Directed by Angelisa Gillyard
June 23 - July 15 2019
Performances Friday-Sunday | Friday & Saturday @ 8PM | Saturdays @ 2:30PM | Sundays @ 4:00PM

A young competitive swimmer is drowning in the shocking videos flooding her news feed. A beloved figure surfaces from the past to set the stage for his family’s story. Siblings share long-buried memories and honor their father’s courage in the face of discrimination. And the surprising truth of the doggy paddle is revealed...

#poolparty sheds light on an unexpected invitation that launches the family into motion: the discovery of historical documents at a private swim club leads to a reckoning with the past. Ally Theatre Company dives into the strange history of swimming pools and confronts the gates that still slam shut today. Six actors evoke a host of vivid characters, swirling around the family at the heart of #poolparty. In a myth-busting demonstration of the fallacy of race, they flip from role to role – across type, time, and space – exposing the fatal consequences of racial prejudice:

How can you breathe when your head is always under water?
Recommended for ages 13 and up.


Angelisa Gillyard (Director) is a director, choreographer, and photographer in Washington, DC. Most recently she directed several plays for the 2018 New Play Festival (Young Playwrights’ Theater) and choreographed Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Arena Players). Angelisa has also directed readings and productions for Arena Stage, In Series, Studio Theatre, University of Maryland, Young Playwrights’ Theater and Freshh Theatre Inc., among others. She has been an assistant director at Signature Theatre, Center Stage Theatre, Constellation Theatre Company, and Studio Theatre.

In addition, Angelisa choreographed Clover and The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington (Ally Theatre Company). Her choreography for Abduction from the Seraglio (In Series), was recognized as one of the “Best of 2013” by DC Metro Theatre Arts. Other productions she has choreographed for local high schools and colleges include Footloose, Ain’t Misbehavin', Once on This Island, The Wiz, Purlie, Dreamgirls, and Bubbling Brown Sugar.

As a photographer, Angelisa specializes in photographing live performances and special events. Her photos can be seen in numerous publications including the Washington Post, DC Metro Theatre Arts, DC Theatre Scene and The Washington Times.

Lori Pitts
as Roya
  Ivana (Tai) Alexander
as Regina
  Keith E. Irby
as Ray Waters Sr.
  Shaq Stewart
as Ro
Tony / Bobby
Chorus / Actor 4
  Jonathan Miot
as Ricky
Actor 5/Chorus
as Ray Jr.
Actor 2/Chorus

production staff
ty Hallmark
  Katie Keddell
Assistant Dramaturg
  Lenora Inez Brown
  Keta Newborn
Stage Manager
Asia-Anansi McCallum
Costume Designer
  Jimmy Stubs
Set Designer
  ALEX DAvis
Lighting Designer
  Hope Villanueva
Projections Designer
Kevin Alexander - Sound Design; Kelley Rowan - Set Painter; Hannah Harold - Wardrobe Assistant
Set Construction by Steve Cosby and Renegade Productions

A Note from the Playwright

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..

JUNE 23 - JULY 15
Thursday, Friday and Saturday @ 8PM
Saturday matinees @ 2PM and Sunday matinees @ 4PM
$25 General Admission
$15 Students and Veterans

3309 Bunker Hill Road
Mount Rainier, MD 20712

Friday, June 22nd @ 8PM

​Monday, July 9th @ 8PM



Sara Cormeny and Pete Miller, Roddy Rasti, Rachel Cooke,
Craig Pascal and Victor Shargai


Ally Theatre brings audiences into the conversation -- world premiere plays with local playwrights and artists, community discussions around timely issues in our society -- and we are proud of the impact we are already making here.

Please join us after the show! We'll keep the bar open, serve up our specialty themed cocktails, and create a safe space to navigate these sometimes difficult conversations.

The Producer and Playwright wish to thank and acknowledge the following individuals and organizations who encouraged, inspired, helped and participated in all the various stages of #poolparty's development. This production would not be possible without the support of:

The Bowlding family, D. J. Nolan and the Prince George’s Swimming Pool, Black Kids Swim and Ebony Rosemond,
Joe's Movement Emporium, Brooke Kidd and Neena Narayanan, Dawn Ursula, Jefferson Russell, Craig Wallace,
KenYatta Rogers, Paige Hernandez-Funn, Michael Anthony Williams, Doug Brown, Howard Shalwitz and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Matt Ripa and Catholic University, Kirsten Bowen, Sara Cormeny, Wyckham Avery,
Dean Leong, Roddy Rasti, Rachel Cooke, Craig Pascal and Victor Shargai, Valerie Fenton, ​Katie Keddell, Chris Niebling, Jon Jon Johnson, Audrey Cefaly, Teresa Castracane, Mike Bevel, Jeffrey Hearn, Paul Hood, Susan McCully, Liz Maestri,
Bob Bartlett, Allyson Currin, D. W. Gregory, Doug Robinson, TheatreWashington, Amy Austin and Michael Kyrioglou,
Karen Lange, Heather Whitpan, Aubri O'Connor and Charlene Smith, Michael Kramer, Henry Kramer, Viv Kramer

#poolparty received a first public reading at the 2017 Kennedy Center Page-to-Stage Festival.
We thank and acknowledge these originators and trailblazers:

Gregg Henry, Gary Garrison, Patrick McKee, Jennifer L. Nelson, Otis Ramsey-Zoe, Jeremy Keith Hunter, J. J. Johnson,
Natalie Graves Tucker, Keith Irby, Heather Gibson, Bill Newman, Reginald Richard

    Across the nation and through the years, everyone has a pool story.
To coincide with Ally's production of #poolparty, we've asked our friend Doug Robinson to help us collect pool stories within the Washington D.C. area and nationwide. Like our company mission, our aim in building this public archive is to confront and acknowledge our shared history with the hope that through better understanding we might begin to shift the balance toward a more equal (and fun!) experience - at the pool and beyond. So tell us .. what's your #poolstory?

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