It’s a mid-August Monday at Studio Theatre, where nothing is running on the downtown troupe’s four stages. Still, production manager Josh Escajeda has a dozen or so staffers keeping the hive humming.
On the fourth floor’s 100-seat Stage 4, the drag drama “Wig Out!” has just closed. Workers are quietly striking the intensely decorated set, which features a forest of props bedazzling the walls. On the ground floor’s 218-seat Mead Theatre, more staffers are hanging a bland drop ceiling for “Skeleton Crew,” the Dominique Morisseau working-class drama that’s one of the fall’s most anticipated shows.
Escajeda explains that the “Skeleton Crew” set is mostly built; it has to be. The expansive yet crammed-to-the-gills Studio complex has no dedicated rehearsal space, so the cast is in the third week of rehearsals on this stage.
With at least nine shows rippling through every year and hits extending as long as they can, it’s Escajeda’s job to make sure that behind-the-scenes departments — scenery, costumes, props, electrics — operate like clockwork. Studio produces on more stages than any other company in D.C., which explains why Escajeda sits next to artistic director David Muse in the company’s open office, anticipating what he calls the season’s inevitable “moments of pain” and plotting six weeks ahead, every week. Scheduling has to be down to the decimal, and with no overflow areas or off-site storage, pieces of shows going up or coming down shift through the building like tiles in a Rubik’s Cube.
“You can’t fall behind,” Escajeda, 44, says during a 90-minute tour via back stairs and freight elevators. (Part of the building, at 14th and P streets NW, was an auto showroom long ago.) “We live in our spaces.”
“We” encompasses a range of specialists. Studio was founded in the 1970s as an acting conservatory, and teaching in a suite of studios is still a key component on the third floor. The second floor houses the scene, costume and property shops, which execute designs that reliably display chic flair. The shops aren’t big, but having the entire operation under one roof is an invaluable efficiency.
That’s pivotal for a company that relishes technical challenges. Last spring, Studio performed two shows simultaneously with a single cast dashing between the Mead (for Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”) and the second-floor Milton (for Aaron Posner’s “No Sisters”). Stage 4 gets entirely reconfigured show by show: “No two are alike,” Escajeda says. “Which I really dig.”
Escajeda was raised in San Diego and loved everything about theater early on — even acting, which he finally abandoned after a few paying gigs once he moved to New York. He came to Washington in 2015 after a decade working with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, another multistage outfit. Studio’s Grand Central Terminal ethos suits him: “Working with a single stage just doing five shows a season,” Escajeda says, “I would have been bored.”
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