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Many of Washington area theaters and museums closed due to snowstorm

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 9, 2010; C04

When the snow began to fall in Washington on Friday, Signature Theatre in Arlington knew it had a challenge. The company was only four days away from its first preview of "Sweeney Todd," the Stephen Sondheim musical and perennial box-office cash cow.

What to do with the 40 people who were expected on Saturday for the all-important technical rehearsal? In a matter of hours they established "Camp Sweeney," securing rooms at the Shirlington Hilton Garden Inn near the theater, stockpiling refreshments in case the Signature staff was snowbound also, and started the countdown to the first curtain.

"The great thing about the camp was that it made everyone more focused. We were together all the time, and they weren't having to think about how they would get home. We got so much work done," said Eric Schaeffer, Signature's artistic director.

Elsewhere in the Washington arts world, silver linings were few and far between. Many of the city's museums and theaters went dark over the weekend, with the Smithsonian Institution closing Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. During what was supposed to be the storm of the decade in December, the museums closed Saturday and Sunday. (If you're wondering, the Smithsonian record for consecutive days shuttered is five -- in 1996.) Since the Smithsonian is a federally funded complex and the majority of the employees are federal workers, the institution follows what the Office of Personnel Management decides. The National Gallery of Art also follows the federal order.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is normally closed on Monday and Tuesday; it is currently scheduled to open on Wednesday. The gallery did postpone its "Dressed to Dance," a program of Spanish dance and fashion on Monday evening.

On its Web site this weekend, the Newseum splashed some falling snowflakes and a headline announcing it was open, and the museum did indeed stay open all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday. "We put up a number of employees at nearby hotels so we could continue all our services," said Susan Bennett, the museum's deputy director. On Saturday and Sunday, she said, the Newseum had about 400 visitors. "People were amazed we were open. And for the first time someone put a $100 bill in our donation box," Bennett said.

And despite the snowdrifts and lack of public transportation, the show did go on at a few area venues. Intrepid audience members who ventured out sometimes discovered they had much of the theater to themselves.

The Kennedy Center closed at 3 p.m. on Friday and reopened Sunday at noon. That was just in time for the 700 people who showed up for the matinee of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The center decided to go ahead with its planned free performance at Millennium Stage, at which 17 people gathered for the hour performance.

All productions at the Shakespeare Theatre Company were canceled Friday night and Saturday, including Synetic Theater's critically acclaimed staging of "Antony and Cleopatra" in the Lansburgh auditorium. But Shakespeare felt compelled to do its own Sunday night performance of "Richard II." However, with everything canceled and a certain football game providing major competition, the administrators decided to let people know the doors were open and to offer an incentive.

On Sunday they sent an e-mail to D.C. residents and people who requested notification of special offers. If they could get to the theater, the notice said, they could buy $10 tickets. Final attendance figures showed that 314 people were in the audience and 170 of those had gotten in for $10 each.

"We had worked out a snow plan. The storm made us reevaluate how we function in a snowstorm," said Julia Suszynski, the theater's marketing and communications intern. "That was definitely beneficial to us."

When the snows started on Friday, the management at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company decided to add another production of its sold-out "The Last Cargo Cult." The shows for Friday and Saturday were canceled, but the theater went ahead with the Sunday matinee and evening. "For each we had about 100 patrons," said John Hirvela, the theater's director of marketing and communications. The theater seats 265 and the Monday night production, said Hirvela, was expected to be packed.

Over at Gala Hispanic Theatre, Executive Director Rebecca Medrano dug out her Honda on Sunday so she could pick up the technical staff for Sunday's matinee of Nilo Cruz's "Beauty of the Father." "I drove all over to Silver Spring and places I had never been to before," Medrano said. The staff was there, ready for the 10 people who eventually showed up. "The audience was small but responsive," Medrano said.

The Studio Theatre didn't cancel its Friday night or Sunday matinee of "In the Red and Brown Water," which is drawing sellout crowds. In the midst of the snowstorm on Friday, half of the 200 seats were filled, and about one-quarter on Sunday. Saturday's night's gala, a long-planned salute to the departing Joy Zinoman, the theater co-founder, had to be adjusted. The caterer couldn't get the staff to the theater in the storm, but he had set up the kitchen. The staff cooked for the 230 gala attendees who showed up. "It was just like the Studio -- improvisational," said Morey Epstein, Studio's executive director of institutional development.

At Arena Stage the staff telephoned every patron who had purchased tickets for the Friday and Saturday performances of "Stick Fly." And the company added a show on Sunday to accommodate everyone.

Signature canceled the Friday, Saturday and Sunday matinees of "I Am My Own Wife," a one-man show starring Andrew Long. But the Sunday evening performance went on and 15 people showed up.

All the administrators says they are keeping an eye on the Tuesday and Wednesday forecast and keeping their snow plans handy; some have already implemented them. On Monday, the Kennedy Center announced that orchestra seats for the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evening performances of "The Sleeping Beauty" by Russia's famed Mariinsky Ballet would be $20 off.

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