Stage & Screen Events

Stage & Screen Events: Winter Edition

Written by Michael Frayn, this Tony Award-winning play reinvents and imagines the meeting of 1940s physicists Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, an encounter that has been the center of much speculation because their discussion has not yet been revealed. It’s like Melania and Michelle’s meeting. You just want to know what happened! In this modern drama, the two men reconvene after death to discuss atomic bombs, Heisenberg’s motives with Bohr, and most importantly, what brought him to Copenhagen. A narration on moral responsibility and friendship, this thought-provoking play journeying through science is not to be missed. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $52.88. Theater J at Edlavitch DCJCC: 1529 16th St. NW, DC;

The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family (Three-Play Cycle)
I once bought a single ticket to The Dark Knight trilogy and sat in a theater for hours watching Batman save Gotham. It was great. This is an event like that, but instead of three films, it’s three plays – and the Joker is probably Trump. The Gabriels shines a spotlight on the 2016 election year and has already garnered rave reviews. Written by Tony Award winner Richard Nelson and described as a “rare and radiant mirror of the way we live,” this event, which runs a total of eight hours and 15 minutes, will surely suit your political, theatre-loving fancy. The first play starts at 1:30 p.m., second begins at 4:15 p.m. and the third at 8 p.m. Each runs one hour and forty-five minutes without intermission. Tickets are $120. The Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC;

[gay] Cymbeline
Throwing some Shakespeare your way, because I was a theatre major and it’s what we do. Theatre Prometheus’s take on the Bard’s most complex play strives to shed some light on the similarities between Shakespeare’s world and our own. With an original cast comprised of over three-fourths male actors, [gay] Cymbeline is cast with mostly female actors and twists the plot to reflect the casting choice by refocusing the play as a lesbian love story. Don’t miss this opportunity to explore sexuality, gender identity and even homophobia, and to ignite your love for Shakespeare in a fresh, modern way. Show runs Thursdays through Sundays; times vary by day. Tickets are $20. Anacostia Arts Center: 1231 Good Hope Rd. SE, DC;

LIZZIE: The Musical
Pinky Swear Productions has been waiting three years to bring this musical to DC, and the time has come. LIZZIE tells the totally creepy tale of Lizzie Borden and the brutal murder of her parents. Equipped with her sister Emma, friend Alice and maid Bridget by her side, Lizzie and her girl gang sing-share their stories of sex, rage and murder, and we’ll love it, because we’re all closet freaks who are fascinated by this stuff. Set with a rock ‘n’ roll vibe and a six-piece band, this chilling, murderous tale is sure to strike our fancy. And if it doesn’t, I’m sure Lizzie’s axe will. Various dates; show times are at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $35. Anacostia Playhouse: 2020 Shannon Pl. SE, DC;

Anything Goes
Hop aboard the S.S. American (the line I used to woo guys in college on) and spend your evening singing and dancing in your seat as Wall Street broker Billy Crocker falls hopelessly in love with fancy pants socialite Hope Harcourt, who is obviously engaged to a boring dude, in this Tony Award-winning musical. There’s nothing like watching a man try to win the heart of a woman with song and dance. What will he do to succeed, you ask? Well, Anything Goes! Get it? Wednesdays through Sundays; show times vary. Tickets are $25-$30. The Little Theatre of Alexandria: 600 Wolfe St. Alexandria, VA;

Mack, Beth
I’ve blessed you with another Shakespearean show! Is this devastating to you? Just try being McB. One of Shakespeare’s most tragic plays in my thespian opinion has been tweaked for the cyber age with the Keegan Theatre’s production of Mack, Beth. Described as a thoroughly modern, razor-sharp tale, this play promises to deliver Shakespeare’s harrowing message with a modern twist. In a world of consumerism, we’re no strangers to greed, and neither was Macbeth, but the question of how far you will go to have it all remains. Various dates through February 11. Tickets are $35-$45. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC;

