It was time to get off 14th Street, says Serge Seiden explaining why after 25 years at Studio Theatre, he left his position as the company’s producing director in August.
“I really needed a change and a new challenge,” he says. “That meant going somewhere else.”
The out director has found that challenge at Mosaic Theater Company, the new company where he recently took on the role of managing director and producer. Helmed by Artistic Director Ari Roth (formerly of Theatre J) and located at Atlas Performing Arts Center on 12th Street, N.E., Mosaic is dedicated to making socially relevant art.
Mosaic’s mission can be described in four watch words, Seiden says. Intercultural – they’re deliberately inclusive. This majority of this season’s roles are for African-American actors. Independent — they make their own money and aren’t beholden to any other organization. Entertaining — though they’ll be producing important works of relevance, it won’t be too heavy. And uncensored — they’re willing to take on all topics.
“My son is biracial so the intercultural part of Mosaic’s mission particularly appeals to me personally,” says Seiden, 52. “I like the idea of trying to make change through theater and I like working with our diverse board members and fund raising which is the managing director component of my job, something I didn’t do at Studio. Mosaic poses new challenges and that’s what I was looking for. It’s the right thing to do.”
The company’s inaugural season opens this week with the world premiere of Jay O. Sanders’ “Unexplored Interior (This is Rwanda: the Beginning and End of the Earth),” the story of a young filmmaker who returns to his native Rwanda to uncover the horrors of his family’s violent demise. It’s staged by Derek Goldman.
January through April, Mosaic presents its “Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival: the War Come Home.” Included in the four productions is “I Shall Not Hate,” a one-man show based on the inspiring international best-selling memoir by Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian doctor whose young daughters were killed when an Israeli bomb hit their home during Operation Cast Lead.
Seiden is slated to direct Mosaic’s May production of Cori Thomas’ offbeat urban comedy “When January Feels Like Summer.”
Though no longer on staff at Studio, Seiden hasn’t broken all ties with the esteemed company. Studio’s current offering — the final two installments of Richard Nelson’s four-part “Apple Family Cycle” now running in repertory — is directed by Seiden. Titled “Sorry” and “Regular Singing,” they continue the examination of an American family’s highs and lows played out against a changing America.
Though busy at Mosaic, Seiden was eager to complete Nelson’s cycle (he also directed the first two installments). He cites the opportunity to work with a stellar cast which includes Rick Foucheux, Ted van Griethuysen, Kimberly Schraf, Jeremy Web, Elizabeth Pierotti, and out actor Sarah Marshall as a major incentive.
“When you have a cast of this caliber you can work in a deeper way than you’re ordinarily allowed,” he says. “You don’t have to tell them how to do scenes. They know that already. Instead, you’re mostly keeping the room creative and steering the course.”
Set in the family dining room with lots of real food on hand, the plays are steeped realism, a style at which Seiden excels.
“It’s harder than people think,” he says. “What’s not spoken is what’s important. As opposed to plays by Shakespeare where the text is primary, here the audience has to pick up on things that are revealed by other means — the blocking, the business and the looks. A lot of intricate staging is required to pull out what’s underneath.”
Seiden brings a wealth of experience and talent to Mosaic. Over the years at Studio, he advanced from positions as stage manager and literary manager to the role of producing director. He directed 35 productions including “In the Red and Brown Water,” “Souvenir,” “Old Wicked Songs,” “Superior Donuts,” “The Golden Dragon,” “Grey Gardens,” “The Motherfucker With the Hat” and “Bad Jews.” He won a Helen Hayes Award for outstanding director for the musical “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” at MetroStage.
While Seiden is grateful to have learned his craft at Studio, he’s invigorated by his new experience at Mosaic.
“I’m excited to be on the ground floor of a new company and I’m enjoying the diversity and vibrancy of Mosaic’s H Street location. It’s a lot like being on 14th Street 15 years ago.”