WASHINGTON, D.C.: When theatre artists and leaders from around the U.S. and the globe gather in the nation’s capital for the Theatre Communications Group’s national theatre conference later this week (June 23-25), attendees will see the intersection of civic life and the performing arts at work.
The theme of this year’s conference is Theatre Nation, but the topics will span further than the city’s diamond shape and even beyond our nation’s borders. The three-day event will also focus on the global theatre community and its unifiers.
Of course, with this year’s presidential campaign and many other elections, the conference location will certainly play into the programming. With planned visits to Capitol Hill, theatre leaders will have the opportunity to cultivate relationships with policy makers. The plenaries and breakout sessions scheduled throughout the conference will mobilize around advocacy issues and policies that impact theatres and their communities.
As part of the global Theatre Nation community, D.C. is home to a diverse group theatremakers that stretches into the outer boroughs. As a cultural hub of history, current issues, and a coming change of leadership, it’s a ripe time for theatre in the D.C. metro area.
And for conferencegoers looking to experience some theatre, a few companies will be mounting politically charged plays during the conference weekend. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has a production of An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and Folger Theatre will be presenting Aaron Posner’s District Merchants.
Even with the worldwide focus of the conference narrowing in on D.C., the sprawling city can be overwhelming.
The Rising Leaders of Color (RLC), a TCG program supported by Disney, is made up of a group of 10 theatre leaders in the D.C. Metro Area who will be in attendance at the conference. We asked this cohort of RLC honorres for insights about the thriving theatre scene—and about how to stay caffeinated, well-fed, and cultured throughout the weekend.
“The community of theatre makers in D.C. is exceptional,” says Annalisa Dias, a performer, playwright, director, and producing playwright for The Welders Playwrights’ Collective. “There are over 90 theatre companies making all kinds of work in vastly differing styles. It’s a truly fabulous place to define yourself as an artist and figure out what kinds of work speak to you.”
Shayla Roland, special programming manager of Ford’s Theatre in Arlington, Va., agrees. “There are large regional companies, smaller companies, new companies, companies that push all types of stylistic or political envelopes, companies who do great devised work, everything!” Amelia Acosta Powell, an artistic associate and casting director, adds that the supportive theatre community “feels like a very close-knit group.”
And it turns out there is much more to do in town than wait in line for a glimpse of the Lincoln Memorial or snap selfies by the Washington Monument. With weekend drum circles in Meridian Hill Park, a plethora of food trucks, and happy hours galore, the RLC have laid out some recommendations to make you feel like a true District resident.
In the rare case that conferencegoers will have a pocket of free time, Ronee Penoi, the incoming creative producer for the Welders Playwrights’ Collective, suggests exploring the Eastern Market neighborhood, her home of more than 9 years. “It’s full of family-owned businesses, beautiful row houses, and tree-lined streets,” Penoi says. The market building, in operation since 1873, was part of Pierre L’Enfant’s original design for the city of D.C., and is the last of the city’s public markets still in operation. Kristen B. Jackson, creativity director of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, loves to peruse the Eastern Market on weekends to find handmade jewelry, antique furniture, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
A unanimous recommendation among the group yielded a must-do trip to the National Portrait Gallery—which is conveniently located near the conference headquarters. Penoi recommends a visit to the “beautiful glass-ceiling atrium with stunning trees” inside the gallery. Paige M. Hernandez, a performer, playwright, and educator of B-Fly Entertainment in Capitol Heights, Md., suggests checking out the current WONDER exhibit at Renwick Gallery. The Smithsonian and the surrounding waterfront area is a favorite of Stephanie Rolland, artistic administrator of Center Stage in Baltimore, Md. Sadiqua Iman, a director and producer in College Park, Md., recommends checking out the murals along U Street.
Besides the numerous museums and galleries, D.C. is also a hotbed of jazz and blues music. “D.C. has a vibrant and eclectic music scene, rooted in the genres that were created or found their feet here over the past century,” says Ouida Maedel, grants manager at Woolly Mammoth. “The city has been known as the bluegrass capital of America, the site of the most dynamic growth and evolution of hardcore and punk that continues today, and is, of course, the birthplace of go-go, our own distinct sound.” Maedel recommends checking out Black Cat, Electric Maid, 9:30 Club, DC9, and the Velvet Lounge for some music. (And if you’re in town in July, she recommends concerts in Fort Reno Park.)
If you’re feeling ambitious, Bryan Joseph Lee, director of marketing and communications at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Md., suggests an early morning run around the National Mall. “The whole loop is about 4 miles and it’ll take your breath away,” says Lee.
Check out the map below for all the Rising Leaders of Colors’s recommendations. Blue pins are sites and sights, green pins are restaurants and bars, and coffee cups are—well, you get the picture. Play on!