Tysons, VA

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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After kicking its new season off by exploring generational divides, 1st Stage Theatre in Tysons has a comedy opening this week about an air guitar competition.

“Airness” will delve into a woman’s journey when she enters an air guitar competition and befriends a group of nerds, according to the theater’s description of the show.

The show, which is a regional premiere co-production with D.C.-based Keegan Theatre, starts on Thursday (Dec. 5) and runs until Dec. 29.

Performances for “Airness” 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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Tysons’ 1st Stage Theatre is one of seven arts organizations receiving a grant from ARTSFAIRFAX.

ARTSFAIRFAX awarded grants totaling $105,296 to local arts groups in Fairfax County for fiscal year 2020, according to a press release. The grants range in amounts from $1,000 to $30,000.

The grant for 1st Stage will allow the theater to work with the Maryland-based Olney Theatre on a co-production of “The Royale” —  a story about the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion in the U.S. The show played at Olney from Sept. 25 to Oct. 27 and comes to Tysons in January.

“What we are witnessing is how these grants are helping propel the artistic growth of these grantees as their work reaches new audiences within and beyond the county,” Linda Sullivan, the president and CEO of ARTSFAIRFAX, said in a press release.

“Project awardees presented innovative and creative means to engage the community and bring people together to experience arts in fresh and unusual ways,” according to the press release.

Other recipients include the Greater Reston Arts Center, the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra and the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.

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What will the future hold for Tysons 30 years from now? Developers and business representatives tackled that question at the “Tysons 2050” event last night (Thursday).

Panelists imaged how people might live, work and play in Tysons several decades from now — and what needs to get done to foster a stronger sense of community.

Julie Clemente, the president of Clemente Development, said that one of the most important aspects to community development is cohesion in the planning process.

Clemente told the audience that Tysons lacks parks and community recreation centers. Without these things, she is worried that community members will become lonely and find it hard to break out of “silos.”

“For Tysons to be successful, it needs to be connected,” she said.

She mentioned the Spring Hill Recreation Center (1239 Spring Hill Road) as one of the closest opportunities for people in the Tysons area but said it wasn’t enough to meet the growing demand.

“The Spring Hill Recreation Center is overused and everyone goes there,” she said.

Clemente hopes that The View — a recently approved mixed-use project by the Spring Hill Metro station — will add the city center that she says Tysons lacks.

In addition to adding the tallest building in the region, the development plans to build a black box theater, an art walk, a seasonal ice loop and an open-air theater on the green, along with a Tysons Community Center at a nearby site.

“Tysons doesn’t have it now — a center of growth, a heartbeat — and that’s what we want it to be,” Clemente said about The View.

Deirdre Johnson, the vice president of asset management for Federal Realty Investment Trust and new Tysons resident, echoed Clemente’s concerns about connectivity and a sense of community.

“It’s been hard to find points of natural, authentic and emotional connection,”  Johnson said about her time in Tysons. Places like shared green space and cafe seating — as well as art, medical services and religious worship — can help fill that void, she said. 

While roughly 100,000 people work in Tysons during the day, only about 20,000 live in the area, Johnson said.

“After 5 [p.m.] is very important because it helps you become who you are,” she said.

She wants to fix this by creating places where people of all ages — but especially seniors and young people — can feel fulfilled in every aspect of their lives, noting that retail options that appeal to a wide age range and incomes is one solution. 

Another idea from speaker Linda Sullivan, the president of ARTSFAIRFAX, is to institute an artist in residency or creative spaces pop-up program around Tysons.

Artists would have the opportunity to take advantage of affordable housing opportunities while focusing on their work, she said. She also threw out the idea of flex spaces hosting comedy clubs.

Ultimately, whatever the future holds for Tysons will likely focus on innovation around living, working and playing in the same community.

Paul Siemborski, an architect focused on designing performing arts facilities, said Tysons has the opportunity to “break the mold” and try new things.

“Art and play is not a luxury. It’s a necessity,” Siemborski said.

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As 1st Stage Theatre outgrows its current Tysons home, the theater is hoping to move to a proposed mixed-use development by the Spring Hill Metro station.

