Locally Grown & The State of DC Theater (in The Post)

Everyone’s talking about the unprecedented consideration that The Washington Post Sunday Arts section has given to The State of DC Theater in a series of about 10 different articles. Here’s a link to the lead piece. The article points to our festival in an interesting way, suggesting that attention be paid to the experiment; to the investment being made on a new work written by a local author, with talent, time and resources being lavished on material whose pedigree we’d more regularly associate with “Fringe” or “workshop presentation.” THE RELIGION THING is occupying a major space in our season and the New Play Development efforts surrounding it and the 5 Locally Grown rehearsed readings have, necessarily, focussed us a theater toward the local, and away from a more comprehensive canvassing of new national offerings (although we have had two great Tea @ Two readings this fall featuring two hot plays on the national circuit — OUR SUBURB by Darrah Cloud (an homage to OUR TOWN) and BROKE by Janece Shaffer).

Are we doing the right thing? Is The Post right, in its showcasing of DC Playwrights, that what we really need next, in this theater town, is an aesthetic, and a series of voices, that really express who we are as a capital city; as a fusion of specific neighborhoods and communities?

What are your thoughts about the maturation of the DC theater community and the weekend’s coverage?

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4 responses to “Locally Grown & The State of DC Theater (in The Post)

  1. Demitri Tarabini

    “A Wow Decade. Now What?” in the Post’s Arts section on the State of DC theater portrayed an accurate sentiment felt by many “secondary” theater towns across the US. Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, I have heard many of the same sentiments that came from the Post in San Francisco and Oakland newspaper counterparts. There is a sense that there is amazing local talent, but that it “up and leaves” once it gains name recognition. I was very pleased to hear that the DC theater seen has largely expanded, developed, and thrived over the past 10 years. Coming to DC at such a time, and being able to experience its current theaters, is a welcomed coincidence. At the same time, however, I enjoyed how the article mentioned that there was never a complete lack of talent or ambition by Washingtonians, but only that it was “under-realized.” In that way, it seems that the Locally Grown festival will be a success, regardless of attendance figures. Firstly, the festival will highlight local talent and strengthen DC’s presence as a theater destination. Secondly, the festival, if the author of the article portrayed it correctly, will work to broaden the horizon of DC theater and introduce never-before-seen productions tailored to young and adventurous audiences; much like “The Religion Thing.” I also enjoyed the article, “Local Playwrights: Limited in this scene.” It expressed similar sentiments to the main article in that local playwrights have not had an easy time “making” it in DC. I enjoyed how it mentioned that, although DC has spent a decade building these theaters, what’s most needed is playwrights to put people in the seats. In that way, the playwright is the most important piece of the puzzle. All in all, I enjoyed the Post articles and I look forward to being apart of DC’s new found theater culture.

  2. As someone who is very new to the Washington D.C. area (I arrived less than a week ago) and also has very limited knowledge of theater outside of playing Harold Hill in my junior high’s adaptation of “The Music Man”, I have little background knowledge regarding Washington D.C.’s theater scene, or theater outside of the Chicagoland area, where I am originally from. However, after reading several articles in The Washington Post’s Sunday Arts section, I have to admit that I am very excited about all of the opportunities available to young students with very little money in the bank.

    I obtained the impression from these articles that the DC theater scene is in a very critical stage of its development. After a decade of development, a good number of smaller theaters, much like Theater J, exist. There are a good amount of local playwrights, like Renee Calarco, who are producing very interesting and well-thought out plays. However, DC has not reached the same status as the mecca of theater, New York.

    I recently attended Thursday’s showing of Ms. Calarco’s “The Religion Thing” at Theater J. Going into the theater, I had no idea what exactly to expect from a smaller venue like Theater J. However, I was thoroughly impressed by the quality of the acting, the script, the set, and the effects. The size of the theater and the production had a large impact on my overall experience. I felt that it was a very intimate experience. The discussion afterward further added to this intimacy, as the audience was able to bounce their initial impressions, thoughts, criticisms, and praise off of Ari Roth and Renee Calarco. Ms. Calarco expressed in the newspaper’s articles that this type of setting is a beneficial experience, especially for growing writers. “The more times I can see [the play], or hear it read, in front of an audience, the more clarifying it is for me.”

    I think that the size of the theater makes this type of environment possible, and this smaller size should be played to everyone’s advantage. Writers and actors alike can take advantage of this opportunity to receive feedback from audiences who are interested in seeing these smaller plays. This is a mutually beneficial relationship. So, much like Seattle developed and continues to be a launching pad for indie/alternative/grunge music, Washington D.C. has all of the necessary intangibles to serve as a launching pad for theater.

  3. Full disclosure: I have very, very little knowledge of theater in general let alone Washington theater. When I was reading the Washington Post’s coverage of D.C. theater I found myself questioning the push and pull of supporting locally grown artistic development, while at the same time attracting the best talent from outside the city as well. I think that part of a city’s reputation as a great theater town has to do with its ability to attract playwrights and actors from all over. That being said, for a city to be respected it also needs to have its own distinct voice. It seems that this leads to a classic catch-22. It would seem that a careful balance must be struck between these two divergent elements that make up a respected theater town.

    The coverage of the Post also made me wonder if there was something of a chicken or the egg debate happening in regards to theater as well. Do playwrights and actors not from the city inspire native Washingtonians to get their own stores told and their voices heard, or can the greatness of locally grown artists attract a more diverse and foreign group to enrich the already vibrant theatrical fabric of Washington D.C.? Can both happen simultaneously?

    Another interesting thing to consider is Washington D.C.’s reputation for attracting all different sorts or people in general, not just in regards to playwrights and actors. Perhaps I am slightly biased in this opinion, I am a political science major and know of many people like myself who hope to eventually be able to move to Washington D.C. for future jobs (? We’ll see?). Regardless, I feel that Washington at least to a certain degree is a city of transplanted people. Is it then possible to have a distinct voice and aesthetic, and if so is it really just a hodgepodge anyway? The Post was an interesting read and very helpful for those just learning about theater in Washington D.C.

  4. Christopher Lin

    In my opinion, I believe the deficit in local productions (or the quality of local productions) can be attributed to two reasons:

    1) Cluster effect
    2) City’s culture

    I think that ‘clustering’ phenomena happens when talented individuals relocate to where they believe they have the best prospects for their career (say, Broadway, for instance). And in turn, talent agencies, and theaters will cluster where these talent are. So, in other words, there’s a cyclical effect of clustering at major theater hubs. Hence, it’s possible that there’s an exodus of playwrights and talents from DC to areas that are epitomized as the ‘land of opportunity’ for theater.

    Culture is also a critical variable that affects the content and structure of the play, and can also be a determining factor that explain why certain talents/playwrights wish to be based in DC. Having been in DC for a couple of weeks, its immediately apparent that DC is an extremely buttoned-down place, with all honesty, a somewhat more stuffy culture. This is in contrast with New York, or London where graffiti is scrawled on the wall, and people are given carte blanche over their creative direction. I’m more inclined to believe that plays and theater in DC will have a harder time doing improv since they have to not only consider the audience’s interests (think about who lives in DC) and political orientation since, at the end of the day, the success of a play is gauged by its reception. In addition, I’ve often heard how artists and playwrights are inspired by the city where they live, and in DC, when everybody’s actions are rehearsed, and conversations are tempered, I would believe that the culture is somewhat unforthcoming for playwrights. Even for political theater, it’d also be, in my opinion, far easier to challenge dominant narratives in an outpost such as New York, or San Francisco, when one is detached from political decisions, than satirizing whatever is happening from the political capital.