Policy at the Playhouse

Photo credit: Kristen Hammack, Scenic Design by David F. Weiner

Policy at the Playhouse as a project, began with USC Bedrosian Center in 2015 as we recognized that conversations about governance take place in many different fora and are voiced by many different communities. The project has grown over the years and is now a partnership between the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy (programmatic leadership from USC Bedrosian) and the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

Beginning in 2017, in addition to the performance talkbacks, we will be discussing the plays further on the Policy at the Playhouse Podcast: Listen here.



Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater
Written by Anna Ziegler
Directed by Tyne Rafaeli
Featuring Jerry MacKinnon & Samantha Ressler
Co-World Premiere with Williamstown Theatre Festival

“Gripping… a beautifully acted character study destined to trigger discussion.” – Los Angeles Times
“Richly layered… it is not to be missed.” – Theatermania
“The nakedness with which Samantha Ressler tackles a couple of Amber’s more revelatory moments are enough to bring you to tears.” – Theatermania
“Jerry MacKinnon peels away layers, exposes his character’s wounds, and hooks us.” – Theatermania
“Anna Ziegler’s compelling new two-hander features strong performances and nuanced writing.” – The Hollywood Reporter
“Jerry MacKinnon and Samantha Ressler give undeniably electrifying performances!” – StageSceneLA.com

“Every single thing leads to everything else…” Amber and Tom, finding their way as freshmen at Princeton, spend a night together that alters the course of their lives. They agree on the drinking, they agree on the attraction, but consent is foggy, and if unspoken, can it be called consent? A playwright The New York Times calls “newly (and justly) hot,” Anna Ziegler investigates gender and race politics, our crippling desire to fit in and the three sides to every story.

The Originalist

When a bright, liberal law school graduate embarks on a nerve-wracking clerkship with Justice Antonin Scalia, she discovers him to be both an infuriating sparring partner and an unexpected mentor.  As the country waits for Scalia’s seat to be filled, The Originalist looks into the complexities of one of the most polarizing Supreme Court Justices of all times.  This powerful work portrays the passionate people risking heart and soul to defend their interpretation of the truth, and the constitution.

Following the play at the Pasadena Playhouse, there was a facilitated dialogue on these relevant issues – Professor Jody David Armour (USC Gould), David Bridel (Dean, USC School of Dramatic Arts), and Jack Knott (Dean, USC Sol Price School of Public Policy) participated.

The Hotel Play

a room at the USC Radisson

Presented by USC Visions & Voices at the USC Radisson Hotel

On April 29, 1992, Los Angeles erupted into chaos and violence after four white police officers were acquitted in the beating of African American Rodney King. The Hotel Play asks what, if anything, has changed in the past 25 years. In this unconventional theatrical work, a group of friends whose high-school graduation was interrupted by the civil unrest in 1992 gather to celebrate their 25th high-school reunion at a hotel in South L.A. There, they must confront the consequences of actions taken in their youth, revisiting sources of trauma, uncovering secrets, and discovering relationships. Set in hotel rooms and a banquet hall, The Hotel Play provides an immersive experience for audience members who travel from room to room with the characters on a journey out of turmoil and toward collective convergence.

Following the performance, USC architecture professor Amy Murphy led a discussion about the politics of neighborhoods, the tension between public and private spaces, how place and race intersect, and how The Hotel Play simultaneously remembers where L.A. was in 1992 and dares to hope about where it ought to be.

The Hotel Play was commissioned by Center Theatre Group and Playwrights’ Arena to mark the 25th anniversary of Playwrights’ Arena, a theatre dedicated to exploring the diverse voices of Los Angeles. Conceived by Playwrights’ Arena’s artistic director, Jon Lawrence Rivera, The Hotel Play was written by seven female Los Angeles playwrights associated with USC: Paula Cizmar, an associate professor in the School of Dramatic Arts; Velina Hasu Houston, director of the MFA program in Dramatic Writing; Jennifer Maisel, adjunct faculty at the School of Dramatic Arts; Nahal Navidar, MFA 2014; Julie Taiwo Oni, MFA 2009; Janine Salinas Schoenberg, MFA 2007; and Laurie Woolery.

Following the performance, Professors David Sloane and Jody David Armour  participated in a discussion of the central question: are things better than they were 25 years ago.

Facing Our Truth: Ten Minute Plays about Trayvon, Race and Privilege

In light of the George Zimmerman verdict, The New Black Fest commissioned six very playwrights to write six 10-minute plays on the topic of Trayvon Martin, race and/or privilege. The purpose of “Facing Our Truth” is to incite serious discussion in our collective communities around these urgent issues.

Following the play there was a vibrant dialogue on these relevant issues – facilitated by USC Price Professor LaVonna Blair Lewis.


Rules of Seconds

Presented by The Latino Theater Company at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. 

Set in 1855 Boston, where the slightest infraction between gentlemen is grounds for a challenge to be resolved with pistols, RULES OF SECONDS marks the inaugural production of The Temblors, the Latino Theater Company’s new collective of LA-based playwrights. When Nathaniel “Wings” Leeds is challenged to a duel by the most dangerous man in the city, he asks his estranged brother to be his second. Deep family tensions and old rivalries resurface as the brothers struggle to follow the hundreds-years-old “Code of Dueling.”

 Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

School of Dramatic Arts logo

We teamed up with the USC School of Social Work Office of Global and Community Initiatives for a viewing of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. This work of documentary theater weaves a portrait of real individuals who experienced the violent aftermath of the 1992 Rodney King trial. “The piece explores the social, economic and political lines that divide not only a city, but a nation.” Written as a one-woman play by Anna Deavere Smith, students at the USC School of Dramatic arts adapted it for the repertory theater, in a stunning portrayal of race and ethnicity in Los Angeles post 1992.



Real Women Have Curves

Real Women Have Curves - poster

Real Women Have Curves, a stage play by LA playwrite Josefina Lopez, set in a tiny sewing factory in East Los Angeles circa 1987. It’s a play marked by the issues of gender politics and the Latina immigrant experience.  Join us for the show and a discussion of timely issues around gender, immigration, pay equity and community.






On the set of “Real Women Have Curves” designed by David F. Weiner, photos courtesy of Kristen Hammack.

Looking up - policy at the playhouse - curves

Full panel - policy at the playhouse - curves

Panel - Policy at the Playhouse - Curves

The Whipping Man

Our inaugural event was an opportunity to lead a post-show discussion at the historic Pasadena Playhouse after a performance of The Whipping Man, by Matthew Lopez.

On the set of “The Whipping Man” designed by Tom Buderwitz at The Pasadena Playhouse. Photos below by Jeffrey Taylor 

On the set of "The Whipping Man" designed by Tom Buderwitz at The Pasadena Playhouse. Our first Policy at the Playhouse was a visit to The Pasadena Playhouse for a viewing of “The Whipping Man,” followed by a panel discussion of the themes of the play. Governance is everywhere. Photos by Jeffrey Taylor