Tysons, VA

Tysons’ 1st Stage Theatre announced today (Thursday) that it’s delaying its upcoming season until February and will focus on virtual class offerings this summer.

Until 2021 rolls around, 1st Stage will offer new online classes. The “Virtual Classroom” will feature six education courses taught by the theater’s staff:

  • July 13-Aug. 17: “Introduction to Playwriting” by family member Bob Bartlett
  • July 14-Aug. 18: “Beginning Scene Study” by Associate Artistic Director Deidra LaWan Starnes
  • July 15-Aug. 19: “A Director Prepares” by Artistic Director Alex Levy
  • July 17-Aug. 21: “Beginning Voice Training” by Casting Director Jane Margulies Kalbfeld
  • July 18-Aug. 22: “Approaches to Script Analysis” by Literary Manager Laura Esti Miller
  • July 19-Aug. 23: “Introduction to Improvisation” by Director of Engagement Heidi Fortune Picker

Instead of kicking off its 13th season later this year, the theater will wait until February. The new season will include three productions from February-May before the Logan Festival of Solo Performance, which was cancelled this summer, will return in July 2021.

The season is now scheduled to kick off with “The Waverly Gallery,” directed by Alex Levy and written by Kenneth Lonergan. Then in April, the theatre will show “The Nance,” directed by Nick Olcott and written by Douglas Carter Beane. “Mlima’s Tale,” directed by José Carrasquillo and written by Lynn Nottage, will be the season’s last production.

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“When we can’t do theater, what can we do?” Alex Levy, the artistic director of 1st Stage Theatre, posed during a recent Zoom conversation with local artists.

Levy was at his brother’s house while sharing his thoughts on what the future of 1st Stage during the hour-long “Cultural Tysons” panel.

More than 50 households logged on as Levy; local painter and teacher Deborah Conn; bookstore owner Jen Morrow; and Lori Carbonneau, the head of the McLean Project for the Arts, weighed in on various facets of COVID-19’s impacts on Tysons’ art scene.

Levy introduced himself to viewers by tackling a perception of Tysons — and Northern Virginia west of Arlington — as a “cultural wasteland.” His fellow panelists agreed that the pandemic is highlighting how small businesses and local artists and institutions contribute to the area’s culture.

“It reinforced how much people want local,” Jen Morrow, the owner of Bards Alley in Vienna, said during the Zoom panel.

The bookstore is currently offering curbside pick-up and online shopping. The “Take a Chance on Me” option for staff to recommend books in the store based on shoppers’ chosen genres and price points has “been a home run,” she said.

“I think people are really discovering how much they miss their access to the arts,” Conn, the local watercolor painter, said. “They need the arts. They need the theater. They need the books.”

With some of her art hanging behind her, Conn talked about the changes she’s experienced during the pandemic: better class attendance now that she’s teaching via Zoom, a greater demand for more demos and more creative ways to showcase art.

Conn, who is also the gallery curator at 1st Stage, shared that one of her friends started a fence post art gallery, while a few others are doing driveway galleries: “We have to be seen.”

The virtual meeting on Saturday (June 13) was part of the Community Conversations series that 1st Stage started five years ago.

“It’s a really popular thing that we did, and we realized it was one of those things that we can move to a digital platform during the pandemic,” Levy told Tysons Reporter earlier this week. “So we started that two months ago, doing these community conversations via Zoom.”

While success stories might make the pivot to online look easy, the panelists shared the uncertainties they still face months into social distancing, quarantine, stay at home orders and COVID-19 restrictions.

Some things haven’t been figured out yet, like how to offer in-person summer classes or host ArtFest online, Carbonneau, MPA’s executive director, said. While MPA missed an exhibition in the spring, the arts organization is moving forward with plans for a virtual exhibition.

1st Stage, in particular, has been grappling with how to reconcile its mission and atmosphere — “Our primary mode of work is to gather people in small spaces,” moderator Emily Wall, who is the theater’s associate producer, said — with state and local requirements to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

In March, the theater suspended its upcoming productions and closed its doors. A month later, the theater announced that “A New Brain,” which was supposed to run March 26-April 19, will be its next show, but the dates haven’t been determined yet. The Logan Festival of Solo Performance is canceled for July but plans to return next year.

Levy said during “Cultural Tysons” that institutions with video skills and equipment before the pandemic had an easier time adjusting. Even organizations that weren’t focused on tech before now have incentives to catch up.

Carbonneau noted that the switch to online programming allows for greater geographic diversity. For example, one of MPA’s students is in Italy, while one of its teachers is in New York opening a studio, she said.

The increased accessibility to audiences and artists is an “exciting” opportunity for the theater, Levy told Tysons Reporter.

“In our [Zoom panel] on Saturday, people from all over the county [were] part of the conversation, and that’s been a really cool benefit,” he said. “These virtual conversations have allowed us to open up to a whole group of people who would never be able to be a part of it because they’re just physically too far at any given time.”