As You Like It
Comedy comes in threes, and so does Shakespeare in this month’s Stage & Screen. One of Shakespeare’s most beloved romantic comedies hits the DC stage in Folger Theatre’s production of As You Like It. If you’ve ever wanted to see a girl named Rosalind get banished from her family’s home and flee to the Forest of Arden where she meets a dude named Orlando and they fall in love despite her being disguised as a bro because love is love is love, than this play is for you! Exeunt. Wednesdays through Sundays with various show times. Tickets are $35-$75. Folger Theatre: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC;

John Cleese Live
Monty Python fans, this one’s for you. Head to the Music Center at Strathmore for a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (the best of the MP films, in my humble opinion) followed by a conversation and Q&A with John Cleese. Silly questions are encouraged, so ask away. Whether you want to know how the comical and very tall English actor came up with the idea for teasing French soldiers in Holy Grail (“Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries” is pretty much the best burn ever) or how many times he had to shoot his famous naked scene in A Fish Called Wanda in order to keep a straight face, the possibilities are endless. Or if you’re like me and like to keep a low profile, just sit back and enjoy the hilarity that ensues from the film and Cleese’s conversation to follow. The screening begins at 8 p.m., and tickets start at $55. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD;

Photo: Courtesy of Mosaic Theater
Photo: Courtesy of Mosaic Theater

Mosaic Theater’s ‘Charm’ Tackles the Complexities of the LGBT+ Community

Mosaic Theater’s Charm is not a play for everyone. But it’s a story everyone should see.

Based on the true life of the Chicago LGBT icon Mama Gloria, Charm tells the story of Mama Darlena, an older transgender woman of color, and the charm school she starts for gay and trans kids at an LGBT+ youth center in the Windy City.

B’ellana Duquesne is magnificent as the lead in Mosaic Theater’s production at Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lang Theatre, directed by Natsu Onoda Power. She charms you instantly with her drawl and smile. She exudes warmth and humor, and you know that she’s going to build you up if you’re feeling down. She is that grandma that will tell you to suck it in and sit up straight, but will cover your face in kisses and feed you until the buttons on your jeans pop. You feel this especially at the end of the first act, in a climactic scene where Mama Darlena comforts Beta, one of her students, after he reveals that he’s been beat up by a local gang for being transgender.

The play explores the complexities of the LGBT+ community across class, gender identity and race – an important facet to include, especially when most of the viewing audience may only have academic knowledge of LGBT+ issues and ideas. In one scene, D, the gender-queer director of the LGBT center, corrects Mama Darlena’s pronouns, repeating over and over that D, is not “Miss D” or a her, but just D and a them. It’s a concept that Darlena has a difficult time grasping, insisting that when she was coming of age, being called a t- – – – – was the best thing one could be called. There’s an ongoing conflict with D and Mama about whether or not the gay and trans youth in the charm class should be learning etiquette based on strict, heteronormative gender roles, something which mama doesn’t have a problem with, but may make liberal audience members cringe.

The biggest difficulties in Charm come not so much from Mosaic’s production of the play, but rather the story behind it. Written by a white, cisgender (a term meaning that your gender identity corresponds with your birth gender) man, Charm deals primarily with the story of people who are trans, Latino, black and disabled. This is a concern given the erasure of trans women of color in the history of LGBT+ activism in the U.S. The scene when we’re first introduced to the youth center kids is a bit cringeworthy, as you try to figure out how much of these characters are based on stereotypes. Thankfully, as the play continues, more about each character is revealed, dispelling this concern.