The theater’s artistic director Alex Levy told the Fairfax County Planning Commission Wednesday night that the theater is negotiating with the county and the developers of the proposed Tysons West development known as The View.

“The stunning new venue that was designed in The View was built specifically for a thriving company like ours,” Levy said. “It will serve as the heartbeat of an exciting and thriving new development.”

Levy told Tysons Reporter last year that the theater has been growing in attendance by 15% year after year — creating capacity issues at the theater’s current space at 1524 Spring Hill Road.

While the theater wants to expand, Levy has said that 1st Stage wants to stay in Tysons.

Levy praised the county and developers for working on the art spaces with specific users in mind and aiming to offer reduced rent for a not-for-profit company, like 1st Stage.

“What makes 1st Stage’s success remarkable is it happens in a landscape in which most of the D.C. region has strong arts funding and subsidized venues,” Levy told the commissioners.

Paul Kohlenberger, the president of the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce, told the commissioners that he supports the idea of subsidizing the lease for 1st Stage at The View.

“Visionary Project”

Vienna-based Clemente Development Co.’s development would add six buildings, including a 600-foot-tall office building that would snatch the “tallest building in the region” title from Capital One’s headquarters in Tysons East and the Washington Monument.

Plans for The View also include a 455-foot-tall office building, a 394-foot-tall building for hotel and residential uses and a 108-foot-tall building with retail and office space.

“We think the diversity of height in and around Tysons is absolutely critical,” a representative for the developer told the Planning Commission.

Known as the Iconic Tower, the tallest building would capitalize on its height with a publicly-accessible botanical garden and observation deck.

While the commissioners have lingering concerns about making the buildings bird-friendly and the logistics with an athletic field tied to the project, they were mostly supportive of The View — especially its focus on the arts.

“One thing that doesn’t work is a theater that is designed for everyone,” John Carter, the commissioner for the Hunter Mill District, said. “Those tend to fail because there’s no such design that works for everybody.”

That’s Entertainment

In addition to the planned black box theater, The View wants to have an art walk, seasonal ice loop, open-air theater on the green and a Tysons Community Center at a nearby site.

“The arts are essential to thriving and robust communities,” Linda Sullivan, the president of ARTSFAIRFAX, said, along with pointing out that Capital One’s planned performance hall and The View will be “important anchors and drivers” of the arts locally.

The Landing Public Sky Park would include an outdoor amphitheater. Meanwhile, the Theater on the Green — also known as the Common Green — would be located between The Landing and one of the buildings.

“The Theater on the Green will provide space for outdoor dining, an open lawn, wayfinding, special paving and banding to visually guide pedestrian flow, a stage for events and performances, outdoor seating, outdoor games, artful lighting, access to multi-modal paths and a continuation of the Art Walk Loop,” according to county documents.

The 20,000 square-foot theater would be available for 35 years.

More from the developers’ plans for the black-box theater:

The proposed development anticipates that the applicant will construct the 199-seat black-box theater, which will be leased to an arts, entertainment, or theatrical group at a very significantly discounted rate. The theater will include “back of house” space for rehearsal, set construction, and other support activities.

The applicant has been in discussions with local theaters and arts groups, as well as national experts in this field; these discussions have continued to inform the design and practical parameters of the proposed theater space.

“The arts can have a ripple effect,” Sullivan said, adding that national studies have shown that arts have a positive economic impact.

Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner, the commissioner for the Providence District, deferred the decision on the “visionary project” to next Thursday, Oct. 10.

The View heads to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

Images via Fairfax County

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Tysons’ 1st Stage Theatre is back with a show exploring generational divides to launch its new season.

Trying” explores the relationship between Judge Francis Biddle, the chief judge of the American Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, and his young Canadian assistant — the last in a long line of unsuccessful secretaries.

The play’s regional premiere is this Thursday (Sept. 19). The show runs until Oct. 20.

Performances for “Trying” 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.

The drama is the first show for 1st Stage’s 12th season, which has five more shows, including “Airness” and “The Royale.”

First photo by Teresa Castracane, second photo via 1st Stage/Facebook

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