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Work Samples

Backwards from Winter 2018

BACKWARDS FROM WINTER, an operatic monodrama for soprano, electric cello, computer and video. Libretto by Juanita Rockwell, Music by Douglas Knehans. A portrait of one woman’s journey through loss. We begin with the frozen landscape of grief in winter, traveling backwards through the sharp pain of losing her beloved in an autumn storm, through the summer’s heat of their passion, to the heart-opening birth of their love in spring.

The Suitcase/Der Koffer 2019

The Suitcase/Der Koffer 2019
THE SUITCASE/DER KOFFER is a multilingual music theatre work in which a woman finds a suitcase filled with history and the remnants of a home that now exists only in memory. Neither concert, opera, play, nor performance art, yet influenced by all these forms, three performers present objects, documents, and images from the lives of the displaced, real and imagined. Conceived by Ljiljana Jovanović, composer and theatre maker, and Juanita Rockwell, playwright and director. Chris Roberts (mezzo), Georg Wissel (sax), Duśica Cajlan-Wissel (piano). Photo by Lauren Scott.

Between Trains 2010

Between Trains 2010
BETWEEN TRAINS is a play with songs by Juanita Rockwell, with music by Chas Marsh. Wendell wakes up naked in a train station: a place that’s in-between and nowhere, a place filled with goodbyes and the possibility of adventure, an empty place of anticipation and boredom, in equal measure. Everyone she meets is waiting for something or going somewhere, but she's just looking for a way out. Photo by Bill Cain, from the professional premiere by Gas & Electric Arts, directed by Lisa Jo Epstein, featuring (L to R) Davon Williams, Jenna Horton, Mary Tuomanen, Nick Troy and Wendy Staton.

Out of the Shadows

During the pandemic, with housemate and co-instigator Michele Minnick, I organized and co-created two events focused on our little neighborhood of Sabina-Mattfeldt, which we affectionately refer to as “the holler.” Calling ourselves Team Holler Joy, we organized two events: A Night of Joy in the Holler: an antidote to election and Covid stress, and Out of the Shadows, a Team Holler Joy Solstice Celebration, seen in this photo by Aaron Levin.

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About Juanita

Baltimore City

Juanita Rockwell's picture
WHAT I DO: I’m a writer and director with over a hundred works of theatre, opera, radio, multimedia, puppetry, music theater, devised projects and site-specific works presented on five continents. My work explores impermanence and change: in our individual lives, in society, and in the natural world. I’m interested in moments of fragility and loss, and the connections that create a space where something new can emerge.   In each work, I generate a unique relationship among the elements of... more

Out of The Shadows: A Team Holler Joy event

During the pandemic, with housemate and co-instigator Michele Minnick, I organized and co-created two events focused on our little neighborhood of Sabina-Mattfeldt, which we affectionately refer to as “the holler.” Calling ourselves Team Holler Joy, we organized two events: A Night of Joy in the Holler: an antidote to election and Covid stress, and Out of the Shadows, a Team Holler Joy Solstice Celebration, seen in this photo by Aaron Levin.

For both events, we gathered a team of neighbors, some with artistic and other skills to contribute, others who wanted to help by building fires and providing warm beverages. Both events complied with the current Covid guidelines, fully masked, and appropriately distanced.Our next event will likely be in April, on Earth Day, with other events to follow. These productions offer us an opportunity to build community with our neighbors, and also to experiment with new forms, skills and technology.

For Joy in the Holler, we planned the event with co-conspirators Jean Grae and Gavin (Quelle) Tenille for the evening of election day as an invitation to unglue from our screens and the results coming in. There were three fire pits with refreshments, distributed around the neighborhood; a silly hat parade led by a resident flugelhorn player; street ping pong; and a singalong of The Times They Are a Changing with the extended Scally family, including son Alex (Beach House). One mom from the neighborhood rallied the kids for some sidewalk chalk drawing and other activities. We erected a community drawing board for people to write or draw their dreams for the future, which people continued to enjoy and embellish for several days after the event. Jean and Quelle shared old jazz 78s on their vintage gramophone, and Jean DJ’d a socially distant dance party in their yard from their porch.

