to producing the work of local playwrights and this mission will continue with Ally Theatre Company. Mr. Ripa will continue as a board member of Ally Theatre Company and serve as an artistic ally and advisor. “In a market that is so saturated with theatre companies, I decided it was better to forge partnerships than to compete for audiences and Doorway could not find a better organization than Ally Theatre Company,” said Ripa.

Matt was an early advocate of Ty Hallmark’s vision and the company’s mission of “placing underrepresented populations at the front and center of our narratives and our organization and forming alliances with individuals and organizations who share a similar mission.” After speaking with the board of directors and with Ty and Tai Alexander (Managing Director, Ally Theatre Company) in September of 2016, Ripa started the process of uniting Doorway Arts Ensemble under the banner of Ally Theatre Company.

“We are delighted to forge this partnership with both Matt and Doorway Arts Ensemble,” says Hallmark, “As Ally moves from its nascent stages, grows and matures, we intend to honor and acknowledge Doorway’s long history of developing new work by local playwrights by instituting a development program of our own specifically focused on work created by artists residing in Prince George’s County. We hope these new works will be a centerpiece of future seasons and we are grateful to Doorway Arts Ensemble for the solid foundation on which to begin.”

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