A Conversation with Holly Bass

During the process of creating The Trans-Atlantic Time Traveling Company, Shanara Gabrielle, incoming Producing Artistic Director, and Holly Bass, creator and devisor of the play, sat down for a conversation. Enjoy this inside view into why Holly wrote this piece, what she hopes audiences glean from it, and how Theater Alliance has been a core partner at every step of the way. 

Shanara Gabrielle: Hey Holly! 

Holly Bass: Hey Shanara. So happy to chat with you at Transatlantic Time Traveling Company.  

S: I know, me too. It feels like such a fitting start of my time at Theater Alliance to be producing your work. I was so glad to commission your work when I was producing at Arena Stage and we’ve become friends and artistic colleagues. So, the first project on my docket being with you, feels just right!

H: I agree. 

S: So, this show was already in rehearsal when I began my tenure and I truly walked into the very final stages of this process. Colin Hovde and Raymond Caldwell have been curating this with you for years. Tell me about the beginnings – there was a workshop version years ago, right? 

H: I had an incredible experience working with Theater Alliance in 2018. It was my first experience sitting at the head of a design table with a dozen people who were deeply committed to helping me take something I had dreamed up in my head and turning it into a real immersive experience for an audience. Everyone had a yes/and attitude. I was like, I would like a covered wagon in the center of the stage that can rotate– which is not an easy thing to create. And they were like, let’s make it happen! I love that! 

S: I love that too – the kind of creative synergy that happens when everyone is rigorously focused on making the best work happen.  It’s magic. And it sounds like your artistry gave everyone something to get behind, something to really believe in.

H: They just believed in me fully. That’s so rare and so necessary. Especially being a Black woman without a lot of theater credits to my name, there’s not a lot of theater companies that are willing to take those risks. I have to shout out Colin Hovde, who was the artistic director who brought me in and then Raymond Caldwell, who picked up the mantle from Colin and continued to advocate for me and the production. Our original plan was to fully produce the show in 2020, but we all know what happened then.

S: I second your shout out to those two leaders, I feel so fortunate to be standing on the solid foundation they’ve built. And I can confidently say that meaningful collaboration with artists like you is part of what I will champion in the next era of Theater Alliance.  New play development is at the core of what we do and I love hearing about how an artists’ thinking changes over years in a development process.  What has changed in your thinking about The Trans Atlantic Time Traveling Company since 2018?

H: Well, it’s really interesting to write a play about a mysterious sickness without a cure or vaccine and then have a global pandemic take place! I think if anything, the experience of going through the pandemic and seeing how it forced us to think about what we really value, got me thinking about the purpose and value of theater and performance. I really want this piece to have a visceral impact on the people who come to see it. My favorite kind of art is the kind that continues to resonate for days after the experience. 

S:  Anything else you want people to know about the show, the process, the themes…anything?

H: I often quote adrienne maree brown–author, strategist, activist and sci-fi fan–when she says all organizing is science fiction because we are trying to create a world that we’ve never seen. The beauty of Afrofuturism is that it allows us to imagine worlds and possibilities where Black people have agency to determine the direction of our lives. For this piece in particular it was really important to me not to go towards the dystopian. I think it’s easy in a way to imagine a dystopian future where things just get worse. It’s a lot harder to imagine how we work our way to a better future. But it’s the work that needs to be done. And done collectively. And done repeatedly.

S: Yes. Totally agree.  I’m so honored to have you and your artistry with us for Trans-Atlantic Time Traveling Company. Thank you!