Theater Adventures, Washington, D.C.
By Candyce H. Stapen
Few people think of Washington, D.C. as a theater town even though the nation’s capital nurtures a vibrant theater community. Along with Broadway bound musicals, the curtain goes up on Shakespearean productions, innovative adaptations of classics, cutting edge shows and world-class children’s theater.
The National Theatre hosts toe-tapping productions of popular musicals. And everybody’s heard of the Kennedy Center. That boxy building on the Potomac has produced 300 new plays and hosted festivals showcasing the talents of some of America’s finest artists such as Stephen Sondheim, Tennessee Williams, and August Wilson.
Two companies stage Shakespearean productions. The Folger Theatre’s innovative take on the Bard’s plays have garnered the theater 44 Helen Hayes Award nominations and 12 awards. The small theater with its wooden balconies and carved oak columns evokes an English Renaissance inn, where Shakespeare’s plays were often produced.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) two performing spaces – the Landsburgh Theatre and Harman Hall – together form the Harman Center for the Arts, one of the country’s major theater venues. Since its founding in 1985, STC has developed into a national leader in the presentation of the classics, both Shakespearean and more obscure, yet timely, selections. In the last several years, STC has forged a British connection, bringing Helen Mirren’s Phedre to DC.
It’s not all classics in the capital. Woolly Mammoth is known for its often outrageous, experimental, sometimes funny and sometimes raw theater. Founded by two New York actors in 1978 with the purpose of producing new plays in new ways, with innovative acting, directing and design, Woolly Mammoth quickly became the beacon for challenging theater experiences.
The Studio Theatre, established in 1978 to bring new plays and reinterpreted classics to Washington, opened a four-theatre complex in 2004. The facility has become the anchor of the 14th Street Arts District and a major force for theater in Washington.
Synetic Theater, founded in 2001 by Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, is a physical theater company--a company that brings storytelling alive through music, physical motion, and minimal spoken words. In 2002 the company’s wordless "Hamlet" won awards. The Washington Post named Synetic’s "Host and Guest" one of the top ten productions of this decade.
Synetic Theater also creates children’s shows, fusing puppetry, mime, music and dance to bring alive favorite tales such as "Lions and Mice" and "Clowns and Heroes." Synetic received the 2010 Helen Hayes Award for Theatre for Young Audiences.
Founded in 1979, Imagination Stage, Bethesda, MD, has become one of the leaders in theater for young people on the East Coast. The company’s mission to nurture creativity and empower young people through theater is reflected in its camps and access programs, as well as in its full schedule of year-round plays.
The Puppet Company (TPC), Glen Echo, MD, has been engaging kids (and parents) with clever characters and fanciful shows since 1983. In 2004 TPC built a state-of-the-art facility especially designed for puppetry. Witches fly overhead, villains pop up through the floor boards and scenes flash on video screens. While kids stretch out on the carpeted floor to watch classic children’s tales come to life, parents and grandparents can opt for the upholstered seats ringing the room.
On your next visit to D.C>, be sure to make time for some theater adventures.