While gender-queer Duquesne plays Mama, the majority of the trans characters are played by non-trans people. This has been a point of contention with DC’s trans community since the announcement of this production. Transgender people of color, especially women, are the biggest victims of hate crimes. According to the Human Rights Campaign, over 20 trans people were victims of violent crimes in 2016. Advocates say this is because of a fear rooted in the idea that trans women are not actually women, but rather men in dresses lying about who they are, and that fear can culminate in a violent death. Although Mosaic recently held a panel discussion with members of Casa Ruby, a local organization for trans people of color, some local trans activists and voices argue that not casting trans people to play trans roles feeds into this violent idea that trans women are men. This is why Charm may not be a play for everyone.

But, it’s a story that everyone should see, especially people who are not part of the LGBT+ community. Stories about trans people are not often seen in the media, unless they’re sensationalized or violent. Charm is an important first step in changing the narrative of trans people in the eyes of others.

Catch Charm at Atlas Performing Arts Center through January 29. Tickets start at $20.

Lang Theatre at Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; 202-399-7993;

Photo: Jenny Graham
Photo: Jenny Graham

Arena Stage Presents ‘ROE’

Arena Stage is set to debut a shocking play about one of the most divisive topics in American politics: abortion. This production will begin a little over a week before our new president – who has said he’s committed to appointing a Supreme Court justice who wants to reverse the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision affirming a woman’s right to legalized abortion – takes the oath of office.

Following its successful run at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Lisa Loomer’s acclaimed play comes to the District on January 12, and focuses on the little-known story of the two women at the center of the infamous Supreme Court case: plaintiff Norma McCorvey and her attorney Sarah Weddington. Their story is a lens for the future and continued polarization of American culture.

Sarah Jane Agnew reprises her role as Sarah Weddington, the ambitious and brilliant 26-year-old that argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court. On Tap got a chance to speak with Agnew ahead of her DC performance about the unexpected relevance of ROE in 2017.

On Tap: What initially drew you to this role and play?

Sarah Jane Agnew: My very dear friend, Catherine Coulson, introduced me to it. She had been workshopping it at OSF [Oregon Shakespeare Festival] and felt I was right for the part of Sarah Weddington. She was a big advocate of mine. After reading a somewhat early draft and spending a week in workshops, I was completely in. The timing for this material couldn’t be better.

OT: This play had a successful run when it debuted in Oregon, under a slightly different political climate, and now it’s coming to DC, right ahead of a new presidential administration and with an empty Supreme Court seat to fill. Does all of this affect how you approach this story and the character?

SJA: It couldn’t be timelier, right? Yes, the stakes are so much higher for all of us now. Had the election gone a different way, I think I would have approached this run in a more celebratory manner. Now I go into it in crisis mode.

OT: You and Sara Bruner are reprising your roles from the original Oregon production. How does it feel to be returning to the show?

SJA: I have always found it very satisfying to revisit a role after some time away and in a new venue with different audience compositions. The muscle of the performance is there and the ability to hone nuance and deepen the emotional life becomes the focus. With ROE, we will also be working in rewrites that reflect where we are at this very moment in history regarding these issues. That’s very exciting to me. There is also a looseness with the ensemble, a playfulness that has been established, and that’s always a real pleasure to jump back into, especially with the comedic elements of the show.

OT: How do you think audiences will connect with your character?

SJA: In Ashland, [Oregon], the audiences tended to be very liberal, so they appeared to identify themselves with Sarah Weddington’s politics. We could determine this from the applause some lines received and the hissing that other text got. I guess I’m hoping for a more politically diverse audience in DC, and I welcome a bit more audience hissing on some of my lines. I should probably be cautious of what I wish for.

OT: How do you want the audience to leave the theater? Do you want to change minds? Do you want to find a way to connect opposing points of views? What’s the dialogue once the curtain goes down?

SJA: I don’t think the play sets out to win anyone over to any one side. The success of the piece is that it so very clearly and respectfully presents both sides of a very complicated and contentious issue, and asks the audience to spend two hours in consideration of a belief that is not their own. I do hope that people leave with a deeper understanding of how much jeopardy Roe v. Wade is in at this time.

ROE runs at Arena Stage from January 12 to February 19. Tickets are $40-$90.

Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300;

Photo by: Courtney Sexton
Photo by: Courtney Sexton

Truth and Dare Variety Show: Ladies, Let Your Freak Flags Fly

Whoever said DC doesn’t know how to get freaky obviously never attended Church Night at Black Cat, any number of cabarets around town or the latest in the District’s sideshow offerings – Truth and Dare. The performance series is the lovechild of Michelle Carnes of the DC Weirdo Show and Tija Mittal of Charming the Destroyer. A combination variety show/live storytelling event, Truth and Dare is no subtle celebration of la femme: it’s a lot of vagina and a few extra boobs in just the right places.

Photo by: Courtney Sexton

Photo by: Courtney Sexton

This Monday’s rendition was set upstairs at The Passenger (newly reopened in Shaw), and along with Mittal, Carnes and Carnes’s alter-ego, Dr. Torcher, the show featured appearances from veteran storyteller Stephanie Garibaldi of Story District and sideshow hostess extraordinaire Mab just Mab. What set the show apart from others in the same realm was the balance between serious (even when comedic) storytelling, and traditional sideshow skits. Between fire-eating and straightjacket-stripping, we heard carefully woven tales about Garibaldi’s experience as a 21-year-old fertility goddess in Mexico and Mittal’s lesbian love story that wasn’t, all rounded out by a tastefully tassled tri-titty twirl from Dr. Torcher.

While there are a few kinks to be worked out and the show could benefit from a bit more structure, overall the content is thick and the characters are compelling. I’m curious to see how deep these ladies take their Truth and Dare.

Mittal has a free comedy show at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at The Carolina Kitchen, 2350 Washington Pl. NE, DC. She is also included in the Story Districts “Sucker for Love” lineup on Feb. 11. More information, and tickets, are available here. 

Spiderman on Monument Screenshot

Spider-Man Visits Washington Monument in ‘Homecoming’

Yo, looks like Donald Trump isn’t the only one making his DC debut next year.

Who’s the other you might be asking? Well, it appears New York’s friendly Spider-Man will make a cameo in the nation’s capital as he does battle with The Vulture in Sony and Marvel Studios’ film Spider-Man: Homecoming. In the 2017 film’s debut trailer, it’s clear the famed webslinger takes a crawl up the Washington Monument, which is notable because the tourist attraction is closed until 2019. The building had already been boarded up for upgrades, but recently WAMU reported $2-$3 million repairs are going to take more time before completion.

So while us residents, and visiting tourists, must wait patiently to experience the enhanced monument, Spider-Man, like many other celebrities, pulled some strings (webs?) in order to take his own self-guided scrabble on the attraction. However, his presence atop the building doesn’t appear to be welcomed. A helicopter, carrying what can only be secret service and police, tries to shoot down the young superhero as if he’s a giant radioactive monster grasping a blonde woman.

Regardless, we’re happy Spider-Man thought of the area as a potential battlefield. Hopefully he’ll check out the other monuments while he’s here on his business trip– we suggest a crawl on the Lincoln or a swing over the White House.

Check out the full trailer below:


Young Prose Night: The Secret Garden

The Shakespeare Theatre hosted Young Prose Night on Wednesday, December 7th 2016 at Sidney Harman Hall. Young professionals from around the greater DMV area attended The Secret Garden and were offered a complimentary drink after the show. Photos by Trent Johnson.

Titanic Signature Theatre
Photo: Courtesy of Signature Theatre

TITANIC: The Musical at Signature Theatre

Known for taking grandiose musicals and reinventing them to fit within the walls of a black box theater, Signature Theatre Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer climbs aboard the unsinkable ship and steers it straight for Arlington. As the captain of the S.S. Signature Theatre, Schaeffer has quite a production to create, not only because of its familiarity, but because of the expectations that accompany a musical of such grandeur. As a matter of fact, Schaeffer and Signature’s production team designed the set to ensure it would fit their space and vision before deciding to produce the musical.

