WASHINGTON, D.C.: Only in a theatre context would the words “Nice curtain speech” send tingles down the spine. But that was the Facebook message Drew Lichtenberg sent to Rebecca Ende, and it did the trick.
Lichtenberg, literary manager and resident dramaturg for Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C., had taken note of Ende, managing director of Theater J, when he first moved to the city.
“We have a friend in common, Hannah Hessel, who’s a fellow dramaturg,” says Lichtenberg. “When I first moved here, she’d invite me to Theater J and without fail a beautiful, intriguing blonde woman would always appear.”
But it was more than a year before Lichtenberg mustered the courage to ask Ende out. “I figured theatre people can bond over good curtain speeches,” he adds.
Ende wasn’t entirely convinced. For starters, she was swamped with work on Golda’s Balcony, starring Tovah Feldshuh, which eventually moved to Broadway. So swamped, in fact, that she rejected Lichtenberg’s first four invitations to shows. What’s more, she had never dated a theatre person. “I had drawn a strict line,” she says. “I always thought, ‘What if it doesn’t work out and everyone will know?’ No messy public theatre world breakups for me.”
“I wore her down through persistence,” Lichtenberg adds.
Ultimately, their first outing was to the Helen Hayes Awards—not exactly a low-profile event. “It was the most public first date, and it was in front of the whole industry,” says Ende.
Lichtenberg likens the awards to a kind of D.C. theatre prom: “Every unemployed actor is there in their fanciest suit or gown. Institutional people are either celebrating or drowning their sorrows. You see everyone you know, and it was a bit surreal to be starting a relationship and checking in with all these people.”
Ende wasn’t sure if she should tend to her date the whole evening or schmooze with colleagues, but sooner or later she found herself connecting with Lichtenberg on the dance floor.
The couple, who married June 4 on the outer banks of North Carolina, say they balance each other out. “Drew is good at analyzing text and analyzing our relationship—he will push us to deal with couple issues,” says Ende. “I am the planner, and I organize things like our finances.”
She also organizes trips. Due to their demanding schedules, the couple won’t take their honeymoon for another year (they’re hoping to go to Southeast Asia). Lichtenberg is grateful for Ende’s planning proclivities. “She’s a grownup and she’s helped me structure a life where we can have what we want personally in our relationship, but also in our professional careers,” he says. “In regional theatre, you often go from one project to the next, and you don’t prioritize a home life. I’ve learned a tremendous deal about how to enjoy life from Rebecca.”
Because the two work at different institutions, and in different capacities, they are able to support each other’s professional pursuits in a non-competitive way while still learning from the other.
“I used to be quite dogmatic,” Lichtenberg admits regarding his desire for theatres to challenge and educate audiences. Ende’s work in management has made Lichtenberg privy to the intricacies of season planning and priority balancing, while Lichtenberg has helped Ende gain a better understanding of the artistic side of a process.
To that end, when they attend work events, they let the person whose native terrain it is shine. “I am happy to be egoless and just support Rebecca and let her work the room and network,” Lichtenberg says.
“Afterwards, we will of course talk about how it went,” says Ende. “We’ll do a post-mortem and have a notes session.”
“Notes are never brutal,” adds Lichtenberg. “They’re more like an ongoing conversation.”
And while the conversation may often center around theatre, the pair make a concerted effort to do other things. They have a dog named Sprout, and they’re prone to take detours to out-of-the-way Thai restaurants. “I can be monomaniacal,” says Lichtenberg. “We’re a good balance for that reason.”
Support American Theatre: a just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. Please join us in this mission by making a donation to our publisher, Theatre Communications Group. When you support American Theatre magazine and TCG, you support a long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!