LA JOLLA — The La Jolla Playhouse and the American National Theatre of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington announced Thursday that they will trade productions this summer in a project involving two of the country's most innovative directors.
In a project estimated to cost $350,000 and funded by AT&T, the world premiere production of the musical "Shout Up a Morning," about the legendary "steel-driving man," John Henry, will transfer to the Kennedy Center in Washington from the playhouse in exchange for a modern adaptation of Sophocles' tragedy "Ajax."
"The La Jolla Playhouse was chosen because it is one of our nation's finest performing arts companies, and it deserves national recognition," William Clossey, AT&T's vice president for Southern California operations, said in a prepared statement.
The firm will not fund operating or production costs of the two shows. Instead, it will reimburse the Kennedy Center for any deficit incurred in the cost of transferring the two plays.
"In a few short years, the La Jolla Playhouse has established itself as a standard-bearer for the new generation," said Roger Stevens, chairman of the Kennedy Center, who was also here for a morning press conference.
"Ajax," which opens June 7 at the Kennedy Center, will be staged by the American National Theatre's iconoclastic artistic director, Peter Sellars. Adapted by Robert Auletta, "Ajax" is set in front of the Pentagon after a U.S. victory in a Latin American War. It will open in La Jolla Aug. 3.
"Shout Up a Morning," with music by the late Julian (Cannonball) Adderley and his brother Nathaniel, will be directed by the playhouse's artistic director, Des McAnuff. It runs June 1 through 28 in La Jolla before opening July 15 in Washington.
AT&T will support the two productions with a major advertising campaign. Sellars called such support from a corporation unique.
"What non-commercial theater in America can afford a television commercial?" Sellars asked. "Ajax" will mark a return to the playhouse for Sellars, who opened it in 1983 with his avant-garde staging of "The Visions of Simone Machard."
"We look forward to having him turn the playhouse on its ear again with 'Ajax,' " McAnuff said.
The exchange of plays is part of the AT&T Performing Arts Festival at the Kennedy Center, a program begun in 1985. AT&T funded four plays that were presented by two Chicago theaters at the Kennedy Center last summer. They were "Streamers" and "Coyote Ugly" by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and "In the Belly of the Beast" and "Kabuki Medea" by Wisdom Bridge.
Earlier this year, the festival sponsored a visit to the Kennedy Center by the Houston Ballet.