Despite popular belief, Titanic: The Musical is not based off of the film starring heartthrob Leo DiCaprio and should-be wife Kate Winslet (I’m obviously still bitter about this), despite both premiering in 1997. But that doesn’t make Titanic: The Musical any less daunting to produce.

When asked why Signature Theatre chose to tackle Titanic, Schaeffer replied, “It’s a show I’ve always loved. It’s underproduced. Titanic has the best opening number in the history of musical theatre.”

With a cast and crew comprised of over 50 members, it’s easy for one to feel overwhelmed.

“Sometimes I ask myself how I’m going to do this,” Schaeffer added. “But theatre is about collaboration, and everyone here is ready to make this show happen.”

When people think of big musicals, most imagine them taking place on a proscenium stage in a theater that seats thousands. As if Signature Theatre wasn’t making a big enough statement by producing this musical to begin with, the way they’re staging it makes an entirely new statement in and of itself.

Upon walking into the theater, which is a traditional black box but will be set as a theater in the round (meaning audience members will be sitting on all sides of the stage while the action takes place in the center), you can expect to see a set that’s built vertically instead of horizontally. There will not be a ship onstage, and said ship will not sink, but instead you will feel as if you’re inside of the ship itself. Actors will be exhibiting multistory blocking, including utilizing the catwalk as part of the stage, which is typically reserved for crew members to work and not be seen.

“Audiences will have an experience hopefully like none other. It’s not all bells and whistles. It’s an unexpected emotional connection to the show. What you’ll have as an audience member is a night of intimate theatre. You’ll be, at most, seven rows back from the stage, so you’re in the world of it. Who else in their right mind is doing Titanic in a small black box, not to mention in the round?”

Though Schaeffer never claimed to be in his right mind (what creative is?), he did claim to be ambitious, and this show is just that.

Apart from the spectacle of it all, Titanic: The Musical is also comprised of a wonderful cast of actors portraying both fictional and historical characters alike.

Captain Edward John Smith, played by Christopher Bloch, and Frederick Barrett, played by Sam Ludwig, are just two of many historical figures associated with the infamous 1912 sinking of the unsinkable ship.

Bloch, who has been an important figure in DC theatre for the past 15 years, said he associates himself with Captain Smith because of their similarity in age (early 60s) and their mutual affinity for sailing and operating big ships. His initial connection with the captain lead him to purchase Smith’s biography in an effort to learn to play the role more authentically, noting that he’s even dabbling with various dialects to accompany his portrayal.

“When creating a character, you have to find something that makes sense within the context of the story, even if they don’t seem to make sense,” Bloch said. “Are they illogical? A villain? Why do they do what they do? Find the truth for your character. The words give you that information.”

Ludwig, who plays the lead stoker in the boiling room (Barrett is the first to notice the iceberg’s impact on the ship), is reprising his role after playing the character at 19.

“I love playing roles I’ve done before, because you have a baseline understanding of your character,” he said. “I can think more holistically and be as natural as possible.”

If you’re a fan of engaging, ambitious theatre, Titanic: The Musical is not to be missed. With a lush score and a thrilling set, you’re sure to be transported back in time. Titanic opens December 13 and runs through January 29. Tickets are $40-$79. Check Signature Theatre’s website for  details about specialty nights and discounts.

Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; 703-820-9771;

Moby Dick Arena Stage
Photo: Courtesy of Arena Stage

A Physical Telling of ‘Moby Dick’

Arena Stage is at it again bringing larger than life theatre right to DC, and this time, it’s sure to make a whale of a splash. Arena’s interpretation of the Melville classic is cranking waves with its innovative spin, and it’s sure to be a show you don’t want to miss. Partnering with the Actor’s Gymnasium in Chicago, Arena audiences will be transfixed by aerial stunts and storytelling, as well as journeying with Ishmael in the obsessive quest to battle the infamous great white whale. All hands on deck The Pequod as Moby Dick prepares to dock at Arena Stage on November 18.

