The Washington Post

Backstage: D.C. theaters try to top one another in promoting Capital Pride Fest

Preparing to march in Washington’s annual Capital Pride Parade can require some serious waxing, shoe shopping and marketing meetings. Across the region, theaters anticipate the first weekend in June not only as an excuse to dress up and sing show tunes, but also as an opportunity to reach a target demographic group through costume contests, salacious swag and discount tickets.

At least two theaters — Studio and Synetic — have filed to march in the parade, and many more will be setting up booths at the Pride Festival. Arena Stage will be there, passing out free tighty-whities with the theater’s logo emblazoned on the backside. Woolly Mammoth Theatre has hundreds of buttons ready to go with next season’s slogan, “Let them eat it!” Signature is also planning to return with a booth, and for the first time, the Shakespeare Theatre Company will set up shop.

At Synetic, actors were dusting off the angel wings from the theater’s riotously funny 2012 production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” which included a mock Victoria’s Secret fashion show. But no theater has made more elaborate plans for Pride than Studio, which is organizing a marketing blitz and parade “contingent” to promote its summer horror musical, “Carrie.”

“We are always looking to engage the neighborhood that we live in and work in, and the Pride Parade is one of the most exciting things that ever happens on our block,” said Jacob Janssen, the assistant director working on the show for the theater on 14th Street NW. He didn’t cook up the idea for the costume contest — the marketing staff did that — but he fully supports the effort.

“God, I hope there are going to be prom dresses. That would be amazing,” Janssen said. “Maybe with yards of taffeta. I’m sure a lot of prom dresses are hitting the resale racks right about now.”

Based on the 1974 Stephen King novel and the follow-up 1976 film, “Carrie” has become a cultural touchstone, Janssen said. Its anti-bullying message resonates with the gay community, he says. Seeking fiery revenge, however, will be treated in the musical as going way over the top. “We are not trying to be the movie; we are not trying to be the book. Because of that, we have a chance,” he said.

“Carrie” opens July 9. Marchers are asked to register via Facebook, and free tickets will be awarded to the theater supporters with the best costumes. Coming drenched in (fake) pig’s blood is optional.

Hometown pride for Tonys

Pride Weekend coincides with Tony Awards weekend, and several area theaters are rooting for shows with local ties. Arena Stage has its collective fingers crossed for two best-actress nominees who debuted roles here: Estelle Parsons, for the now-closed “The Velocity of Autumn,” and Mary Bridget Davies, for the also-shuttered “A Night With Janis Joplin.” Anyone who saw “If/Then” at the National Theatre last fall, however, may be pulling for Idina Menzel for lead actress in a musical.

But there is another regional link to four more nominated shows: Alexandria’s Amalgamated Classic Clothing and Dry Goods worked with two Tony-nominated costume designers — William Ivey Long (for “Bullets Over Broadway”) and Jane Greenwood (“Act One”). Other shows featuring pieces from the store’s extensive vintage collections this season included “Big Fish” and “Cabaret,” also with designs by Long, and “Of Mice and Men,” with costumes by newcomer Suttirat Larlarb.

No matter what names are pulled from envelopes during Sunday’s telecast, Amalgamated will emerge a winner. Since 2009, the vintage store has been collaborating with Greenwood, who at 80 will be receiving the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. Greenwood has been nominated for a Tony 17 times but has never won. To costume the characters in “Act One,” a musical about the life of playwright-director Moss Hart, Greenwood used nearly a dozen of Amalgamated’s men’s suits, store owner Gene Elm said. He and partner Shelley White call the designer “our Aunt Jane.”

Shallal’s theater initiation

In Sunday’s Washington Post, an op-ed by restaurateur Andy Shallal appeared with the headline, “What I learned on the campaign trail,” a reflection on his failed bid to become the District’s mayor. Well, people are also wondering what Shallal learned from his maiden adventure in theater production. When angry donors forced Theater J to scale back the run of the controversial Israeli play “The Admission,” the owner of Busboys and Poets stepped in to finance a workshop run of the show at Studio Theatre. The D.C. Jewish Community Center, Theater J’s landlord, was under pressure from donors to discontinue its support of Motti Lerner’s play, about an alleged massacre of Palestinian civilians at the hands of Israeli troops. “This is a play that brings the narrative together and that forces you to look at the other side,” Shallal told The Post in April. “It needs to be exposed to more audiences, because it really helps to bring about some really solid dialogue.”

Ari Roth, artistic director of Theater J, says Shallal has been so busy they haven’t found time to sit down and debrief, but he did know the basics: Nearly 2,000 people came to see “The Admission” during its run at Studio. Shallal invested $100,000 in the project, and although he did not break even, he didn’t lose much money either. “In the world of commercial theater production, we consider it a really good outing,” Roth said.

Ritzel is a freelance writer.



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