For Out of the Shadows, a guided audio tour of the neighborhood and visual art installation with videos of musical contributions from the Team Holler Joy Jazz ensemble, we provided an event that was both virtual and live, and followed the tightened safety protocols put in place in mid-December. With neighbors who made up our Visual Design Committee who created an array of natural and constructed decorations for our neighborhood field, we created a path made of lights where participants traced a spiral path back into and out of 2020. At the center of the spiral there was a fire for people to burn their “shadows,” challenges from 2020. Upon emerging from the spiral, they whispered their wishes onto red ribbons and hung them from a well-loved tree. People made cookies that were sent home to each household. We invited colleague Ursula Marcum to perform a shadow puppet show and Glenn Ricci (both of Submersive Productions) to provide additional music. Our festival of light was an opportunity to embrace the darkness, literal and metaphorical, and to welcome the coming light of spring. We were graced with an unusually long lasting snowfall a few days before, the convergence of Jupiter and Saturn and a bright sliver of moon in the sky, so the elements conspired to make it a wintery and beautiful evening.

Here is a link to our audio tour (you may need to copy and paste into your browser): https://youraudiotour.com/tours/1185/

Here is a link to Ursula Marcum's shadow puppet piece, The Return: https://youtu.be/xU0AcwLbwUQ

  • solstice spiral aaron.JPG

    A participant traces an inner journey back through 2020 as they walk a spiral of light to a fire pit at the center where they are invited to burn a "shadow" of the past year. Photo by Aaron Levin.
  • Warming by the fire

    Warming by the fire
    Neighbors gather by one of the 3 fire pits placed throughout the installation. Photo by Aaron Levin.
  • Ice ornament

    Ice ornament
    One of dozens of ice ornaments hanging from a tree in the field. Photo by Elaine Champion.
  • Out of the Shadows reflections

    Reflections gathered from participants during the audio tour, as arranged by Michele Minnick and Juanita Rockwell, Team Holler Joy co-instigators.

    PDF icon Out of the Shadows reflections
  • Wish Tree

    Wish Tree
    The Wish Tree, where participants whispered wishes for the future into red ribbons and hung them on the branches. Photo by Aaron Levin.

Backwards from Winter: an operatic monodrama for soprano, e-cello, computer and video. Libretto by Juanita Rockwell, music by Douglas Knehans

BACKWARDS FROM WINTER is a portrait of one woman’s journey through loss. We begin with the frozen landscape of grief in winter, traveling backwards through the sharp pain of losing her beloved in an autumn storm, through the summer’s heat of their passion, to the heart-opening birth of their love in spring.

Structured as a fractured inquiry into grief and healing, the narrative strips away layers of memory as it moves backwards in time. Images emerge with their own peculiar logic, just as certain details of traumatic memory remain vivid while others fade away. The character of Woman is bound by the specific events of her loss, even as the emotional intensity is fused with seasonal rhythms of time.

The poetry for each scene of the libretto is formed in three Tanka verses, a Japanese precursor to Haiku with a syllabic structure of 5-7-5-7-7. This form is used in each scene and was the strict structure we imposed on the literary conception of the work. Each scene is linked by a further Tanka to the next scene so the whole monodrama has a 3-1-3-1-3-1-3-1 structure with the last deconstructed Tanka acting as a postlude. The music was conceived in similarly strict fashion using only the resources of electric cello, electronically processed soprano voice and computerized sound. The cellist also sings, hums and intones words, lending an extra layer of dramatic friction to the music, as does audio filtering and/or processing of the soprano voice.

The opera premiered in May 2018 at Symphony Space in NYC; produced by the Center for Contemporary Opera and directed by Jennifer Williams. The following month, Foundation IHOS Amsterdam produced a second production as part of the Dark Mofo Festival and directed by Konstantin Koukias.