On Tap got to chat with Chicago’s Jamie Abelson (Ishmael), who’s making his Arena Stage debut, for the inside scoop on all things Moby Dick.

On Tap: You’re making your Arena Stage debut as Ishmael, but this isn’t your first time playing this character. What are you planning to do differently this time around?
Jamie Abelson:
I wouldn’t say that I’m planning on doing anything differently, but I hope that performing in new theatres in different cities with a few new cast members and script changes can bring fresh ideas and images out in my performance.  While I think that we do a great job of weaving the narration into the action of the story, I am in charge of imparting a lot of information to the audience.  My hope is that while forwarding the plot I can also activate the audience’s imagination and create a personalized window through which they can relate the story to some time in their own lives.

OT: Tell me a little bit about Moby Dick and why DC audiences will want to come see it.
The story of Moby Dick is wonderful and as relevant as ever – especially in a city like DC where passionate people come from all over to test their ambitions against the best and the brightest.  I’m biased of course, but I think our production is spellbinding and unique.  For the most part, the show is true to the book and tells the story as simply as possible.  But when events require a leap of imagination, we help the audience make that leap with physical daring and innovative imagery.

OT: Arena Stage collaborated with the Actor’s Gym in Chicago for aerial stunt and stage combat training. Prior to this show, did you have much experience with these art forms?
I have always gravitated towards theatre that is driven by physical storytelling.  Maybe this is because I grew up competing as a gymnast, or maybe movement is just the way my imagination is activated.  In preparation for this show, I did take a few circus, aerial classes at the Actors Gymnasium in Chicago to build strength and to experiment with my skills.  Our cast is made up of performers with all different sorts of training and experience.

OT: How did you feel going into this? Were you nervous at all?
For better or worse, I’m pretty comfortable being high up in the air and taking calculated risks with my body.  However, as we have developed the show, I have thought more and more about safety and how to make sure that I’m not taking any unnecessary risks.  I have immense trust for all of my cast mates, and if we are all focused and communicating, there’s nothing to worry about.  The challenge is to maintain that focus day in and day out for a long tour.

OT: In what way are you hoping audiences feel after seeing Moby Dick?
JA: Invigorated, pensive, nostalgic, and transfixed.  There are so many possible messages to take away from this story.  For Ishmael, this is a story about a man driven to go on a daring adventure by an overwhelming sense of loneliness, isolation, and frustration with the shallow world surrounding him.  On his journey, he finds friendship, purpose, community and passion – enough for a lifetime. He may lose it all, but I hope audiences leave feeling like it was all worth it. The true tragedy would have been if he had never walked away from his desk to explore the world. Better to have loved and lost, than to die wondering what could have been.

OT: In your time off, will you have much time to explore? What are you looking forward to exploring most in DC?
Once we get the show open, we can’t wait to explore the city.  We have heard a rumor about the world’s largest whalebone collection, run by the Smithsonian somewhere in Virginia.  We’re trying to get in for a special tour.

Moby Dick is currently playing at Arena Stage and will continue its run through December 24. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

Arena Stage Carousel
Photo: Courtesy of Arena Stage

Arena Stage Brings Musical ‘Carousel’ to Theatre

Arena Stage is notorious for producing passionate, exuberant, and profound pieces of theatre, and their upcoming production of Carousel is no exception. Named the Best Musical of the 20th Century by Time Magazine, Carousel is sure to swing its way from the stage right into your heart. With an all-star cast comprised of Arena Stage veterans and newcomers alike, this love story is sure to hit you right in the feels.

On Tap had the chance to chat with leading man himself, Nicholas Rodriguez (Billy Bigelow) to chat about Carousel, how it’s been playing his dream role, and the best piece of advice he’s ever received in regards to acting.

