It was easy to find Washingtonians who were tickled pink at Arena Stage's announcement last week that it's staying in Southwest and no longer exploring the possibility of moving across the Mall to Seventh Street NW.
D.C. Council member Jack Evans, whose ward includes both aforementioned neighborhoods, had lobbied for the theater to remain south of the Mall. Now he's taking credit, citing a meeting he arranged between Arena board members and Southwest community leaders. "I really think that meeting was instrumental in swaying some of the people into staying in Southwest," he said, adding, "The Seventh Street corridor is really on fire as far as developments are concerned." Without Arena, he continued, "that corridor will not be any worse for wear, but Southwest certainly would have been worse had Arena left."
Margaret Feldman, past president of the Southwest Neighborhood Association, said: "We were just absolutely delighted that they decided to stay. It has been our most visible evidence of the vitality of our neighborhood. All of us have been able to say, 'I live in Southwest Washington, near Arena Stage.' "
Arena's executive director, Stephen Richard, tells Backstage that much more than the theater's physical plant will be renovated: "For 40 years we've been in the neighborhood, but not of it, and we intend to change that posture, because we are now committed to revitalize not just our facility, but to revitalize the waterfront--the immediate Southwest."
It seems that massive renovation, heightened community involvement and neighborhood revitalization were far less daunting goals than trying to build a new theater complex in a development that will also include housing and a museum honoring Clara Barton. According to Richard, it would have been "extraordinarily complicated, mixing housing and theater. . . . The art for the buck was not quite what we think it will be down here [in Southwest]."
There are other encouraging signs in Southwest. Bill Wooby, a longtime activist on the Washington arts scene, is about to open his dream project--the Millennium Arts Center. It's to be a nonprofit performance/rehearsal/art-studio/gal- lery/cinema-and-more space in the former Randall Junior High School at 65 I St. SW. Ford's Theatre and the Washington Opera have already expressed interest in the rehearsal space. Wooby hopes to attract artists of all disciplines from around the country to the center.
Of Arena, he says, "We've been on their backs, saying, 'Don't leave--you're not alone anymore.' "
Skumming Up Shakespeare
The upcoming Labor Day holiday will be Ye Olde Home Weekende for actors who've worked in past seasons with Shakespeare Skum, the comedy troupe now in its 13th year at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in Crownsville.
Carolyn Spedden, artistic director of Renaissance festivals here and in Ontario, Canada, founded Skum. She's bringing back Skum alums who've gone on to more dignified, if not better, things for a three-day Shakespeare Weekend reunion.
With this year's cast, that will make a company of 13. They'll perform a tag team version of Skum's trademark piece, "Macbeth in 20 Minutes or Less," with two Lady M's, various witches, etc. There'll be a "Romeo and Juliet" set up as men-vs.-women, with the audience voting on who are the better actors. There'll be "Leave It to Hamlet," in which the Melancholy Dane gets the sitcom treatment, and "Henry the V" (as in Henry the Vee).
Shakespeare Skum performs throughout the festival, which runs through Oct. 24. Call 1-800-296-7304 for information.
Interact Gets Rolling
Interact Theatre Company will begin the season with artistic director Catherine Flye portraying beloved English comedienne Joyce Grenfell in "George--Don't Do That!," a line from Grenfell's famous routine about a harried kindergarten teacher. "George" will play in the Old Vat Theater of Arena Stage from Sept. 22 to Oct. 10. Then it's Interact's trademark English music hall fest in "Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush" (Nov. 26 to Jan. 9), followed by a reprise of "Forever Ivor" (Feb. 2 to Feb. 27), a musical about a London musical star of yore, Ivor Novello. Call 703-218-6500.
* Director and educator William Foeller, who guided the hugely successful Round House Theatre production of "Nixon's Nixon" last season, died suddenly of a suspected heart attack Friday. Foeller, 51, headed the graduate program in directing at Catholic University's theater department. In addition to Round House, he directed at George Mason University's Theatre of the First Amendment, Center Stage and Everyman theaters in Baltimore, American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., the Long Wharf in New Haven, Conn., and many off-Broadway theaters.
* Scena Theatre will workshop a play-in-progress about Danish author Isak Dinesen ("Out of Africa") with a cast including Rena Cherry Brown, Nanna Ingvarsson, Brian Hemmingsen and Chris Henley. They'll perform "Karen Blixen's Lost Tale" tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Chapters Literary Bookstore (1512 K St. NW) and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the National Museum of Women in the Arts (1250 New York Ave. NW). Playwright Suzanne Brogger and Dinesen biographer Judith Thurman will attend both performances. Scena's Robert McNamara hopes to do a world premiere of the finished play next spring. Call 703-684-7990.
* Fraudulent Productions will revive the 1921 sci-fi play "R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)," by Karel Capek, at the District of Columbia Arts Center Thursday through Oct. 9. The new XYZ Theatre Company continues its production of an early David Mamet play, "Squirrels," at DCAC through Sept. 11. Call 202-462-7833.
* A revival of the musical "1776" will kick off a national tour at George Mason University with two performances at the Center for the Arts, Sept. 18 and 19. The company will be on campus beginning Sept. 13, giving drama students a chance to learn from the pros. Call 703-218-6500.