What’s in a Name?

After its move, H Street Playhouse will morph into Anacostia Playhouse

“Just as the H Street Playhouse name emerged as the most simple, straightforward and honest name to represent the community where it lived, so, too did the name for the Anacostia Playhouse,” says Adele Robey, owner of H Street Playhouse, the new, soon-to-be opened Anacostia Playhouse.

The change in name and relocation to Anacostia from H Street will happen over the next few months – as the lease for H Street Playhouse with Century Associates wraps up in January 2013, and the recently signed lease for the space in Anacostia with Curtis Properties begins. In early October, the permit process for 2020 Shannon Place in Anacostia will trigger demolition with removal of some temporary interior walls, bringing the building down to four walls, a ceiling and a floor.

Once empty, construction will begin on the approximately 2,000 square foot theater space that will include flexible seating. Architectural designer, Sean Pichon, of DC based PGN Architects, has the drawings nearly finished. Two floors at the back of the building will house dressing rooms, green room, production booth and theater offices and in the front of the building, planned rehearsal space, classrooms, reception and meeting spaces will provide the bookends to the performance space. The building’s front will also sport a new entrance with lobby, and audience services such as coat check and box office.

Phil Hutinet, Chief Operating Officer of Anacostia-based community partner, ARCH Development Corporation (ADC) states that since their July press conference announcing the Playhouse’s move to Historic Anacostia, he’s experienced a definite uptick in queries about potential retail projects – from a bicycle shop, and yoga studio to many restaurant concepts. “Based on the multiple inquiries we’ve had since the announcement of the Playhouse moving here, I would anticipate the spaces filling quickly as we see regular performances taking place and an increase in the number of people coming into the neighborhood each night.”

Easily accessible, the Anacostia Playhouse location is an easy walk from the Anacostia Metro stop or Capital Bikeshare station, the Circulator transports riders from Barracks Row to Anacostia in approximately five minutes, and if starting from Frager’s Hardware on Capitol Hill, you could stroll there in about 20 minutes. Hutinet says that there has been a really nice collaborative effort with other soon-to-be Anacostia neighbors.

“There is plenty of on-street parking, but the Curtis Properties parking lot adjacent to the Anacostia Playhouse is being made available during performances, and a block away on MLK, Jr. Avenue, PNC Bank has offered the use of its parking lot for evening theatergoers.”

Hutinet also mentioned that there are so many opportunities for businesses looking to have an Anacostia presence. “We’re located in a Federal Small Business Administration HUB Zone and ADC has also been awarded a Housing and Community Development grant for storefront improvements – for up to $27,000 in building façade work for qualifying businesses. Grants are available for 80% of the façade project cost, while ADC offers very low business loans (at 3% to 5 %) for the remaining 20% of the façade renovation.”

Historic Anacostia has witnessed increased economic growth as evidenced by the HIVE incubator – a creative and shared workspace for freelancers and small businesses, another project of ADC. Hutinet states that with the opening of HIVE II in October (a larger space to keep up with the demand for more offices and meeting rooms located at 1231 Good Hope Road, SE), HIVE I may see more music and theater focused tenants who would benefit from the proximity to the Anacostia Playhouse and a growing creative community – literally in their backyard.

Robey says that the Anacostia Playhouse upcoming season is likely to have a mix of booked-in productions where different theater companies rent the space for the show’s run, and events and other productions produced directly by the Anacostia Playhouse.

“We’re a work in progress,” says Robey, and states that they’re hopeful for an opening date in March with an event similar to how they opened the H Street Playhouse – a ‘Raise the Roof’ party – and continues, “We had a fun evening of song and performance, all donated by local theater and music professionals ranging from gospel to blues, show tunes to rock and roll – plus lots of great food.” Robey says that it will be key to also showcase friends who have supported H Street Playhouse over the last decade, as much as the new friends they’re making as they settle into their new neighborhood.

The last show at the H Street Playhouse will be Theater Alliance’s “Wonderful Life” running with the late-night “Night Before Christmas.” Performances will end this year on December 31. January of the new year will be spent transitioning across quadrants, overseen by Managing Director Julia Robey Christian (Adele Robey’s daughter).

In the interim, the Anacostia Playhouse leadership has submitted an application for IRS approval for status as a not-for-profit under the name of DC Theater Arts Collaborative. This designation will offer the opportunity for them to have a fundraising arm under which to raise money to support youth programming, provide an after-school arts curriculum, offset rental costs for emerging artists and more.

Hutinet states that working with the Anacostia Playhouse has been truly collaborative, “We believe that the arts and the creative economy can be employed as part of a comprehensive approach to community revitalization. Adele and Julia have been tremendous partners for ADC and for further economic development in Anacostia. They bring a vibrancy to the project, and continue to engage people, bringing these important resources to the table to ensure its success.”

“We’re most excited about the fact we’re being welcomed so warmly and that there are so many offers of help and creative ideas being thrown our way,” says Robey, and adds that the new name truly reflects the idea to “honor the community which has been so welcoming to us and to have the name make that statement.”