Posted September 24, 2014
#EquityWorks: 5 Questions for Washington, D.C.ís MetroStage
Actors Roz White, Bernardine S. Mitchell and Ashley Ware Jenkins in the MetroStage favorite, Three Sistahs.
Credit: Chris Banks
Now that MetroStage has turned 30, producing artistic director Carolyn Griffin talks about the stage’s journey, the nostalgic upcoming season and her love of Equity.
Q: MetroStage is celebrating 30 years. Talk to us about the theatrical journey as an Equity producer since 1984?
A: Founded in 1984, this is our 30th year. But it was 1987 when we opened our first theatre — 65 seats in a converted storefront. The cost: $12,000. We held a corporate breakfast and each businessperson donated $1,000, and we were in business.
We were founded as a professional theatre. So there was never a question about using Equity actors. In fact, this was around the time that the SPT contract was devised so that the emerging small professional theatres in Washington, D.C. could cast Equity actors (and so that Equity actors could be cast). We were in that original group of theatres in the D.C. area that was able to take advantage of this new contract.
In terms of our journey we eventually moved to another storefront and had 85 seats, until urban development caught up with us. After a few years of searching for a new space and raising the $450,000 that we needed, we moved into our current space and reopened in 2001. We are now an SPT 08 in a converted lumber warehouse with 130 seats. That is how we define 30 years of progress!
But what is most interesting for me as I look back on that journey is that we have been unwavering in our commitment to the Equity actor (we have actually had the opportunity to offer the EMC membership or an Equity card to many young professionals over the years) and have always embraced the intimate stages and the small cast productions, which have become our trademark.
I can say that for 30 years our journey has been consistent with our mission: a commitment to the Equity actor and to the unique theatre experience that we offer our audiences in our intimate setting.
Q: What can Equity members and audiences look forward to this season?
A: As we are getting ready to begin our 2014-15 season in a few days, we are putting the final touches on a revival of Three Sistahs, a musical we premiered in 2002 and revived in 2007. The show has now become the perfect vehicle for ushering in our 30th year.
The rest of the season is comprised of the 5th revival for our holiday tradition, A Broadway Christmas Carol, the classic story told through Broadway show tunes, and three characters playing multiple characters, which is followed by another (20th) anniversary production — Bessie’s Blues. This will be followed by a revival of one of my favorite Athol Fugard plays, The Island, another two-hander that we originally produced in 1991, with one of the original actors, Doug Brown, returning in the role of Winston. Finally, we will have an area premiere of John W. Lowell’s The Letters, directed by another long standing director here at MetroStage, John Vreeke, with two of our favorite Equity actors, Susan Lynskey and Michael Russotto.
Q: Where did the idea to remount Metro-specific beloved productions arise? And, what do you hope the actors who reprise roles take away from the experience?
A: One of the greatest perks of being a producing artistic director at a small theatre is that I can choose work that speaks to me: work that I feel is timely and universal with a powerful message, and characters that both the actors and the audience can clearly embrace. The shows that we are reprising this season are some of my very favorites and have a particular emotional resonance with an audience.
These productions are truly a labor of love. The actors are so committed to the script, their characters and the story being told from the stage that they really are all on a mission to tell their story — with honesty, integrity and believability. This is what I know I will get on my stage with Equity actors. These actors embody their characters, understand the background and the backstory for their characters and their commitment reads loud and clear from our thrust stage, where the last seat in the house is only six rows from the stage.
Q: What has MetroStage meant to the community in Alexandria, Virginia?
A: As an Alexandria resident — I moved to the Washington, D.C. area right after college — I have been privileged to bring professional theatre to my hometown, to this unique, historic city (within a few miles of the nation’s capital) for the past 30 years. Our presence here actually serves many purposes, offering theatre at this level to Alexandria residents and introducing them to exceptional D.C. area actors. Then add the fact that we are filling the surrounding restaurants on performance nights and generally serving as an economic catalyst to this geographic end of Old Town Alexandria, all by offering art of the highest artistic value.
Q: Now that you’ve reached the 30-year mark, what’s in store for the next 30 years?
A: As indicated above, we have never wavered from our commitment to the small, unique theatrical pieces that are intended to touch the hearts and souls and intellect of our audience. We fully intend to continue on this path for the next 30 years.