The Tysons-based theater 1st Stage is taking a stand against gun violence with a virtual night of staged play readings on Dec. 14.
Kicking off at 7:30 p.m. on Zoom, the free event will feature readings of seven short plays written by teen playwrights as part of the nationwide ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence project, which encourages teenagers to express their activism through art.
1st Stage Artistic Director Alex Levy says the project aligns with his belief in theater as an arena where people “can come together as a community and have difficult conversations about our world.”
“I was especially moved to amplify the voices of these young people whose entire lives have been lived in the shadows of lockdown drills, gun violence, and mass shootings,” Levy said. “They are demanding a better world, and we at 1st Stage stand with them.”
The readings will be followed by a discussion led by Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Executive Director Josh Horowitz and Fairfax County NAACP President Sean Perryman, who is currently campaigning to become Virginia’s next lieutenant governor.
Descriptions of the featured plays and a link to register for a limited quantity of tickets can be found on 1st Stage’s website.
For the fourth year in a row, the Tysons 2050 event has put forward a rosy view of the future of the area, but this year, those lofty dreams are weighted down by some harsh realities about challenges ahead for Tysons.
Sponsored by the Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce, the event features voices from different industries around Tysons discussing what lies ahead for the region. Those experts recognized that the future is harder to predict this year. COVID-19 is on the rise again nationally and locally, and the onset of winter is leaving many businesses that had gone outside for activities scrambling for new solutions.
“What happens to offices and malls?” asked Sol Glasner, CEO of the Tysons Partnership. “I don’t know, and you shouldn’t listen to anyone who says they do know. The crystal ball is murky.”
Glasner said offices may need to be reconfigured, but he doesn’t believe the need for office space will fully disappear any more than retail will.
“Our shopping areas have proven adept to changing to consumer patterns,” Glasner said.
Mike Whatley, vice president of the National Restaurant Association, says one of the advantages for Tysons-area restaurants and retail is having more flexibility in using their space than their counterparts in D.C., like larger sidewalks for curbside pick-up.
“The ability to have extra space, to have extra flexibility, means restaurants will survive and thrive,” Whatley said. “When people are looking now and post-pandemic at where they want to live, you have to have that vibrant restaurant scene and culture.”
Whatley said one of the keys to surviving the season will be embracing going digital.
“Restaurants that survive are the ones that are embracing tech [and] communicating with customers,” Whatley said. “You do see a lot of them in the Tysons community, ones that are able to reach out to customers.”
Tony Hudgins, Vice President of TransitScreen, said ghost kitchens — food vendors that don’t operate out of a restaurant space — could take up a bigger role in the restaurant scene after the pandemic. Read More
Each course consists of six classes with prices starting at $100 per course.
Classes are taught over Zoom sessions. The deadline for registration is Monday, Sept. 21.
Classes for adults include:
- Playwriting (Tuesdays, Sept. 29-Nov. 3 from 4-6 p.m.) — The class will introduce students to playwriting concepts like idea generation, dramatic action, character and dialogue development.
- Beginning Acting (Thursdays, Oct. 1-Nov. 5 from 6-7 p.m.) — The class will introduce students to developing believable characters within the play text and teach acting techniques.
- A Director Prepares (Tuesdays, Sept. 29-Nov. 3 from 1-2 p.m.) — The class will introduce students to direction, particularly on the production, preparation, and conceptualization aspects. The class will also touch on casting and working with designers and actors.
- Beginning Voice Training (Fridays, Oct. 2-Nov. 6 from 1-3 p.m.) — The class introduces students to healthy singing techniques, including warm-ups and cool downs, vocal exercises, and simple songs.
- Play Reading and Discussion (Fridays, Oct. 2-Nov. 6 from 7-8 p.m.) — The class will involve reading and discussing plays, as well as discussing analytic techniques.
- Introduction to Improvisation (Wednesdays, Sept. 30-Nov. 4) — The class is an introduction to the basics of improvisation, like “yes, and…” as well as other foundational improv techniques.
- Intermediate Improvisation (Sundays, Oct. 4-Nov. 8 from 1-2 p.m.) — Students will build on more advanced improv skills and concepts from the earlier Intro to Improv class, with a focus on creating characters and scenes quickly, bold choices, and working together to form a scene.
Five courses are available for grades 1st through 12th.
- Drama Games (1st-2nd Grade, Mondays, Sept. 28-Nov. 2 from 4-4:45 p.m.) — The course introduces children to basic acting skills with games, activities and exercises.
- Introduction to Improvisation (3rd-6th Grade, Wednesdays, Sept. 30-Nov. 4 from 4-4:45 p.m.) — This class will cover the basics of improv concepts and building on natural instincts.
- Beginning Improv (Middle School, Thursdays, Oct. 1-Nov. 5 from 4-4:45 p.m.) — Similar to Introduction to Improvisation, Beginning Improv will focus on teaching improv concepts.
- Building Your Book (High School, Fridays, Oct. 2-Nov. 6 from 4 p.m.-6 p.m.) — This intermediate class aims to help advanced singers through warmups, cooldowns and exercises. The class is geared towards polishing songs with vocal, musical, and dramatic performances.
- Play Reading And Discussion (High School, Saturdays, Oct. 3-Nov. 7, 12 p.m.-1 p.m.) — The class will focus on reading and discussing plays with classic and modern analyzing techniques.
Two Tysons-area theaters are recent recipients of the 36th annual Helen Hayes Awards.
Tysons-based 1st Stage Theatre and Falls Church-based Creative Cauldron were both nominated in several categories earlier this year. In total, 1st Stage Theatre has 18 nominations, while Creative Cauldron has nine this year.
While the awards show is slated for later this month, recent announcements revealed that the theaters have won some awards.
Award announcements began Aug. 31 and will continue until Sept. 11. So far, 1st Stage has won “Outstanding Lighting Design (Hayes)” for “The Brothers Size” and Creative Cauldron has nabbed the “Outstanding Lead Performers in a Musical (Helen)” award for Nora Palka in “On Air.”
Each year, Theatre Washington presents awards to over 90 theatres and artists around the D.C. area in honor of Helen Hayes, who is known as the “First Lady of American Theatre,” according to Theatre Washington. The year-long nomination process for the Helen Hayes Awards includes 40 judges attending around 200 productions.
An in-person Helen Hayes Awards Ceremony was supposed to be May 18th, but due to COVID-19, it was moved to a virtual ceremony. This year’s virtual ceremony will be held on Friday (Sept. 25).
People will have to wait to see if the two local theaters have more of their nominations turned into awards.
Photo via Rob Laughter/Unsplash
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.
“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
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]
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.
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.
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.
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