On Tap: What made you get involved in acting?
Nicholas Rodriguez: It’s funny actually. I grew up playing sports (my dad was a football coach), but it wasn’t really my thing. I needed to find a before-school activity, and it was either football or the school choir, so I chose choir. That lead me to pursuing school musicals.

OT: Being from Texas, do you get typecast? Should actors break from this mold or embrace their type?
: I’m from mixed-race heritage, so I fall into many types. I tend to play the leading man roles. I think it’s important to know your type and own it, but try to break out from it from time to time.

OT: Tell me a bit about the character you’re playing in Carousel, Billy Bigelow.
: Billy, in a nutshell, is a bad boy. He’s a charmer, a performer, he’s lived a difficult life and makes bad choices. He does awful things – no spoilers!

OT: And your approach to playing this character is…?
Well, he doesn’t see himself as being bad, so I can’t judge him. As actors, we want to be liked and clapped for [laughs] so you have to separate your personal desires with the intentions of the character.

OT: Why should audiences come see this musical? What sets this production apart from other productions of the same show?
It’s a classic musical with gorgeous music and with themes like redemption, hope, perseverance, and love. It’s about what we deal with now. As far as what’s different? It has a diverse, multiethnic cast, but we’re not making it a plot point. It just is what it is. Also, the orchestra is onstage the entire time.

OT: What’s been a highlight of rehearsing for Carousel?
One is working with the team. I’m blessed to be working with everyone. There is trust onstage. Safety. Also, Billy Bigelow is my dream role. I’ve been wanting to play him for twenty years. The idea of performing as Billy in Carousel on the Arena Stage is a dream.

OT: Lastly, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in regards to the craft and business of acting?
My voice professor told me, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” meaning it’s okay to not know something and to ask questions. It keeps you grounded. Another thing I’ve learned since acting professionally is that it takes the time it takes. We’re running a marathon, and we’re defining our own success.

Carousel runs from October 28-December 24 at Arena Stage. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

Henry Rollins
Photo by: Heidi May

A Conversation with Henry Rollins

Where do you even begin a conversation with Henry Rollins? You hear about people, especially artists and entertainers, wearing multiple hats; but this guy changes hats on an almost daily basis. He’s a screen and voice actor, a fervent writer, a radio broadcaster, a television show host, a publisher, a “spoken word” performer who sells out shows around the world, a documentarian and a globe-trotting explorer. And that’s just what he’s done this year.

Rollins, who grew up as Henry Garfield in the Wisconsin Avenue wilds of Glover Park, started growing his hat collection after joining the short-lived, simmering harDCore punk band State of Alert. From there, he launched into the national consciousness—as the lead singer of the L.A. hardcore punk band Black Flag. He would go on to form and front his own avant-edge punk band the Rollins Band, perform at the first Lollapalooza, win a GRAMMY for his audiobook Get In The Van!, become Monday night football friends with William Shatner, all while touring the world as much as possible.

While on the road in the 1980s, Rollins began writing to pass the time and to record what he experienced in the underground punk world.  As he wrote, he started to form his words into a spoken word routine, something akin to stand-up comedy, but with more story and righteous anger. Now his world-famous “talking shows” are an opportunity for Rollins to share his perspective on the world with interested parties. It’s something like storytelling mixed with surgical criticism, heartfelt examinations of the best—and worst—of human nature, with a little comedy to spice the mix.

And that is what brings Rollins back home to DC next week on November 8 to the Lincoln Theater. His 2016-2017 spoken word tour will reach a new fever pitch on election night, and will be a nice change of pace for the usual election night mix of anxiety, blues and aspirin.

On Tap caught up with Rollins by email to talk about the show, his feelings on international travel, and how he keeps his ears to the ground for his hometown.

