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Moxie Theatre Celebrates 15th Season With ‘Dance Nation’

Clare Barron’s play looks to tweeners at a dance competition

Photo credit: Moxie Theatre

Moxie Theatre stages Clare Barron's play "Dance Nation" as part of its 15th anniversary season.

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Moxie Theatre is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, and this weekend it is opening a new play by Clare Barron called “Dance Nation.”

Aired: August 16, 2019 | Transcript

Companion viewing

"Donnie Darko" (2001)

"Mad Hot Ballroom" (2005)

"Little Miss Sunshine" (2006)

Moxie Theatre is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and this weekend it is opening a new play by Clare Barron called “Dance Nation.”

Moxie’s mission is to create more diverse and honest images of women for our culture. The primary way it does this is by staging works by female playwrights because by focusing on women's work it reveals what issues and stories women want to explore. Not only are the stories diverse but so too are the styles and tones of the plays. Some are outrageous, some are sweet and others might be deliberately vulgar.

Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

“Dance Nation” is Moxie’s latest production. It tells the story of a competitive dance team of 12- and 13-year-old girls and one boy from Liverpool, Ohio and they are climbing their way to the Nationals competition.

That description made me think of “Donnie Darko” and the Sparkle Motion girls but playwright Barron draws more directly from the reality TV show “Dance Moms.”

Jennifer Eve Thorn is Moxie’s artistic director and she is also directing “Dance Nation.”

“It's Moxie’s 15th anniversary season and this play was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Clare Barron is an Obie award-winning playwright and this play, while it sounds really fun and is really fun, is an incredibly powerful exploration of women's voices,” Thorn said. “It felt like the best way for us to celebrate such an important anniversary.”

The dance competition provides the backdrop for the story but Barron’s interest is in exploring ideas about success, ambition, and desire from a female perspective. But Barron included some intriguing instructions for anyone putting on the play.

“One of my favorite things that she requests is that all the 12 and 13-year-old dancers are played by adult actors,” Thorn explained. “So our cast ranges in age from their 20s to their 60s. And I think that she does that because it's sort of hard when you are 12 and 13 to have perspective about this horrible and powerful age, and something about the distance that these actors have from that age really gives us the chance to feel what it's like to be that age again.”

Barron also suggests using actors who are not dancers even though the play requires quite a bit of dance. Thorn said this provides some fun because the actors have to learn to dance for the play but there’s another reason this is a smart choice.

“Clare Barron is playing with surrealism,” Thorn said. “She's also allowing the audience to see the present and the future selves of these characters at some times. She sort of blurs those lines and the actors will step out of their teenage pre-teen self and speak to the audience as their adult self and comment on what it felt like at that moment, and what they remember and we're able to do that because of the age of the cast.”

Thorn said she was also drawn to the play because her own daughter is that age and she remembers how challenging that time of life can be.

“I myself feel like 12- and 13-years-old for me was just a train wreck,” Thorn stated. “It was horrible. But then at the same time, I feel like that was also sort of the dawning of something really powerful that I'm only now picking up on and begun to understand.”

Thorn jokes that Moxie is “San Diego's finest strip mall theater.” The theater is located on El Cajon Boulevard in a strip mall alongside a smoke shop, dentist and H&R Block. But there is a serious reason why they are proud of their location: the lower costs mean that they can keep ticket prices affordable.

“Dance Nation” begins preview performances on Saturday and runs through Sept. 15.

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