CD available from Ablaze Records:  https://www.ablazerecords.net

  • Backwards from Winter NYC 2018

    Production trailer for the 2018 world premiere of Backwards from Winter, music by Douglas Knehans and libretto by Juanita Rockwell, produced by The Center for Contemporary Opera at Symphony Space, NYC, directed by Jennifer Williams, featuring Anke Briegel (soprano) and Jeffrey Krieger (electric cello). Set design by Ryan Howell, video projection by Yee Eun Nam, costume design by Eunnym Cho, lighting design by Emily Clarkson. Video by Lucas Godlewski. Composer - Douglas Knehans Librettist - Juanita Rockwell
  • Backwards from Winter NYC 2018

    Backwards from Winter NYC premiere 2018
    From the 2018 premiere production of Backwards from Winter at Symphony Space in New York City, directed by Jennifer Williams, featuring Anke Briegel and Jeffrey Krieger, photo by Lucas Godlewski.
  • Backwards from Winter Tasmania 2018

    Backwards from Winter Tasmania 2018
    This photo by David Fraser of the 2018 IHOS Foundation Amsterdam production of Backwards from Winter at DARK MOFO in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, directed by Konstantin Koukias, features e-cellist Antonis Pratsinakis and soprano Judith Weusten.
  • Backwards from Winter Tasmania 2018

    Backwards from Winter Tasmania 2018
    Actor Chris Jackson and soprano Judith Weusten in Backwards from Winter. Photo by David Fraser.

The Suitcase/Der Koffer: multilingual music theatre work. Text and direction by Juanita Rockwell, concept and music by Ljiljana Jovanović

THE SUITCASE/DER KOFFER is a multilingual music theatre work in which a woman finds a suitcase filled with history and remnants of a home that now exists only in memory. Neither concert, nor opera, nor play, nor performance art, the work is influenced by all these forms, as three performers present objects, documents, events and images from the lives of the displaced, real and imagined.

Conceived by Ljiljana Jovanović, a composer and theatre maker, and Juanita Rockwell, a playwright and director, the two are working with Chris Roberts (mezzo soprano), Georg Wissel (alto saxophone), Duśica Cajlan-Wissel (piano) and Allison Campbell (scenography and puppets). The composition includes sung and spoken text, improvisation and sound exploration through prepared alto sax and extended piano techniques. The live performance is layered with projection puppetry and pre-recorded sound material, including the voices of children in many languages, bringing us fragments of other stories, other suitcases. 

The Suitcase/Der Koffer premiered at Monteabaro Recital Hall, presented by Rep Stage at the Horowitz Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in Columbia, MD, in 2019. Performances were also presented at An die Musik, Baltimore, and Howard University's Childers Hall, with development support from Towson University and Photo by Lauren Scott.

  • The Suitcase/Der Koffer 2019

    The Suitcase/Der Koffer 2019
    Librettist/Director Juanita Rockwell on the set of The Suitcase/Der Koffer, checking the puppet projection screen (the opened lid of a steamer trunk) before a performance at Lulu Vere Childers Hall, Howard University, Washington, DC.
  • The Suitcase/Der Koffer 2019

    The Suitcase/Der Koffer 2019
    Composer Ljiljana Jovanović introducing the performance at Monteabaro Recital Hall, Horowitz Center for the Performing Arts, Columbia, MD.
  • The Suitcase/Der Koffer 2019

    The Suitcase/Der Koffer 2019
    A view from the piano, of the materials used by Georg Wissel to alter his saxophone during the improvisation section of The Suitcase/Der Koffer.
  • TheSuitcase-Spreads.pdf

    This program for The Suitcase/Der Koffer contains a full English translation of the libretto, and serves as both prop in performance and guide for the audience through the performance which employs eight languages in addition to English, both live and recorded. Program design by Kiirstn Pagan.

