The summer season brings more than high temperatures to Studio Theatre. Local theatergoers can escape the waves of heat in shorts and sunglasses, ditching suits and cufflinks in Studio’s casual, four-stage space. To mirror DC’s slow season in the real world, Studio’s productions during this time of year are typically a little easier and breezier than standard theatrical fare.
Though the seasonal programing is always a little more laidback in summer, 2019 brings a sizzling new addition to Studio’s offerings: SHOWROOM. The curated lineup is set to feature one-man shows, LGBTQ performances and different kinds of karaoke.
“The idea of doing something a little more dressed down has been part of our DNA,” says David Muse, Studio Theatre’s creative director.
The first production, one-man show Every Brilliant Thing,begins on June 19, kicking off the series that includes six different pieces ranging from one-night shows like Mortified on July 13 to the extended run of Bright Colors and Bold Patterns from July 9 to 28.
The headlining productions both tackle weighty topics: Every Brilliant Thing offers a compassionate view of depression, and Bright Colors and Bold Patterns highlights assimilation and liberation, delivered by the worst wedding guest of all time.
“[SHOWROOM] is another way to do one-offs, so I thought we’d combine the two ideas in one: to continue to do something summertime festival-spirited, but instead of one performance with bells and whistles, to do a series of things,” Muse continues.
Aside from the variety SHOWROOM is prepared to offer, Studio creatives are currently in the process of transforming the Milton stage into that of laidback club including tabled seating, a bar and a vibrant aesthetic.
“We talked about the big idea, and how it should feel different than our regular season,” says Debra Booth, Studio’s director of design. “We decided they deserved a different type of space and different form of thinking because it’s not regular fare.”
Booth says the house normally requires little to no modifications, noting that keeping it clean is typically priority. However, SHOWROOM has required a complete overhaul including the removal of fixed seating to create a more open area.
“We’re creating a decking structure that turns every two rows into one,” Muse says. “On the slightly larger semi-circle, we can place a cafe and chairs. It will feel more like a hangout: part bar, part SHOWROOM space.”
Muse says SHOWROOM is another example of how diverse theatre can be. Yes, there is a time and place to wear button-downs, blazers and dress shoes, but this series isn’t meant to attract only one type of crowd.
“People associate Studio with high-stakes drama and high production value, and this is trying to set a different expectation,” Muse says. “What you’re coming to see is not setting out to be great drama with a capital D, which is not to say that there’s not terrific acting and writing. But it’s, ‘Hey, want to drop in during the summer and have a few drinks and see a show? Come here.’”
Though SHOWROOM doesn’t carry the literal moniker of “festival,” Muse and Booth feel it’s important to incentivize audiences to check out multiple productions throughout the series.
“I think the
festival feeling is quite important to our thinking,”
Muse says. “The spirit is so terrific. I could see a show that’s shorter, and likely, before or after [enjoy a drink at the bar]. I can do that not just once, but several times. I think the prospect of offering that to our audience got us excited.”
And while SHOWROOM will have a distinct look and feel, the Milton stage itself will provide surprises.
“There are a couple shows that really have a real set of some sort,” Booth says. “On the other hand, some won’t have very much. It’ll change quite a bit from show to show.”
To truly accomplish this sensation, Studio put together a diverse range of productions with direct audience interaction like Spokaoke, a karaoke bar-themed show with speeches supplanting songs.
“This is the first time we’ve done this in one sense,” Muse says. “This sort of breaks the mold in what people imagine a theatre experience to be. In all of that, having some sense of show diversity, we wanted to be purposefully wide-ranging.”
Studio Theatre’s SHOWROOM performance series kicks off on Wednesday, June 19 with Every Brilliant Thing and concludes on Sunday, July 28 with the final showing of Bright Colors and Bold Patterns. Tickets to the two headlining productions are $45-$55.
For information on the full lineup including tickets and times, visit www.studiotheatre.org.
Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; 202-332-3300; www.studiotheatre.org
Every Brilliant Thing’s Alexander Strain
Studio Theatre’s SHOWROOM kicks off on June 19 with one-man show Every Brilliant Thing, starring Alexander Strain. Fresh off its run at Olney Theatre Center, the heartfelt story from playwrights Duncan MacMillan and Jonny Donahoe comes to Studio with director Jason Loewith at the helm. The play focuses on a little boy whose mother commits suicide when he’s seven years old. Growing up, he makes a list of things in life worth living for – everything from ice cream to the alphabet – as a coping mechanism. The hilarious work takes a realistic, compassionate look at depression and the human condition. As the lone man on stage, we spoke with Strain about his relationship with the character, some of the major themes and the importance of a responsive audience.
On Tap: What initially drew you to this role?
Alexander Strain: I had taken a step back from working in theatre. I had gone to grad school and gotten a degree in psychology, and in that time, I was very invested in what I was learning. I missed theatre, but I wanted it to be something I could be invested in. I thought this play was incredibly apropos with things I was learning, and I just thought it was an amazing piece.
OT: The play is about depression, but the synopsis almost posits a pretty positive way of looking at life. Was it difficult to get into the mindset of this character?
AS: It’s definitely a challenge. It’s dealing with some very difficult subject matter and dealing with it honestly. At the same time, the positivity of it comes from depression and mental illness in general as something that so many people experience, but don’t talk about. Because I was going through a psychology program and developing empathy for what this experience is, it was a bit easier for me to get into what the message of this piece [is]. I think one of the key messages of the piece is depression and mental illness in general is not something that can be brushed away by looking at the bright side. That isn’t how depression works.
OT: What are some of the hardest parts of bringing this person to life? What aspects of his mindset you actively relate to?
AS: I think one of the hardest parts is being by myself, because it involves so much audience reaction. There’s a lot of room in there for improvisation and the hardest part is to trust that it’s going to work. You need the audience to come on that journey with you. I had a lot of trepidation about this when I first started the piece, but we found that there wasn’t an audience that rejected it. For some reason, the piece and the energy I’m bringing to it really invited people in, and after that, it was easier to go on that journey.
OT: You’ve been performing as this character for some time now. Has it gotten easier to inhabit this space or more difficult?
AS: It’s easier. On paper, when you look at the show and what it asks of the performer, it seems daunting and like there’s no way it could work. It deals with very heavy topics and requires interaction and participation. There’s prominent comedic elements, and it seems like it wouldn’t work. Yet, the structure and gentleness of the piece, and the sense that it’s kind of a collective conversation as opposed to a performance piece – you realize it’s a very inviting space.
See Every Brilliant Thing as part of Studio Theatre’s SHOWROOM series from Wednesday, June 19 through Sunday, July 7. Tickets are $45-$55. Learn more at www.studiotheatre.org.
Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; 202-332-3300; www.studiotheatre.org