'Washington so dearly wants to be like New York - and yet it's got all this creative stuff - and has no idea what to do with it."
Tony Abeson talks fast when he is wound up. All in the same firehouse sentence he tells you that: His Washington Theatre laboratory is about to be dispossessed from its loft at 11th and G Streets; the space is being taken over by Thomasena, Allen's New Theater School, which has leased the building from RLA; in another year or so not only the building but two whole blocks will be turned into glass tombstone office buildings by a Texas developer.
"I have nothing against Thomasena Allen or the New Theater School. They need our space. They have the lease. What makes me furious is that we should have to fight over this miserable little space. There are so many energetic theater groups struggling along in Washington - so what do Washingtonians do? They go to New York to see the off-off-Broadway productions. It's right here under their noses."
Last year he surveyed the Washington area and found a total of 1,1071 actors working here. Of those, 563 had been recruited from New York?
"Why are people so insecure here? Look at this block. The funky stores. The energy. Vitality. Go up on the roof and it's like Paris, with garrets and strange charming little places.Go into the Bell restaurant up the street. Its real. It's got character. If people found this in New York they'd fall all over themselves. Writes articles about it."
There are at least seven drama or dance groups scattered around the downtown blocks west of Woodward & Lothrop. They exist on a pittance. Sometimes there is no heat. All of them seem forever to be an verge of a takeover by RLA of bankruptcy or the wreckers' ball.
Curiously, in New York the artist's loft has become chic. Old buildins are being restored, not torn down, just to save their lofts.
"When Washington learns it's chic - of boy."
Abeson, 32, (Columbia '97, via Milton Academy) has studied technique with such diverse talents as Jerzy Grotowski. Lee Strasberg and Peter Brook. In the WTL classes these differences are explored. Brecht and Stanislavsky are studied, absorbed, used in a search for new dramatic truths.
As many as 50 students work at WTL, said Abeson, who was brought to Washington in 1972 by the Washington Theater Club to teach acting.
"We try to work with the whole body. Body and voice. We have deaf people act. None of this stuff with the hands. We have them use their voices, and you have no idea what a liberation that is for them. We try to avoid recipes."
Emphasis is not so much on the produce as on the procedure. Recent productions include "The Travel Dance" and "The Lady of Larspur Lotion." Rehearsals for "The Snow Queen" are going on now. ("We are treating the tale as the final bread crumb in a trail that we intend to follow backwards to what folklorists call the archetype of the story . . . part of the piece will be performed in old Norse . . ." goes the brochure."
When the group moves out this weekend it will go to the ASTA theater a block west for the summer. After that, sighs Abeson, who knows? "Anybody got any ideas?"