Ever since the government shutdown locked them out of their usual venue on Goddard’s Greenbelt campus, club members — many of them idled NASA employees and contractors — have been rehearsing at a Glenn Dale church a few miles down the road.
Fontaine, who is playing the witch and is also the show’s producer, says everyone is worried about the loss of their paychecks and how long the shutdown may drag on. But they are also worried about opening night because the shutdown has closed Goddard’s Barney & Bea Recreation Center, where the club has staged plays for more than 40 years. Last week, the group was seeking an alternative venue for the performances, which are scheduled to run from Oct. 25 through Nov. 23.
“We put so much work into the show already, I don’t think anybody wants to quit,” said Fontaine, 51, who has worked at Goddard since 1989. “We are going to do it.”
The drama club is one of hundreds of social networks at federal agencies across Washington. There are softball teams, knitting groups, kickball teams, book clubs, ballroom dance groups, even a chamber orchestra made up of doctors and scientists at the National Institutes of Health.
For the furloughed, those social ties are providing much needed camaraderie and support at a time of stress and uncertainty. In the case of Goddard’s drama club, rehearsals for Stephen Sondheim’s musical mash-up of Grimms’ fairy-tale characters also double as a welcome distraction and a form of group therapy.
“It gives us something else to think about,” said the play’s co-producer, Linda Pattison, 49, a furloughed information technology ground security manager who is playing the part of Jack’s mother. “It also gives us a great deal of time to learn our lines.”
“And you get an opportunity to have your colleagues together as opposed to everybody sitting at home doing their own thing,” explained Dwaine Kronser, 57, the furloughed chief of NASA’s enterprise solutions division who is playing the Baker.
The drama club provides a space where fellow federal employees and contractors can empathize about the furlough at a level that outsiders might have a hard time understanding — the sharp dig of being told their work was not needed, the dictates to not come to work, the uncertainty of when they might be paid again.
“The first bite is being told you are nonessential,” says Fontaine, sitting behind the orchestra and waiting for her call from the director. “You go into public service because you think your country needs you. Then they say, ‘Maybe we will pay you.’ That can be demoralizing, if you let it.”
Rosalie Daelemans, who is married to an idled NASA civil servant, said the past two weeks have been unnerving for families. “We have one kid in college,” said Daelemans, who is playing Cinderella’s evil stepmother in the show. “We have bills.”