On Tap: Much of your career has focused around the written and spoken word. How did writing become such an important part of your self-expression?
Henry Rollins: For me, writing, as far as working at it, writing every day, working towards a goal of someone else reading it, came awhile after I started writing. I first started writing while on tour, to alleviate boredom and loneliness. The hours pre-show were pretty still. You would be in a town, you had no money and there wasn’t always a lot to do but at the same time, a lot was happening. So, I started writing about it, writing about how I was feeling. It was a place to go. It still is. Writing is portable, quiet and cheap, it’s a great medium for travel.

OT: Has this election cycle prompted any changes in material?
HR: I always talk about an election when it’s happening during a tour. This time around, I am more interested in the process, how much it is a media play more than a presidential election. It seems to be more a dramatic tragedy than anything else. So, not a change, per se, but I’m definitely talking about it.

OT: How do you “prepare” material for your tours?
HR: A lot of preparation goes into the shows. I think it must be more than merely relaying information derived from being out in the territory. So, I get the information and try to figure out what the story is. That’s what takes the most time. I usually say the stories out loud to myself, which probably sounds strange but actually works for me. I like to be very prepared for shows. I am not all that good at being spontaneous.

OT: So much of your shows revolve around your travels. Are there any moment or stories that stand out from this year of touring that you haven’t talked about in the shows?
HR: A recent visit to a township in Hout Bay, outside of Cape Town, South Africa called Imizamo Yethu, which I go to every time I am there was heavy this time around. It always is but this time, one of the people I always visited with had passed away from HIV and the township itself is having a lot of challenges. I don’t know how to position it yet.

OT: Is it ever hard for you to come back to the U.S. after extended periods of time internationally?
HR: It’s not hard, but the reminder of how harsh the USA can be constantly presents itself. Like coming back from Ecuador a year ago, all that hospitality coming to an end so abruptly was a drag. I live outside of the US on a regular basis, so I am constantly readjusting. That being said, I can’t think of living anywhere besides here.

OT: What musicians out there now—whether they’re from Compton or Kiev—are hitting you hard right now?
HR: A few would be High On Fire, Wand, Ty Segall, Hierophants, Dick Diver, Zig Zags, Savages, Living Eyes, Lowtide, Thee Oh Sees, Brando’s Island, Ausmuteants, Julie Ruin, Lorelle Meets the Obsolete, Hiragi Fukuda, Wolf Eyes, Point Juncture WA, Red Red Krovvy, Jonny Telefone, VUM, The Anti-Job, Kikagaku Moyo, the Laurels, True Widow. I am sure I could find more to list. I think there is a great wealth of talent out there if you know where to look. There always is. There will always be great music. When someone says that music isn’t good any more, it doesn’t make sense to me, I have never found that to be true.

OT: Do you keep a finger to the pulse of the DC music scene?
HR: I like the band Cigarette. Olivia Neutron John, Anna is amazing. I saw her play last year and thought she was great. Chris Richards just sent me some new DC music but I have not checked it out yet. I do my best to find out what’s happening in DC music wise.

OT: The Lincoln Theater is such a storied venue in DC, but it was closed for most of your performance career. Does performing in such a landmark of your hometown have any meaning for you?
HR: Not outside of wanting to do a good show. I was there several months ago, which was useful but beyond that, all I can think of is wanting to be as sharp as possible on the night.

OT: You’ve been a musician, author, spoken word performer, stand-up comedian (sort of), radio host, DJ, podcaster, actor, voice actor, globe-trotting traveler. Is there anything you haven’t done yet that you want to do? What stones are there left to turn for Henry Rollins?
HR: I can’t think of anything, as I never really had a plan. There are more destinations I want to reach, more writing I want to do. But as far as another thing to do, hopefully, something interesting presents itself. I wouldn’t mind a little time at the end of this tour to get some vinyl listening done. I have been out for the better part of 10 months.

Henry Rollins will perform his election night spoken word on November 8. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and tickets cost $40. The Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC;

Photo by: Heidi May