    PDF icon TheSuitcase-Spreads.pdf

Between Trains: a play with songs. Book and lyrics by Juanita Rockwell, music by Chas Marsh

Wendell wakes up naked in a train station: a place that's in between and nowhere, a place filled with goodbyes and the possibility of adventure, an empty place of anticipation and boredom, in equal measure. A Bardo, to use the Tibetan word.
Everyone Wendell meets is waiting for something or going somewhere, but she's just looking for a way out. This play with songs, inspired by Buddhist Sutras on the nature of Mind, asks what happens during the in-between moments in our lives. We may have no control over what happens to us. Yet at each moment, we can choose our response, and the quality of our lives rests in that moment of choice.

Between Trains received early partial readings at Ligmincha Institute, under the guidance of Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. It received a staged reading by Creative Mechanics at Theatre Access, NYC in 2005, and a 2006 workshop at Teatro Abya Yala as part of a Fulbright residency in San José, Costa Rica. Rockwell was awarded a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award for the script, and the play's first fully staged production was at the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts with University of Maryland theatre students directed by Leslie Felbain in 2008. The 2010 professional premiere was at Gas & Electric Arts, Philadelphia, directed by Lisa Jo Epstein, funded in part by a National Endowment for the Arts Access to Excellence Grant. A 2014 production, directed by Rockwell, was produced by the Towson University Theatre Department, Baltimore, MD. Between Trains was published by Blue Moon Plays in 2014 and a recording of songs by the Towson University cast was produced by the Towson Theatre Department at Mobtown Studios, Baltimore.

Blue Moon Plays at Have Scripts:  https://havescripts.com/product/between-trains-play-script/
Songs from Between Trains at Bandcamp:  https://juanitarockwell.bandcamp.com/album/songs-from-between-trains

  • Between trains book cover

    Between Trains book cover 2017
    Between Trains, published in 2017 by Blue Moon Plays. Cover art by Katie Dell Kaufman.
  • Between Trains 2008

    Between Trains 2008
    BETWEEN TRAINS is a play with songs by Juanita Rockwell, with music by Chas Marsh. Wendell wakes up naked in a train station: a place that’s in-between and nowhere, a place filled with goodbyes and the possibility of adventure, an empty place of anticipation and boredom, in equal measure. Everyone she meets is waiting for something or going somewhere, but she's just looking for a way out.
  • Between Trains script excerpt

    At the opening of Between Trains, Wendell wakes up in a train station, naked and afraid, as travelers zip around her, speaking in a language she doesn't understand. When Dawkes comes in, out of the storm, she thinks she may have found a friend...

    PDF icon Between Trains script excerpt
  • Between Trains 2014

    This video about the 2014 Towson University production, directed by Juanita Rockwell, was created by Towson University Electronic Media and Film students using excerpts from a live recording of the production and interviews with the cast.
  • Between Trains 2014

    Between Trains 2014
    This photo by Jay Herzog, from the 2014 Towson University Production of Between Trains directed by Juanita Rockwell, features Caitlin Weaver and Paul America,
  • Between Trains U of MD 2008

    Between Trains U of MD 2008
    Photo from first fully staged performance at University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, directed by Leslie Felbain.

Little Patch of Ground: a play with songs. Book, lyrics and music by Juanita Rockwell

LITTLE PATCH OF GROUND is a darkly comic play with songs set in the bloody aftermath of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  But in this reimagined world, a gravedigger's daughter named Cecilia can't keep up with the rate of humanity's carnage. The earth is so full it's spewing bodies back above ground, starting with Ophelia and Laertes, just as Cecilia's prodigal brother has come home. These two pairs of orphaned siblings must confront impermanence, responsibility, and the open space left in the wake of loss, as they explore new ways of being in a world where the rules have all changed. 

Awarded a Ruby Artist Project Grant in 2015, PATCH received a concert reading in 2016 at Baltimore's Single Carrot Theatre, co-directed by Juanita Rockwell and Tom Shade, and featuring Temple Crocker, Benjamin King, Daniel Nelson and Sarah Lloyd. 

