A 20-20 Vision for Historic Anacostia

H Street Playhouse to Relocate to Historic Anacostia

During the Monday afternoon press conference, a tour of the new theater space at 2020 Shannon Place SE in Historic Anacostia.

Exit the Anacostia Metro stop and you start to feel the energy of this vibrant neighborhood. Travel past the Capital Bikeshare station, Arcadia Farm’s Mobile Market selling fresh fruit and vegetables, and walk a few blocks on bustling Martin Luther King Boulevard and you’ll find the HIVE, a creative and shared workspace for freelancers and small businesses, a project of the ARCH Development Corporation (ADC).

Around for over two decades, ADC is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit community based organization that believes arts and the creative economy can be employed as part of a comprehensive approach to community revitalization in Anacostia– and believes in working collaboratively with other groups and organizations to realize economic growth.

Back in January 2012, ADC heard that the H Street Playhouse would no longer operate out of their H Street NE home and they reached out to the theater to propose their relocation to Historic Anacostia. And now, just a block from the HIVE, live theater will come to Anacostia.

“It was a natural fit,” says Phil Hutinet, ADC’s Chief Operating Officer who spearheaded the project. “The H Street Playhouse’s presence in Historic Anacostia will not only provide a world-class black-box theater for both local and regional patrons, but it will also provide a stage for local performers who live and work East of the River including Southeast Trinity, Verbal Gymnastics, the Serenity Players and Melvin Deal and the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers.”

On the heels of LUMEN8Anacostia where art venues showcased the works of local fine artists and artisans as well as performances by visual artists, dancers and actors – the H Street Playhouse announcement seems perfectly timed.

Charles Wilson, President and Co-Founder of the Historic Anacostia Block Association, is enthusiastic about the announcement and said that the move is a good indicator that Anacostia will be getting the attention it deserves.

“The buzz is out there – folks are definitely talking about the future development of the larger Ward 8 community – between Anacostia and Congress Heights, there is a lot going on. There’s an influx of new residents, mostly young black professionals coming into the neighborhood, too, which gives hope that we can all pursue the American Dream.”

Julia Robey Christian, who not only works as the managing director of the H Street Playhouse, but at one time served as program director for Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, and also more recently held the post of executive director at Capitol Hill’s Chamber of Commerce (CHAMPS), was raised in a community-minded household.

Julia’s parents, Adele and Bruce Robey, had purchased the building at 1365 H Street, NE in 2001 and started the H Street Playhouse. After Bruce passed away in 2009, Adele sold the building to Century Associates. The H Street Playhouse is currently a Century tenant through the end of January 2013.

I’m a neighborhood nerd, and more than ever, it’s key for the H Street Playhouse to continue to be a resource for its community – I grew up in DC, and my father grew up in Anacostia – it’s important to work on behalf of the place that took care of you.”

Philip Pannell, executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council and longtime Ward 8 resident said of the H Street Playhouse relocation that there couldn’t be better news. “There hasn’t been a live theater and performance space in Anacostia in 20 years – since 8Rock was located on Martin Luther King Boulevard – I can’t wait for the Playhouse’s arrival.”

The Playhouse’s change in venue to 2020 Shannon Place, SE, also has the support of Mayor Gray and Ward 8 council member Marion Barry. ANC commissioner David Garber who lived in Anacostia for three years stated, “This is a win-win for the city – a real beacon for all of the possibilities as we see more destinations created, adding to the already established Uniontown Bar & Grill, existing art galleries – all things that will bring people to the neighborhood.”

Garber’s sentiment was echoed by DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities executive director Lionell Thomas at the Monday afternoon press conference, “This will be an amazing cultural hub here in Anacostia – a great example of how public and private partnerships can work in underserved areas.”

Adele Robey admires so much about the new Anacostia theater space, “The venue’s expansive ceilings and open floor space allow for varying configurations, depending on the requirements of the different performances – and over the past decade we’ve galvanized supporters with a steady stream of producing theater companies who are ready to be a part of something new and exciting.”

Robey stated that they hope to have a seamless transition, with performances starting at the new location as soon as the lease expires at the H Street location the end of January. And while the H Street Playhouse won’t be keeping its name in the Anacostia venue, they might open it up to a competition, although she added, "2020 is a cool address.”

Pannell, who works a few steps away from the new theater location says that he looks forward to working with the playhouse and the possibility of hosting events in the new space. He noted Black History Month celebrated in February, coincides with the projected opening date.

ANC commissioner Greta Fuller said, “This is the catalyst for Historic Anacostia – let the city and the rest of the world know who we are and what we have to offer.”