For people who missed the Zoom panels or want to view them again, the recorded conversations are archived on 1st Stage’s YouTube channel — another perk of holding virtual events.

In addition to the Community Conversations series, 1st Stage is also planning a series of Zoom classes to address a longing for human connection.

“We are going to create a series of classes that are not really intended for professionals but intended for people to connect to art-making in ways where they maybe never have before and to do it with our artists and with each other,” he told Tysons Reporter.

Another idea, which is in the planning stages, would allow multiple organizations to co-produce a piece for Zoom. “We can break apart the way we make theater… and then see what happens when we bring it together and then let it be a live event so that it still has some of that feeling of theater where anything can happen,” he said.

While Zoom will make these ideas possible, Levy said the pandemic’s impact on the theater’s season has opened up time to reimagine future plans.

“Normally I think we need to be done by, you know, X days because we had to put it into our season,” he said about the co-production idea. “Now we can say, ‘Let’s let it go at the pace that feels like it’s creating the best work, and when it’s ready, we’ll do it.'”

Currently, the theater is using this time to talk about how to invest in artists in the longterm and “how we disrupt our own process every now and then.”

“We’ve been having conversations about like, ‘Well what would it look like to start talking to an artist, not six months before we do a show but two years before we do a show?’ and ‘What can we change about the way we build and create a show when we think like that?'” Levy said.

Questions about the use of space outside the theater — 1st Stage is currently looking into opportunities to perform outdoors — and how the relationship with the audience will change are also on the list.

While 1st Stage normally starts the theatrical process with a play, Levy said he wonders what would happen if they started with a blank page instead. The theater has also been reaching out to actors to see if they want to write plays and asking playwrights if they have an interest in directing.

“We have long believed that theater gets made in a certain way,” he said. “I think who’s in those power positions are going to be shaken up… Theater is no different than any other institution where those in power can hang onto that power and tend to reinforce it.”

Levy sees art institutions as a guide — “Our job is to be out ahead of governments and for-profit businesses and model what it can look like” — and the questions 1st Stage is tackling fit into a bigger query about how to disassemble power structures.

“I think the kinds of stories we tell are going to change. I think the kind of people that tell those stories are going to change. The ways in which we tell them are going to change,” he said.

Ultimately, Levy hopes the disruption will alter not only future art, but also the ways that art gets made.

“What this is really allowing us is to think about what years from now might look like too. So, to build something that is not about ‘Oh this is a cool show,’ but build something that says ‘This is a way in which we create cool shows’ for years,” he said.

Image via 1st Stage Theatre/YouTube

Madeline Taylor contributed to this report 

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Virtual Job Fair for Recent Grads Next Thursday — “Participants will be able to browse companies in the lobby, enter their booths, view open positions specifically curated for recent grads, and chat with HR representatives in real-time.” [Brazen Connect]

First Child Case in Va. of Syndrome Tied to COVID-19 — “The Fairfax Health District has confirmed a case of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) associated with COVID-19. This is the first case of MIS-C reported in Virginia.” [Inside NoVa]

N. Va.’s Reopening Date TBD — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday he has not decided whether Northern Virginia can enter Phase One of reopening on May 29… Northam said he is in daily communication with Northern Virginia government leaders and has set no timeline for making a decision.” [Inside NoVa]

Helen Hayes Awards Delayed to August — D.C.-area theater companies will have to wait until late August for the awards ceremony that will determine the winners. Tysons’ 1st Stage Theatre received 18 nominations this year. [Broadway World, Tysons Reporter]

84 Falls Church Businesses Win Grant Funding — “The City of Falls Church Economic Development Authority (EDA) is proud to announce the winners of the EDA Small Business COVID-19 Emergency Grant Program. Each business will receive $2,000 to help with urgent expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” [City of Falls Church]

Summer Camps Canceled — “The Fairfax County Park Authority and the county’s Department of Neighborhood and Community Services have canceled 2020 summer camp programs due to the COVID-19 crisis.” [Tysons Reporter]

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Tysons’ 1st Stage Theatre is starting a series for virtual meet and greets with the staff and performers, along with a peek at the creative process.

The theater announced the new series yesterday (Monday). Called “Community Conversations,” the series kicks off on Saturday, May 9.

Since the coronavirus pandemic prompted show cancellations, the theater has taken to social media to share videos of short performances.

The line-up for the series includes:

  • May 9: Meet the Staff
  • May 16: Artistic Directors in Conversation
  • May 23: Performers in Quarantine
  • May 30: How 1st Stage Develops New Work
  • June 6: The Life of a Solo Artist
  • June 13: Cultural Tysons

All of the conversations will take place at 2 p.m. EST on Zoom and will be posted on social media afterwards for people who couldn’t attend live, according to the theater.

People interested in joining, can register online for each conversation.

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After suspending its upcoming shows due to the coronavirus, 1st Stage Theatre now has new plans for how the show(s) will go on.

