Okay, so the DC theatre scene got slammed recently. When I heard about that I thought, Hey now! And I knew I just had to invite WC instructor Richard Washer to share his thoughts on the matter. Richard is a playwright, director, and educator, and has led Playwriting and Mixed Genre workshops at the Writer’s Center since 1995. He currently serves as Company Dramaturge at Charter Theatre (which incidentally got its start at The Writer's Center. His play Quartet was scheduled to be produced early in 2009 at Charter Theatre, but that's been put on hold for now. These are lean times for the theatre, which makes Slate's comments all the more egregious (at least for me). Anyway, enough of me. Here's Richard:
A recent article in Slate claims that Washington theatre is "… still second rate at best" caused me to laugh and sigh in almost one breath. I have worked in the Washington theatre community for some twenty-five years now (that statement alone is enough to make anyone sigh). The last ten years I have worked with Charter Theatre, a company devoted to developing and producing new plays, and this has provided me with the opportunity to meet and work with some of the most talented local artists (actors, designers, directors, and writers). That privilege of that experience alone is enough to make me laugh at the absurdity of the statement. Besides, it seems pretty clear to everyone that this is an instance of sloppy journalism. So why even honor it with another moment of attention? Because I sighed.
I sighed because I thought this conversation had finally faded away. I sighed because I felt like Washington theatre artists and residents are once again being called upon to defend our theatre community. And many are speaking up. Helen Hayes, Vice Chair, and Glen Howard over at DC theatre scene have begun a lively conversation on this topic. There are now more than sixty professional companies in Washington. A number like that reflects a vibrant and engaged community on both the part of the artists and the audiences that support and attend the events.
But I also sighed because in some ways the judgment that theatre here is second rate conjures in my mind the extra effort it takes to get the word out to the greater community about the good work being done. It's not just a matter of producing quality work. It's a question of reaching out to people who don't go to theatre, but would enjoy it if they did. If you are not a theatre enthusiast, or an artist working in theatre, an article dismissing the entire community as second rate can drown out any invitation to participate in theatrical events.
I have every confidence that President-elect Obama and his family will open to the Washington Post's "Guide to the Lively Arts" and be overwhelmed by the diversity and richness offered by the theatre community here. By all indications, from what I have read in recent articles, they will attend some performances. And they will judge for themselves. By then a careless, thoughtless and misguided comment made in Slate will be long forgotten.