Backstage: Washington Area Performing Arts Video Archive, Factory 449 and More

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Things are looking up for the Washington Area Performing Arts Video Archive, a nonprofit group that makes video recordings of professional theater for posterity and for use by acting students and anyone else who's interested.

A new $10,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will allow WAPAVA to record 12 productions at small theaters that otherwise couldn't afford to cover the costs to record their shows.

The group itself must raise $10,000 in funds, and the group's president, Stephen Jarrett, says the video archive is already one-fourth of the way toward that goal.

Because WAPAVA relies on theaters to help cover costs, Jarrett says, the group's archive is weighted toward larger institutions that have bigger budgets and more "traditional" productions.

The NEA grant, though, could help change that. "It re-energizes us," Jarrett says.

WAPAVA has struggled since its founder, Jim Taylor, died in 2005, Jarrett says. Taylor, who at his busiest videotaped more than 50 plays in a year, provided much of the funding out of his own pocket. After Taylor's death, the financially strapped archive -- now at the University of Maryland's Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library in College Park -- tapes about 30 shows a year.

WAPAVA's costs include hiring videographers and editors, and funding has been an issue. Theater underwriters don't spend their money on "something so completely backstage as WAPAVA," Jarrett says.

"In an ideal world, no one would [have to] pay for a WAPAVA recording," says Jarrett, who adds: "If they get a call from WAPAVA, it's sometimes really angst-producing [for a theater], because they have to come up with money they don't have. . . . We get turned down a fair amount, because people can't afford to pay."

Jarrett thinks it made a difference that the group applied for the NEA grant in a consortium with the Helen Hayes Awards, the League of Washington Theatres and the Arlington County Cultural Affairs Division.

Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia" at the Folger Theatre was the most recent recording made by WAPAVA.

Factory 449

A group of 11 area theater artists has formed a collective called Factory 449. The numbers reflect the date -- April 4, 2009 -- on which they made their idea a reality. The word "factory" was chosen to, they hope, remind people of Andy Warhol's roiling workshop.

Factory 449 will kick off with an experimental production of the late British dramatist Sarah Kane's "4.48 Psychosis," a harrowing and poetic descent into depression and suicidal thinking.

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