The lights are up, the seats are set, and production managers are geeking out over new equipment. The inaugural season of theater at 12th Avenue Arts is ready to commence.
12th Ave’s three resident theater groups have been settling into their two black box spaces since the lights went on in November at the Capitol Hill Housing arts and affordable apartments complex. Strawberry Theatre Workshop, Washington Ensemble Theatre, and New Century Theatre Company have solidified their first slate of plays, which kick off next week.
12th Aves first-ever show will be WET’s production of Sprawl. The new work from Cornish grad Josh Conkel features Mark Kenison of Waxie Moon and Capitol Hill web series fame. According to WET’s description, Kenison’s campy persona on Capitol Hill will have him well prepared for the role:
Sprawl nestles a group of friends and frenemies in a Washington suburban model home for a book club meeting, only to be interrupted by… THE-END-OF-THE-WORLD. Part Mars Attacks and part Serial Mom, the brutally-campy Sprawl reminds us that beneath suburban tranquility, nasty secrets are waiting to emerge that are as wicked as they are hilarious.
A week later, Strawshop will make their debut with a performance of the Pulitzer Prize winning play Our Town. Known for its absence of props or a set, the play was specifically sought out by Strawshop artistic director Greg Carter.
“The idea of this production is that 12th Ave Arts is not a theatre until we make it one,” Carter said in a statement.
Going forward, the three ensembles will have first dibs on the the 149-seat capacity Mainstage Theater and the 80-seat capacity Studio Theater. When they’re not using them, the companies jointly formed Black Box Operations to rent the spaces out to others.
Unlike the more nomadic Strawshop and New Century, WET’s move into 12th Ave Arts has been somewhat bitter sweet as company had to abandon its decade-long home in 19th Ave’s Little Theater. “We were not excited to lose our home, but that’s the only thing we were sad about,” said Maria Manness, WET’s production manager.
Overall, the WET crew is relishing in the perks of its new black box-plus digs. More space means more opportunity to reconfigure the stage and seating. Manness said no two shows should ever be set-up the same way.
The new spaces include cat walks for setting up lighting and top-of-the-line lighting boards. The control booths are spacious and equipped with an intercom system that plugs into the green rooms and backstage. If that breaks down, there are trap doors inside the booths that open above the dressing rooms.
Pictures from the nerded up costumery courtesy Manness
In the old days, WET had to build their sets offsite, often relying on someone to offer up space in a personal studio. The new theater’s oversized doors and a loading dock means companies can now build off-site, making rehearsals easier and shortening the time between productions. “We’re saving time in deep cleaning,” Manness said.
Figuring out how three theater companies can co-exist in the same space has presented some challenges. The ensembles had to hang-up thick fabric to help dampen sound between the spaces. In the case of WET, not having their own space also means less opportunities for quirky events, although that should translate into more full productions for Capitol Hill.
“We’re still the scrappy company we were in the other space,” Manness said. “The same constantly changing group of people.”
Meanwhile, work continues towards rolling out tangible pieces of the Capitol Hill Arts District. Matthew Richter, the city’s cultural space liaison, told CHS he expects the district won’t be announcing anything until spring or summer.