  • Little Patch of Ground 2016

    Little Patch of Ground, a play with songs by Juanita Rockwell 2016
    LITTLE PATCH OF GROUND, a play with songs. Book, lyrics and music by Juanita Rockwell. Set in the bloody aftermath of Shakespeare's Hamlet, but in this reimagined world, a gravedigger's daughter named Cecilia can't keep up with rate of humanity's carnage. The earth is so full it's spewing bodies back above ground, starting with Ophelia and Laertes, just as Cecilia's prodigal brother has come home. These two pair of orphaned siblings must find new ways of being in a world where the rules have all changed. A Rubys Artist Project.
  • Blue from Little Patch of Ground

    A song of wanderlust, of longing for "that faraway blue, like a piece of night sky turned to stone, like shadow of a shadow, like a promise somebody broke."
  • What If... song from Little Patch of Ground 2014

    WHAT IF... song from Little Patch of Ground, lyrics and music by Juanita Rockwell What if the moon sat on my shoulder? Would it be easier to see where the road goes See what the seas sees See when it's over Easy moon lights up an easy sky What if a bird slept in my pocket? Would it be easier to fly through a window Over a mountain Into then Easy bird flies in an easy sky No cloud No rain No scar No stain Just sky like an ocean I'd swim like a dolphin From wave to wave What if a tree grew from my footstep? Would it be easier to find something grow
  • Little Patch of Ground 2016

    Little Patch of Ground 2016
    Little Patch of Ground concert reading at Single Carrot Theatre, Baltimore, featuring (L to R) Tom Shade, Daniel Nelson, Sarah Lloyd, Temple Crocker and Benjamin King. Photo by Robert Wang.

Broken: a short play with a song. Book, lyrics and music by Juanita Rockwell

BROKEN was commissioned in 2015 by Interrobang Theatre for Heavy Hors d'Oeuvres, an evening of three new works by Baltimore playwrights. This short play with a song is structured from the point of view of Lorraine, a woman in her eighties, but since her stroke, she sees herself as a twenty-something in her favorite outfit from the 1960s. She sees her husband Harry as the young soldier she once had a crush on, and her female home health care aide looks like her favorite grandson Theo, now a chef in Amsterdam. Once a passionate cook herself, Lorraine's words get jumbled on the way in or out, but she's happy to hold imaginary conversations with her grandson on another continent, as food takes on the mythic proportions of Julia Child, MFK Fisher and other luminaries of cuisine. As Lorraine's health fails, Harry takes her off her feeding tube as he and Theo sing her to her rest with a recipe for the perfect ginger cookie. The premiere was directed by Katie Hileman.

  • Broken 2015

    Broken 2015
    Erin Hanratty and Brady Whealton in BROKEN, a short play with a song. Commissioned by Interrobang Theatre, premiere directed by Katie Hileman, 2015. Photo by Interrobang.
  • Sharing a Table (song from Broken)

    A song about the intimacy of sharing a table with someone, and what is lost when they are gone, told through a 17th century recipe for the perfect ginger cookie.
  • BROKEN script excerpt

    This brief script excerpt from BROKEN shows how the world of this play functions: that we are looking through the eyes of Lorraine, a woman in her eighties who has had a stroke and now sees herself as a young woman in her twenties, her husband as the young man she had a crush on, and her home health care aide as her grandson, the sous-chef in Amsterdam. We sometimes hear the garbled language of others through her ears, and sometimes we hear her garbled speech as the others do. We even experience time and space as she does, in the chaotic fits and starts of a damaged brain.

    PDF icon BROKEN script excerpt
  • Broken 2015

    Broken 2015
    Erin Hanratty and David Brasington. Photo by Interrobang.

The Circle (@ Dupont): a site-specific performative audio walk. Text by Juanita Rockwell

THE CIRCLE is a site-specific performative audio walk, pulling time, space and audiences together by combining a 70’s-inspired narrative and sound with today’s urban structures and surroundings. We tap into a surreal story of a woman tripping through past and future memory, weaving in anecdotes of DC's Dupont Circle in the 1970’s as seen through the eyes of the young and restless. Drawing on the living architecture of the neighborhood as another kind of time machine, the project also explores a secret teenage world of in-jokes, escape fantasies, self-absorption, heartbreak, and the magic of possibility.

