Washington, DC: A Life Before Broadway
Many shows that make it to Broadway have typically had a long and grueling journey to get to that finish line. There are many out-of-town tryouts and Off-Broadway performances before the show is finally ready to move into its Broadway house. The out-of-town tryouts tend to change geographically. Shows like Aladdin and Catch Me If You Can premiered in Seattle, WA; Newsies had its first performance just 30 minutes outside of New York in Millburn, NJ. The list goes on and on from there.
There is one location, though, that is a common breeding ground for upcoming Broadway productions: Washington, D.C. You might not know that it’s considered the second-largest theatre district in the nation behind New York. Many up-and-coming actors choose to start in D.C. because there are a number of companies throughout the District. The city even hosts its own awards ceremony: the Helen Hayes Awards. This past year, the awards were divided to acknowledge both Equity and Non-Equity companies, resulting in over 60 accolades awarded to members of the D.C. theatre community.
D.C. theatre is exciting and vibrant. It’s home to new productions that are trying out and finding the right footing before moving to Manhattan. It’s also the space where new types of experimental theatre are performed in small not-for-profit for companies. These companies are not necessarily looking to create the next blockbuster; rather, they are searching for a new way to interpret their art.
The big theaters like the Kennedy Center and Arena Stage are a fantastic stepping stone for large-scale productions. The Kennedy Center is a great place to welcome back touring productions of Broadway hits. The 2014-5 revivals of Side Show and Gigi began at the Kennedy Center and moved to New York shortly after their D.C. runs. Unfortunately, those two shows did not see the same success that they had in D.C. when they moved to New York, but the Kennedy Center also originated the successful revival of Follies seen on Broadway in 2011.
Arena Stage is more known for its new works. For example, Arena found a hit in Next to Normal. After the show’s off-Broadway run, it was in D.C. that the show came to life and finally fell into place, according to many of the actors involved. Arena Stage is the perfect set-up for shows to test the waters and experiment with its audiences. Pasek and Paul’s new show Dear Evan Hansen recently had its world premiere at Arena and is heading to Second Stage in New York City. It experimented with D.C. audiences before moving, and I think that will be a huge advantage for them before they begin performing Off-Broadway.
What makes the D.C. theatre scene so special? I think it’s because D.C. crowds are not looking for Broadway shows. We don’t pay exorbitant amounts for tickets like many do in New York. The theaters here understand that it’s a give-and-take process with its audiences. Many of them take this literally by offering “pay what you can” or “pay your age” for tickets, as Forum Theatre in Silver Spring does. Yes, they may not be making as much as a New York producer does, but they are the ones that get to create unique content that can only be found in the nation’s capital. If you’re ever in D.C., make sure to stop by any of our theaters. Whether it be the Kennedy Center or Woolly Mammoth, you are sure to have a fantastic experience watching new theatre unlike anywhere else.
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