Tysons, VA

ShowPlace Icon didn’t know when its Tysons location opened in February that the contactless kiosks would come in handy for a pandemic.

The kiosks are just one of the ways the newly reopened theater aims to reduce the spread of COVID-19. From the “digital box office” to the mobile app, Jim Nowicki, the theater chain’s marketing director, shared with Tysons Reporter how technology is playing a starring role in the theater’s reopening and overall brand.

“I think initially when we opened, people were apprehensive to use the kiosks because they like that human touch factor,” Nowicki said. “And then who knew that a couple of months later, we are way ahead of the curve, and everyone loves the fact that we have kiosks and a very vibrant mobile app.”

The luxury theater (1667 Silver Hill Drive) has turned to online and mobile ordering as a selling point to bring movie-goers back.

When people order their tickets, the system automatically blocks off seats around the reserved ones to keep people 6 feet apart, Nowicki said. While Nowicki doesn’t expect people to disregard the seating assignments during the pandemic, he said staff will check to make sure everyone is sitting where they are supposed to.

When Tysons Reporter talked to Nowicki, the theater in The Boro had been open for five days after its months-long closure.

The 72,000-square-foot theater originally opened in February, boasting large-format auditoriums, heated recliners, 4K laser projection and more. The Boro location especially emphasized its restaurant and bar — both of which are still temporarily closed as the theater brings back its offerings in phases, Nowicki said.

People can still get their popcorn and drinks from the concession stand’s limited menu. When people get food through the mobile app, the order will be sent to the concession stand for preparation when they check-in at the theater, he said.

“We just want to make sure that our experience when it’s open, is the best experience possible, and we didn’t want to rush our openings and have someone come into an inferior experience,” Nowicki said.

Even though movie theaters could reopen when Virginia’s Phase 3 guidelines went into effect on July 1, Nowicki said that ShowPlace waited to reopen in mid-August so that safety protocols would be in place and movie-goers could see new films, like “Unhinged,” the thriller starring Russell Crowe, and “Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula,” the horror film about soldiers battling post-apocalyptic zombies in Korea.

“Our numbers have been slower, obviously than in our opening, but we’re building so every day we’re starting to see more and more guests coming in,” Nowicki said, adding that word-of-mouth and spreading information about the theater’s safety measures are big factors for enticing people back.

To talk to customers directly, the theater is relying on its Extras Club, a free membership program that offers discounted and advance tickets, and a social media campaign. The theater also signed on to the National Association of Theatre Owners’ CinemaSafe Program that features safety guidelines developed by epidemiologists. (Full lists of the program’s guidelines and ShowPlace Icon’s safety measures are online.)

Now, COVID-19 delays that pushed the big summer movies, like “Wonder Woman 1984” and the James Bond film “No Time to Die,” to the fall and winter will hopefully entice viewers, Nowicki said.

Nowicki said he doesn’t expect the shifting release dates to be difficult for the theater, noting that the movie industry in recent years has already seen adjustments for when blockbusters hit screens.

“You used to have your big films start in June or late May when school is out, but then you started seeing films opening in early May and then you start seeing films opening in late April to build to the early May, to build to June,” Nowicki said. “So now you’re really seeing big films in March.”

With people working from home in the Tysons area, ShowPlace Icon is staying flexible about expanding its mid-day showtimes. “We still have a lot of people who can come out to matinee shows or come out to weekday shows, and they’re eager to do it,” Nowicki said.

The theater is now screening “The New Mutants” and “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” along with offering early access to “Tenet.”

Nowicki said he expects “Tenet” will be a “game-changer” that will fill more seats: “We want this to be successful, and we actually want people to come back and have a little bit of escapism.”

First photo courtesy ShowPlace Icon

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An interactive mystery show about a “super sleuth” is coming to McLean as The Alden embarks on its second Drive-Thru Drama performance this summer.

“From the Ash Baxter Files: The Search for the Stolen Spyglass” is a family-friendly mystery show about a high school student who is trying to find out which suspect stole his teacher’s priceless spyglass, according to a press release. The show was written by Andrew Scott Zimmer.

The Alden, which is a part of the McLean Community Center, debuted Drive-Thru Drama in July with a show written and directed by Zimmer about a $1 bill that travels through time and space. The show was a “hugely successful first attempt that sold out all performances,” according to the press release.

Here’s how Drive-Thru Drama works: the audience drives to various locations around the McLean Community Center’s parking lot (1234 Ingleside Ave) to watch actors perform short scenes that tell a cohesive story. The actors wear personal protective equipment and stay six feet away from each other and the passengers.

“We were thrilled to see so many enjoy our first Drive-Thru Drama performance in July! Since then we have been working to develop a new show and I think audiences will enjoy the surprises that we have in store,” Danielle Van Hook, the show’s producer and The Alden’s director of Youth Theatre Programs, said.

Van Hook told Tysons Reporter earlier this year that medieval pageant wagons inspired the “Drive-Thru Drama” production.

The show is set to run for three weekends in September: Sept. 11-13, Sept. 18-20 and Sept. 25-27. The theater is currently seeking actors and plans to hold auditions on Tuesday, Aug, 18, according to the press release.

Tickets are $20 or $15 for people who live in the McLean Community Center tax district and must be purchased in advance.

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The Tysons Corner Center theater is among the more than 100 locations AMC Theatres plans to reopen next week with one-day-only 15-cent tickets.

The movie theater chain announced the plans today, saying that the steeply-discounted ticket prices will celebrate AMC’s 100th anniversary by giving audience-goers ticket prices from the 1920s.

The more than 100 locations will offer the 15-cent tickets for their reopening on Thursday (Aug. 20).

“We are thrilled to once again open our doors to American moviegoers who are looking for an opportunity to get out of their houses and apartments and escape into the magic of the movies,” Adam Aron, the president and CEO of AMC Theatres, said in the announcement.

Roughly 300 other AMC locations are slated to reopen within the following two weeks — in time for Disney’s “The New Mutants,” which is expected to get released on Aug. 28, and Warner Bros.’ “Tenet” on Sept. 3, the announcement said.

The remaining one-third of the theaters will reopen “only after authorized to do so by state and local officials,” the announcement said.

Photo by Corina Rainer/Unsplash

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Traveling Partners Ensemble is hosting an online festival of classic plays next week.

Located in Tysons Corner Center, the theater troupe works with kids and teens in the D.C. area. The festival will be streamed via Youtube with performances running from 3 p.m. until closing words at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, July 17.

“Ariadne’s Thread,” the first performance, will begin at 3:15 p.m. and is approximately 25 minutes long, according to a press release from the company. The piece recreates the Greek myth Theseus and Minotaur and involves all things gods, goddesses, epics and more. The company commissioned the play from Judy White, their playwright-in-residence, in 2013. 

“The Imaginary Invalid” will begin at 4 p.m. and is approximately 40 minutes long. This piece picks on hypocrisy within the medical profession and was written by French playwright Moliere. 

Finally, “The Tempest” will begin at 5 p.m. and is approximately an hour long. The company will bring to light Shakespeare’s tale about wild human nature while stranded on an island, and how characters how are very different come together to eventually achieve peace.

Tickets can be purchased for $10 each. 

In addition to the festival, the theater group is hosting two summer programs — one for fourth- to eighth-grade students and another for pre-college students — online.

People interested in joining the summer programming can participate in the next set of auditions via Zoom on July 11, according to the press release. 

Photo via Traveling Players Ensemble/Facebook

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(Updated 5:55 p.m.) Medieval pageant wagons inspired the “Drive-Thru Drama” production that kicks off this weekend in McLean.

Danielle Van Hook, The Alden’s director of Youth Theatre Programs, came up with the idea while in the middle of Zoom rehearsals for “Dorothy Meets Alice or the Wizard of Wonderland” in mid-May. The in-person show ended up getting cancelled, but Van Hook wanted to still find a way to bring theater to the community.

“I just started thinking, ‘What would have happened if this pandemic had happened in like the 1980s and we didn’t have this kind of virtual technology?'” she said.

Van Hook said her idea is a twist on the pageant wagons — instead of having the actors playing the scenes along a parade route, the audience goers are the people who move. During the production, the audience drives from stage to stage to watch actors deliver two- to three-minute monologues at fixed locations.

The Alden, which is a part of the McLean Community Center, is debuting the show “Small Change,” which was written and directed by Andrew Scott Zimmer.

“‘Small Change’ follows the travels of a $1 bill as it journeys through time and space, interacting with different people’s lives and leaving its mark on the world,” according to MCC. “Actors will perform one, cohesive story through short monologues at various stations in the center’s parking lot.”

Having the actors stand in parking spaces was the original idea before realizing that there are sections of trees and islands in the parking lot that could get converted into stages, Van Hook said. “Each little stage has its own kind of personality,” she added.

To limit person-to-person contact, the theater requires that audience members buy their tickets in advance. On show nights, audience members will be checked in by their cars’ license plates. Then, they will get an orientation from the front of house manager on what they can expect.

“He gives them a little bit of a rundown of the speed limit and how you know when you move on from the stage that you’re at to the next one,” she said.

In order to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus, the actors will wear face shields and stay six feet away from the cars and other people outside.

Personal protective equipment is one of the many considerations Van Hook has had to take into consideration as the producer for the show.

“It’s been really interesting to sort of think about all of the little details and how we adapt it for this new style, and for me personally, it’s been sort of an exercise in like remembering why I like really loved making theater,” she said.

And of course, she’s hoping it doesn’t rain — or worse.

While all of the elements of theater — audience, actors and stage — are there, Van Hook said that the format changes the experience.

“One of the interesting things about this medium — and the same thing with Zoom — is that you can’t necessarily control how the audience is viewing the show,” she said, adding that the positions of people in the car will affect the view and sound.

“We’re recommending that if the audience is on the left side of the car that the right side windows are up, because it helps with the sound,” she said, adding that the actors are projecting their voices. Audience members will be able to follow along with large-print ADA script that they can print out ahead of time or read on their devices.

Even the size of the car and how close or far away from the ground it is will impact the audience.

The “Drive-Thru Drama” is also “much more intimate” than traditional theater, she said. “You kind of get a show that’s just for you.”

There’s also the trippy concept that it’s a communal experience that isn’t in-sync.

“There’s a couple of cars along the route at any given time. The same show is going on at the same time, but it’s at five or six different places in the show at the same exact moment. So there’s different audience members viewing the show from different moments in time, all at the same time,” she said.

A few weeks ago, the theater held auditions via Instagram. Now, dress rehearsals are wrapping up for the production.

The shows will run for two weekends — July 3-5 and July 10-12. While the shows run from 6-8 p.m., the shows are 30-minutes-long and the tickets give audience members time slots for when they can arrive.

“If they have a ticket for 6-6:15 p.m., they don’t have to be there at 6,” she said, adding that they are expecting some delays because they can only admit one car at a time. “Hopefully the longest somebody is waiting to get in is like 15 or so minutes.”

A limited number of tickets for the shows became available online two weeks before the opening.

Going forward, Van Hook hopes that the format can provide The Alden and other theaters more options, both for when the interior spaces are closed and for engaging with audiences differently.

“If you’re comfortable in your car, you can be comfortable in this style of theater, which I think is really cool and could definitely open some doors for people that just are uncomfortable in a theater-type space.”

Van Hook also said the format could work well for high school drama clubs that want to put on shows to fundraise. When the coronavirus risk lessens, she said she would like to see multiple actors on the stages, improv and even audience participation.

“Once we kind of figure out the flow, there’s a lot of ways that we could adapt it and change it each time and really to be surprising.”

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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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Falls Church Eatery Facing Eviction — “The Falls Church location of Hot N Juicy Crawfish is staring down an eviction lawsuit filed on June 1… The governor of the commonwealth put a moratorium on evictions earlier this week, but it only applies to residential tenants. The family-run business now finds itself fighting for its future in the neighborhood.” [Washington City Paper]

Farmers Markets Are Back — The McLean Farmers Market opens today and the Vienna Farmers Market returns on Saturday. [Tysons Reporter]

It’s Almost Showtime — “Just last week, AMC Theatres said it had ‘substantial doubt’ that the company could keep operating if pandemic-related closures continued. However, the company announced Tuesday it expects to reopen almost all of its locations worldwide by mid-July.” [Patch]

Law Enforcement Legislation — “Lawmakers in Virginia will take up the issue of police reform when they meet in a special session later this summer. The legislature joins the growing ranks of jurisdictions in the Washington region that are planning on tackling an issue that has taken increased urgency in the wake of widespread national protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd.” [DCist]

Test Backlog — “State health officials announced Monday that 13,000 test results backlogged at the health department will be added to data tables that are updated daily to reflect the number of COVID-19 tests and cases in the state. Staff had prioritized positive test results, according to the statement, so the backlog largely includes negative test results.” [Inside NoVa]

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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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Updated 6/1/2020 — Corrects dates for second set of live performances. 

COVID-19 precautions are affecting live performances, but The Alden in McLean has found a way to bring shows to people that is similar to drive-in movies.

“Drive-Thru Drama” is set to run for two weekends in July (July 3-5 and July 10-12) with shows from 6-8 p.m., according to a press release.

The theater, which is a part of the McLean Community Center, plans to hold auditions via Instagram submissions.

“Priority will be given to actors who live, go to school or work in the MCC tax district,” the press release said. “There are no age or gender requirements in the script, but all actors must be 14 years old or older.”

More from the press release:

“Drive-Thru Drama” is the brainchild of The Alden’s Director of Youth Theatre Programs Danielle Van Hook. “Like so many, I was missing live performance and knew there had to be a way to safely produce a non-virtual show,” said Van Hook. “Nothing replaces the feeling of sitting with your neighbors in The Alden, but I hope this helps bring a little respite away from the screens and returns a level of normalcy to people’s lives.”

The show will be the debut performance of “Small Change,” a play written and directed by Andrew Scott Zimmer. Commissioned by The Alden, “Small Change” follows the travels of a $1 bill as it journeys through time and space, interacting with different people’s lives and leaving its mark on the world. Actors will perform one, cohesive story through short monologues at various stations in the center’s parking lot. Audience members will be directed to drive the route from actor to actor…

The Alden is placing several safety precautions into place to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions’ COVID-19 guidelines such as requiring the actors to wear personal protective equipment and setting up the route so that actors are positioned six feet away from the cars and passengers.

People should note that performance dates could change based on Gov. Ralph Northam’s orders. A limited number of tickets for the shows will be available online two weeks before the opening.

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Only a few months after finding a permanent home in Tysons Corner Center, Traveling Players, a kids’ theater company in Tysons, is adapting to social distancing mandates caused by COVID-19.

Instead of temporarily shutting down its programming, the theater decided to go digital, according to a press release.

Though the upcoming shows, which included “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” have been postponed, the theater group is still hosting community activities.

“But just because performances have been postponed, it doesn’t mean that the fun has slowed down at Traveling Players Ensemble,” a press release said. “In keeping with the organization’s roots in the outdoors, they quickly began hosting weekly ‘campfire’ parties on Zoom to allow students, staffers and alumni to connect from all over the country.”

More information about the campfire parties can be found on Facebook.

Kids also have the opportunity to try out for the next set of productions put on by Traveling Players and take part in a virtual improv class.

The May Madness Improv program will take place every Wednesday in May, inviting kids along with their family members to create imaginary scenes, characters and storylines, the event page said. Registration is $60 for kids and $120 for a kid-parent pair.

“Students in grades 4-6 can play as a team with a parent or grandparent for some family fun, or kids in grades 6-12 can practice the fundamentals of short- and long-form improvisation,” the press release said.

For kids hoping to take part in future productions, auditions will take place on Saturday, May 2, through Zoom, the press release said. Parents can sign their kids up for a time slot online.

Along with the virtual get-togethers and tryouts, the organization previously hosted a digital spring break “acting intensive” from April 6-10 after hearing that kids were getting bored at home, according to the press release.

“Students in grades 6-12 met via Zoom for five hours a day over the course of a week,” the press release said.”In a lot of ways, Zoom class looked just like a studio class. The students would log on and get a chance to chat with their friends before classes started.”

As a non-profit, Traveling Players offers scholarships for families in need of assistance, its website said.

Photo via Traveling Players/Facebook

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