The theater announced on Thursday (April 9) that “A New Brain,” which was set to run March 26-April 19, will be the theater’s next production. New show dates have not been announced yet.

Meanwhile, “The Waverly Gallery,” which was originally going to be produced this spring, will now join the lineup for the 2020-2021 season.

“1st Stage will remain closed in compliance with federal, state, and local guidelines until it is safe to welcome audiences back to the theatre,” the press release said.

Later this year, audiences can expect the new season to kick off with “Mlima’s Tale” in September and then “The Rainmaker” in December.

In 2021, “The Waverly Gallery” will hit the stage in February, followed by “The Nance” in April and “The Phlebotomist” in May.

The theater is cancelling its Logan Festival of Solo Performance for this July, but said it plans for the festival to take place in 2021.

“We are very grateful to the Logan family for their continued friendship. They have pledged to continue their support for the festival and 1st Stage, and we are so appreciative,” Artistic Director Alex Levy said in the announcement.

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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

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Tysons’ 1st Stage Theatre is suspending its upcoming productions due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus.

“In response to new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and local and state governments, 1st Stage is pausing all productions and closing the theatre to the public effective immediately,” the theater said in an announcement today.

“The safety and well-being of our community is our highest priority,” Artistic Director Alex Levy said in the statement.

Plans for the theater’s upcoming production of “A New Brain,” which was set to run March 26-April 19, are uncertain at this point.

“At this point, it is our hope to open ‘A New Brain’ and continue our season once the health crisis has passed. Given the current situation, we are unsure when that will happen,” the statement said.

The statement said that the theater 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.

The theater is encouraging people who bought tickets or are season subscribers to exchange their tickets for a performance at a later date or to turn them into donations.

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Updated 3:35 p.m. — The theater announced today (Tuesday) that it will close and postpone shows due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus. 

Theater-goers now know what will be on the stage later this year and early 2021 at 1st Stage Theatre.

The theater announced its 2020-2021 season on Sunday (March 15).

The new season will kick off with “Mlima’s Tale” on Sept. 10.

Written by Lynn Nottage and directed by José Carrasquillo, the play follows the journey of ivory tusks poached from an elderly elephant in a protected reserve in Kenya. The play will run through Oct. 11.

From Dec. 3 to Jan. 3, 2021, “The Rainmaker” will tell the story of a spinster, whose father and brothers find a suitor — a con man — for her. Written by N. Richard Nash, the show will be directed by Deidra LaWan Starnes.

In February, people can see the sci-fi play “The Phlebotomist” — written by Ella Road and directed by Alex Levy, the theater’s artistic director.

Then in April, theatergoers can watch a musical and comedy about a gay burlesque performer. “The Nance” is written by Douglas Carter Beane and will be directed by Nick Olcott.

Alex Levy will also direct “The Last Match,” an Anna Ziegler play about a tension-filled tennis match. The show will run from May to June.

The season will end with the fifth annual Logan Festival, which will feature solo performers for two weeks.

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Tysons’ 1st Stage Theatre has nabbed 18 Helen Hayes Awards nominations — making it the second most nominated theater this year in the D.C. area.

The awards, which were announced last night, recognize excellence in professional theatre in the D.C. area.

The awards are split into two main categories: the “Hayes” for productions featuring a majority of theater union members and the “Helen” for productions with fewer union members.

The Tysons theater trailed Olney Theatre Center’s 27 nominations for the most for any theater.

Here is the full list of nominations:

  • Airness” with Keegan Theatre — Outstanding Choreography in a Play, Outstanding Sound Design, James MacArthur Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play, Outstanding Choreography in a Play
  • columbinus” — Outstanding Lighting Design, Outstanding Sound Design, Outstanding Direction in a Play, Outstanding Ensemble in a Play, James MacArthur Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play, Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play
  • The Brothers Size” — Outstanding Production in a Play, Outstanding Set Design, Outstanding Sound Design, Outstanding Direction in a Play, Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play, Outstanding Production in a Play
  • The Royale” with Olney Theatre Center — Outstanding Choreography in a Play, Outstanding Sound Design

Last year, 1st Stage won five of its 22 nominations.

The winners will be announced on Monday, May, 18, at the Anthem in D.C.

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Tysons’ 1st Stage Theatre plans to kick off 2020 with a show about the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion in the U.S.

Inspired by real events, “The Royale” is set to come to bring the story of Jay “The Sport” Jackson and a crooked boxing promoter to the theater’s stage later this month.

Back in the fall, 1st Stage received a grant from ARTSFAIRFAX, letting the theater co-produce the show with Maryland-based Olney Theatre. The show was at Olney from in the fall.

The play starts on Jan. 30 and runs until Feb. 23.

Performances for “The Royale” are:

  • Thursdays — 7:30 p.m.
  • Fridays — 8 p.m.
  • Saturdays — 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
  • Sundays — 2 p.m.

General admission tickets are $42 or $39 for seniors. Students and military tickets are $15.

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