But where to go next? There’s the rub, as a number of local troupes are discovering. Washington is experiencing a space crunch as emerging and growing organizations hunt alongside established companies that are suddenly out on the street.
The 23-year-old WSC Avant Bard is among those on the lam. Its longtime home at the scruffy but sizable Clark Street Playhouse closed in 2011, and last year the WSC’s new base at Rosslyn’s Artisphere decided that a resident theater company didn’t fit the new multipurpose functions of the old Newseum.
Theatre Alliance and No Rules Theatre were set adrift when the busy storefront-sized H Street Playhouse closed last year. (It’s evolving into an organic grocery store.) The incurably funky Warehouse, across from the Convention Center on Seventh Street NW — home to any number of delights, misfires and blasphemies over the years – is finally emitting its last gasp.
Brian Sutow, co-artistic director of No Rules, notes the disconnect between D.C.’s lively theater scene and the lack of what he calls “rentable spaces for smaller companies.”
You can find lists that run for pages and pages, describing what appears to be a glut of venues in the region. Kate Taylor Davis, director of the new Anacostia Arts Center, compiled one when she was working for Arlington County. DC Space Finder, an online resource developed by Cultural DC, does the same thing online. Both are helpful, but their rosters are swelled by small gallery spaces and large auditoriums.
Companies such as Theatre Alliance and WSC Avant Bard, which often have more ambition and polish than resources, typically need stages big enough for large casts and/or real set designs, plus offstage space — not just an empty room with chairs. They also need more than the 45 or 60 seats of DCAC or the incubator space at Cultural DC’s Flashpoint, but less than the 300-plus in the Crystal City venue occupied by Synetic Theater.
Not least of all, they need flexible terms. Rental rates are typically posted on venue Web sites; just click the “Facility Rental” tab. For non-profit groups, Synetic offers the Crystal City theater for $1,200 a day. The Lab Theatre I at the Atlas Performing Arts Center with up to 80 seats is advertised at $500 a day. The Silver Spring Black Box with 130 seats goes for $200 an hour.
“It doesn’t seem to me that there is a going market rate,” says Tom Prewitt, artistic director of WSC Avant Bard.
In most cases, fixed fees are daunting for troupes on extremely tight budgets anyway. Box office splits are generally agreed upon.
The journey of an emerging troupe like Pinky Swear is not uncommon: break through in one of the rough ’n’ ready venues at the Capital Fringe Festival. Then keep working, using no-frills stages like the unimaginatively arranged Writer’s Center in Bethesda or the 16th Street NW church basement of Spooky Action Theater (enter via the alley, and mind the quiet neighborhood).