America's hippest theaters? They're just off-Capitol Hill
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"All the theaters are now looking at younger, more diverse audiences, and they're going to have to start marketing themselves differently."Skip to next paragraph
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While the LOWT audience survey showed that 83 percent of theatergoers still are white, such statistics "go out the window" when a production speaks specifically to an ethnic audience.
"For example, when Arena did 'The Glass Menagerie' a few years back with an all African-American cast, the audience was majority black," Ms. Nelson says. "What that says to me is that so-called mainstream theaters need to do more work that's relevant to [other ethnic groups]."
Instead of waiting for the big stages to change, however, maverick artists like Nelson and Edu. Bernardino, founder and artistic director of Asian Stories In America (ASIA), are creating productions of their own.
"With the emergence of theater companies like ACTCo and ASIA, more works of this nature are being presented [and] with more clarity and honesty in their presentations," Bernardino says.
Strong leaders are often behind the success of theaters, "creating institutions that are the nucleus of their community," says Howard Shalwitz, artistic director of Woolly Mammoth.
Whether it's theater by and for Latino-Americans at GALA (Group of Artists from Latin America) Hispanic Theatre, or French-speaking shows at Le Neon Theatre, or works by Jewish writers at Theatre J, - D.C. has a show for every description, occasion, or persuasion.
As the Studio's Zinoman puts it, "Our well-kept secret is out."
r For comprehensive D.C. theater listings - including what's playing - go to www.helenhayes.org.
Washington D.C. theater primer
As Michael Kahn, artistic director of The Shakespeare Theatre, says of D.C.'s theaters, "We've grown identities."
Here's a quick sample of the diversity:
Arena Stage: D.C.'s doyenne of theaters, founded by the legendary Zelda Fichandler 50 years ago and virtually the only show in town for some 30 years.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The National Theatre, Warner Theatre, and Ford's Theatre: Predominantly venues for nonresident, touring shows. Think Tony and Pulitzer prize-winners - and Broadway hits.
The Shakespeare Theatre: The best classical theater in the country, bar none.
Source: The oldest continually running small professional theater in D.C., home of the annual Washington Theatre Festival, a theatrical "boot camp" for new writing. It's proud to have "produced every kind of alternative theater," says Joe Banno, its artistic director.
The Studio Theatre: Funky and urban, with an emphasis on the newer works of more established contemporary playwrights, like Tom Stoppard and August Wilson.
Woolly Mammoth: Eclectic, risk-taking, adventurous, wild, with more than half of the productions being American or world premieres.
Round House: A self-described "non-niche" theater trying to "provide as many experiences on as many levels as we possibly can," says Jerry Whiddon, producing artistic director.
Signature: "Signature's signature is Sondheim." An emphasis on musical theater. Artistic director Eric Schaeffer's international reputation is growing with the recent London success of his musical stage adaptation of "The Witches of Eastwick."
Washington Shakespeare Company: "Classics with a scruffy edge," says artistic director Christopher Henley. It's the smallest of D.C.'s three Shakespeare companies, with the most intimate, immediate performing space.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor