Tysons’ 1st Stage Theatre is taking it day by day as businesses around the Tysons area face closures and uncertain futures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The theater recently announced that the suspension of its upcoming productions due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus. Plans for “A New Brain,” which was set to run March 26-April 19, are still to be determined.
The coronavirus announcement came a few days after the theater unveiled its upcoming shows for the 2020-2021 season.
Tysons Reporter talked to 1st Stage’s Artistic Director Alex Levy about the upcoming season, impacts of the coronavirus and ways people can help support the Tysons theater.
Tysons Reporter: The theater announced that it will compensate the production personnel “most impacted by this sudden closure” and that the performers, designers and technicians for the show will be paid their full contract salary. Are other theaters doing that or just 1st Stage?
Alex Levy: I won’t speak for everybody else. I know a lot of other theaters are not able to do that. I’m really proud to be at this theater where all of the artists for this season and for “A New Brain” will get paid in full.
TR: Walk me through how you picked the five shows for the 2020-2021 season.
AL: It’s a long and complicated process. We read hundreds of plays every year to come to the right collage of plays to make up a season. We have an aesthetic here at 1st Stage.
As the only professional theater in our area, we are trying to provide something for everyone. The entire staff spends well over a yeat reading plays and fitting them together.
It’s a multitiered approach.
We have a database of plays we look at — playwrights who excite us or topics that are interesting to us or plays at other theaters. The rule here is that first reader should be thinking of anything practical — not if it will sell or who the actors will be — if they feel it would be right for us. If the second reader likes it, then it will go to the whole team.
Ultimately, it’s my decision, but with input from everybody.
TR: Is there usually a certain number of finalists?
AL: No. Excellence is at the top of our list. It’s about a season. We don’t stop until we get the right five plays.
We have things we look for in plays. We look for plays we think are worthy of really great artists and engaged audiences. We look for plays that have a unique place. We look for plays that have writing for the stage — we’re not looking for things that work in a movie or TV show or novel.
We also look at angles — music, comedy, drama, traditionally structured plays, more experimental work.
TR: So you’ve already started planning the 2021-2022 season?
AL: Yes. With the coronavirus, we have a lot more reading time lately. We are well into 2021-2022.
TR: How is the coronavirus impacting all of this?
AL: I don’t think I can overstate how scary this is for both organizations and for individuals. The idea of being out of business for a prolonged period of time is terrifying.
The arts usually have not been prioritized the way I think they ought to be in state and local governments. There is a fear that we’re not being remembered in conversations on how to boost businesses up.
For actors and staff, this is a gig economy. We’ve made a commitment to make sure all the artists get paid.
We are pausing our productions. We are hopeful the next show we produce will be “A New Brain.”
TR: What are some things people can do to help 1st Stage out financially?
AL: Subscriptions are a really great way to support us. It’s incredibly helpful to know people will come back.
We are a charitable organization, so people can make tax-deductible donations.
Our biggest concern right now is keeping everyone employed and paid.
TR: Are you planning fundraisers?
AL: We know that is going to have to happen. There will absolutely be opportunities to join us in the near future.
TR: Are you considering any digital or online alternatives?
AL: It’s complicated — it can be a significant expense and there are legal issues too. Some writers in the union are trying to relax those rules.
We are going to launch next week aggressive social media content with music and storytelling. People can look out for that.
We just want to put some good energy out to folks because times are tough. There’s a little piece of “A New Brain” that we recorded for our recent benefit on our Facebook page.
I suppose anything is possible. We are very aware that we don’t know what the future will look like. We have to wait and see how the changes, hopefully in weeks, not months.
This interview has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.
Images (2-3) via 1st Stage