With sights set on an early April opening date, Adele Robey, CEO of the Anacostia Playhouse, is ready to retrieve permits from the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to start on the next stage of the project. As Robey and Managing Director Julia Robey Christian transition from the more than decade-long run in northeast DC with the H Street Playhouse to their new address at 2020 Shannon Place, SE in Anacostia, the transformation continues.
Demolition has already started on the interior space, led by Jabali Nash, Director of Construction at ARCH Development Corporation in Anacostia (ADC). ADC, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit community-based organization is dedicated to the use of the arts as a catalyst for comprehensive revitalization and economic development.
Robey appreciates the hard work of Nash and his crew, “He’s the main go-to and hands-on guy,” she says, and notes that they’re planning on using local contract help whenever possible, building on the plans drawn up by DC-based PGN Architects.
On December 30, Robey and Christian hosted a reception bringing together community leaders, elected officials, those in the theater arts and others interested in this new Anacostia performance space.
Says Robey, “We were able to showcase the drawings for the new space and continue the dialogue of how the Anacostia Playhouse can be a dynamic hub for the community at large, offering a great performance venue, bringing people here from all over the region.”
With expansive ceilings and an open floor space, the Anacostia Playhouse will function as a rental facility as well as a producing organization. The current plan allows for 100-120 seats with flexible seating and the ability to host everything from intimate readings and concerts to children’s events and community meetings. Easily accessible, it’s only five minutes from Capitol Hill by car over the 11th Street Bridge (with ample parking), an easy Metro ride (Green Line Anacostia stop), short cycle to the nearby Capital Bikeshare, or a quick ride on the Circulator from Barracks Row.
An Art Center in Anacostia
Anacostia recently won the Curbed Cup 2012, beating out 15 other neighborhoods as the best neighborhood of the year. There is increased optimism here – with a flourishing arts and business district boasting of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative and a popular art-focused celebration in its second year, Lumen8Anacostia, taking place this year on June 22.
Phil Hutinent, Chief Operating Officer of ADC says that since the July 2012 press conference announcing the H Street Playhouse’s move to Anacostia, he’s seen a definite uptick in interest in properties throughout the area. He noted Anacostia’s transition was similar to other neighborhoods like Barracks Row in the late 1990’s and to what happened a little later on H Street. “With people aware of the fast-tracking for the St. Elizabeths’ property, a significant neighborhood investment with the Anacostia Playhouse, the 11th Street Bridge, and the many ARCH projects going on here – such as the HIVE, the HIVE 2.0 (both small business incubator spaces), numerous art-focused spaces like Honfleur Gallery, and many business and development initiatives – it’s just a matter of time before we see a further influx of restaurants and supporting businesses on our commercial strip.”
Christian notes the community and small town feel in Anacostia. “I'm thrilled that we will be able to expand our operations to include producing some of our own shows rather than just serving as a rental facility. I'm particularly excited to create a youth training program that will provide technical education coupled with opportunities to gain professional experience. We will also be hosting visual art exhibitions, providing another venue for east of the river artists to display their work. Our goal is for the Anacostia Playhouse to be a true community resource and to serve as a creative neighborhood gathering place.”
Robey looks forward to seeing performances from various regional groups – and she and Christian have had interest from Verbal Gymnastics, Southeast Trinity, being a venue for the DC Black Theater Festival, Washington Shakespeare Company Avant Bard (from Arlington) and possibly continuing the tradition of Black Nativity next season. She says conversations with Vernard Gray of East River JazzFest, as well as the US Coast Guard relating to some of their combo groups have brought up the possibility of Monday night music programming.
Award-winning Theater Alliance was founded in 1993 and used to be housed at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop and later, was the theater-in-residence at the H Street Playhouse. They’ve recently received a $17,500 East of the River grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities to assist with production costs of Broke-ology, a performance that will be part of the inaugural season at the Anacostia Playhouse in late April or early May.
Theater Alliance’s artistic director, Colin Hovde, said that while they will have their base of operations at the Anacostia Playhouse with offices and rehearsals onsite, they have multiple venues at their disposal.
Hovde states, “This is a really exciting opportunity and Anacostia is a beautiful neighborhood that will benefit from live theater and performances. The Anacostia Playhouse will usher in a new era of economic and artistic development.”
Robey also says she’s enthusiastic about incorporating a focus for youth. For the Lumen8Anacostia event this year, the Anacostia Playhouse will offer children’s theater performances.
“I started out working in children’s theater and I miss it – I’m really looking forward to establishing children’s theater programming at the Anacostia Playhouse.”
“We learned a lot and we’re proud of what we were a part of on H Street and what we helped to make happen there,” said Robey, “and we’re really excited about the Anacostia Playhouse – we’ve received an incredibly warm welcome from everyone in our new community – from our great landlord (Curtis Properties), the ADC staff, to offers of assistance from the staff at Councilmember Marion Barry’s office to neighbors and people from organizations looking for a performing arts venue.”
Look for further updates and announcements for community events leading up to the opening by visiting anacostiaplayhouse.com.