At the Source

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 27, 2008

Jeremy Skidmore didn't intend to stick around Washington too long and certainly never imagined becoming a fixture.

But in the hours before the lights go up on the first of 38 new works he curated for the Source Festival, a Washington theater event he helped revive, the producer looks a tad sleep-deprived and profoundly at home.

"It's been very fun, very fascinating," the 31-year-old says, leaning back in a second-story meeting room at the newly renovated 14th Street NW theater.

The festival, beloved for its ability to unite artists from the local theater community, ran for 25 years before the Source Theatre Company folded under financial pressure. The last festival was in 2004. When the District's Cultural Development Corp. bought the building in 2006, people immediately began asking about plans for the festival, recalls the group's executive director, Anne Corbett.

What they needed in a producer, Corbett says, "was an electric personality that people just love to make art with." They found one.

Skidmore, a North Carolina native, arrived in Washington in 2001 to be the assistant director for a production at the Folger Theatre. Then the scrappy H Street NE company, Theater Alliance, asked him to direct one of its shows. Then it asked him to take over completely.

"Within two months of me deciding to stay, I had inherited a theater and a company," he recalls. "I was 24."

In the next six years at Theater Alliance, he garnered critical praise and a great deal of respect and affection within the industry. "He's sort of a pied piper," Corbett says. "He calls out and people come running. They crave working with him."

Skidmore left the company a year ago, intending to refocus on the art, rather than on the management, of theater. He has directed shows at Keegan Theatre, the University of Maryland and Olney Theatre Center while bringing the Source Festival back to life.

"I wanted to honor, as much as possible, the way it used to be, but also update it," he says of his vision for the three-week theater fest. "What evolved was the desire to connect artists who don't typically have an avenue to connect."

The core of the festival has always been original 10-minute plays, to which Skidmore added meatier one-act plays and experimental "mash-ups," productions that paired artists from different disciplines (burlesque and spoken-word poetry, for instance) and gave them three months to collaborate on a 15- to 30-minute piece.

He also recruited Washington's top directors, including Michael Kahn of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Eric Schaeffer of Signature Theatre and Joy Zinoman of Studio Theatre, to shepherd productions for the festival.

"At least symbolically they put down their own organizations and come together to work as individuals with people they've never had the opportunity to connect with before," Skidmore says. "I'm very excited to give them the opportunity to do something they don't usually do . . . and to introduce new writers, new actors."

Source Festival 1835 14th St. NW. 866-811-4111. Through July 13. $15. Source Festival 1835 14th St. NW. 866-811-4111. Through July 13. $15.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company