For Robert Alexander, last Thursday's groundbreaking for Living Stage's new building called for one opening remark. "Whooee!" he whooped when he got up to the microphone. Standing amid balloons and piles of cleared rubble in the "soon to be beautiful" building at 14th and T streets NW, Alexander noted jubilantly that having a permanent home for the first time in its 18 years will allow Living Stage, a theatrical laboratory, to "magnify, increase and expand" its work of reaching out to the community.
Riggs Bank was saluted for the "creative financing" that has allowed Arena Stage, the company's parent, to fund the $200,000 purchase and equally expensive renovation with a note that is to be paid off in three years. But the choice of location also represents another brick in the rebuilding of 14th Street. Source Theatre and the Studio Theatre began the urban pioneering several years ago with far less money, and now, with the addition of Living Stage and the new city hall up the street, the once lively (and safe) neighborhood is promised a renaissance.
Alexander addressed some of his speech to local residents, one of whom, he said, had until recently been afraid to leave his house because of the notorious drug and prostitution traffic on the streets: "Our presence here is a testimony that you will never, never be afraid for your life around here," he said. "Artists are not sissies!"
He said that the company, which has traditionally served unusual constituencies with a unique brand of improvisational theater, will have one-way mirrors installed so that passersby can watch the actors rehearsing without disturbing them. Once the building opens in January, it will also serve as a neighborhood center.
In vintage Alexander fashion, the director included in his speech a toast to "the forgotten people of our society." It didn't bother him at all that a few neighborhood winos wandered in for a free glass of champagne.