For the performance, audience members meet at a specified location near Dupont Circle in DC and, earbuds in, are guided through the neighborhood while listening to prerecorded audio. Performers, images and installations appear around them at specific points in the audio experience as they weave through past and present, in and out of buildings both historic and gentrified, ending at Dupont Circle's famous fountain.

The second in the Banished Footsteps series conceived by director Carmen Wong, The Circle premiered in 2013 with a second run in 2014. Available as a self-guided audio walk through the Dupont Circle neighborhood, as a download from banishedproductions.bandcamp.com

  • The Circle 2014

    The Circle 2013
    One of the art installations built into The Circle's guided audio art walk. Image by Carmen Wong.
  • THE CIRCLE script excerpt 2014

    This excerpt of the working script for THE CIRCLE indicates the precise timing of the interaction of the live performers (including some of the main images and installed art elements along the path) with the main track of the recorded performers as well as the background track. A full recording of the audio is available for download and use as a self-guided audio walk of the Dupont Circle area of Connecticut Ave in NW Washington, DC (without live performers, installation elements or imagery, of course) at https://banishedproductions.bandcamp.com

    PDF icon THE CIRCLE script excerpt 2014
  • The Circle 2014

    The Circle 2014
    Audience members enter Kramer Books, along Connecticut Ave near Dupont Circle in DC, as a performer displays a photo of the restaurant that was in that location in the 1970s: The Golden Temple of Conscious Cookery, one of the city's first vegetarian restaurants, operated by 3HO, the Happy Healthy Holy Organization.

The World is Round: Music by James Sellars, Libretto by Juanita Rockwell after Gertrude Stein, directed by Juanita Rockwell

In THE WORLD IS ROUND, Gertrude Stein's Rose (is a rose is a rose) goes on a journey and finds herself in a play of language and music in this opera for 5 singers and an orchestra of 14.
Libretto and direction by Juanita Rockwell, music  by James Sellars, premiere conducted by Michael Barrett. Sets by Sarah Edkins, lights by Igleu Glickman, costumes by Priscilla Putnam. Produced by Company One Theater, Juanita Rockwell, Artistic Director, at The Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, 1993.
Photos by Igleu Glickman

Playing Dead. Translation/adaptation from The Brothers Presnyakov by Juanita Rockwell with Yury Urnov 2010

In PLAYING DEAD, Valia has always been good at playing along and playing the system. His girlfriend is willing to play out his kinkiest freaks (albeit not with much enthusiasm) and his mother is happy to cook and clean for him (as long as he doesn't cross her). He figures his  job playing the corpse in crime scene reenactments is a daily innoculation against death and the world's brutality. But then the ghost of his father shows up, crying murder most foul at the hands of his widow and her lover, it looks like something is rotten in the state of Russia.

This translation was commissioned as part of the New Russian Drama Project produced by The Center for International Theatre Development and Towson University. Rockwell's translation was based on a literal translation and extensive consultation with Yury Urnov, who directed the premiere at Single Carrot Theatre in Baltimore. The production was named one of the year's ten best by Baltimore's City Paper.

  • Playing Dead 2010

    Playing Dead 2010
    Nathan Fulton as Valia, reenacting the Chinese Restaurant murder. Directed by Yury Urnov at Single Carrot Theatre, Baltimore.
  • Playing Dead 2010

    Playing Dead 2010
    Kaveh Haerian and Nathan Cooper in Playing Dead, at Single Carrot Theatre

Red Death by Lisa D'Amour, directed by Juanita Rockwell

In directing Lisa D'Amour's 21st century riff on Edgar Allan Poe's "Masque of the Red Death," I worked with Set/Costume Designer Elena Zlotescue, Sound/Light Designer Terry Cobb, and the talented staff and students of the UMBC Theatre Dept.