In bygone summers, Studio Theatre “let its hair down,” says Artistic Director David Muse, producing offbeat musicals such as “Carrie” and “The Rocky Horror Show.” That habit has been mothballed for a few years, but this month the theater seats have been yanked out of the Milton stage on Studio’s second floor, replaced by cabaret tables and chairs. Tiffany lamps hang throughout the room. In the back, as you enter, there’s a bar.
Willkommen to Showroom, a mini-festival of decidedly downtown acts running through July 28. The half-dozen attractions include solo theater and musical performances, plus the interactivity of “Spokaoke” — instead of audience members performing hit songs, they “perform” famous speeches — and the “share the shame” phenomenon “Mortified,” with people toting their own childhood photos and artifacts to the event.
“We wanted to think about how to do something that participated in the summertime vibe,” Muse says of the four-stage complex near Logan Circle. A few years ago, the fourth-floor space Stage 4 became a dive bar for the show “Murder Ballad.” Like the old frisky musicals, that was another strand of the spirit Muse sought. “What if we put all that stuff in a box and shake it around for a while?” he says. “It’s a pilot idea.”
The Olney Theatre Center’s production of “Every Brilliant Thing” is the first of Showroom’s two anchor shows, each of which will run for three weeks. Alexander Strain reprises last year’s performance as a person coping with his mother’s attempted suicide; the unusually frank yet uplifting piece is by Duncan MacMillan — an English playwright who is part of Studio’s artistic “cabinet” — and original performer Jonny Donahoe.
“Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” begins July 9; the solo show involves a cranky gay man going to a gay wedding where guests are cautioned against wearing bright colors and bold patterns. Actor Michael Urie directed the 2016 production in New York City and revives his staging here, even as he readies his performance as Hamlet for the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s annual Free for All starting July 10. (“He’s a busy guy,” Muse understates.) In “Bright Colors,” Jeff Hiller plays the part first acted by the playwright, Drew Droege.
Multi-hyphenate artist Diana Oh takes the stage in late June for two nights of music with Matt Park; Oh’s works include the activist piece “My Lingerie Play” and an organized theatrical sleepover called “The Infinite Love Party.”
“It’s a really powerful experience, the kind of room she wants to create, particularly for people who have been marginalized in one way or another,” Muse says. “Her point of view is quite politically aggressive, but the vibe of the experience is welcoming.”
The District’s Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi continues an active stretch, having just written and performed “Klytmnestra: An Epic Slam Poem” at Theater Alliance. Edidi, blazing trails on stages as a trans woman of color, will perform “Werk! A Cabaret Celebrating Black Women” July 23, four days before appearing at Joe’s Pub at Manhattan’s Public Theater.
Annie Dorsen’s “Spokaoke” is spoken karaoke with nearly 100 speeches you can choose from in a karaoke system. Muse contemplated slotting this unpredictable civics and rhetoric exercise on July 4, but balked at the logistics and settled for July 6-7. “Mortified” will be a one-nighter July 13 in Studio’s larger Metheny space; the cult hit comes with a large following, thanks to multiplatform iterations that include a podcast and Netflix series.
In figuring out Showroom, another model for Muse was a personal favorite: the massive Fringe Festival each August in Edinburgh, billed as “the world’s biggest arts festival” and the inspiration for local versions around the globe, including the District’s Capital Fringe Festival in July.
“All of these people travel to go sit in dingy rooms, watch experimental theater and dislike half of it; that’s just part of the spirit,” Muse says of Edinburgh’s creative sprawl. “Showroom is not that. But it’s scratching that itch a little bit, bringing it to our audience in a micro way.”
Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. 202-332-3300. For a complete list of the shows, go to studiotheatre.org.
Dates: Through July 28.