Since the H Street Playhouse presented its first show, George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum, in 2002, the 100-seat black-box theater has become a vital presence in the H Street, Northeast, arts scene, staging shows by resident companies such as Theater Alliance, Scena Theatre, and No Rules and hosting performances by countless other local arts institutions. The venue was the brainchild of Bruce Robey and his wife, Adele, who used their savings to launch the theater and in doing so helped spark H Street’s regeneration.
Next year, the venue hopes to make a similar impact in its new home across the river in Anacostia. Adele Robey today unveiled the venue’s new home at 2020 Shannon Place, Southeast, a warehouse space just off Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. The building hosted performances and other events at the Lumen8Anacostia festival earlier this year, and Robey hopes to have it ready for audiences as soon as January 2013.
Helping spearhead the move is Phil Hutinet, COO of ARCH Development Corporation, the nonprofit behind Anacostia’s Honfleur Gallery and Gallery at Vivid Solutions. When the Playhouse announced via Twitter that it was searching for a new home once its lease was up, Robey says Hutinet responded almost immediately, prompting them to explore east of the river for a possible new home. Robey drove around the neighborhood looking at spaces and was struck by what she saw. “It’s beautiful and gorgeous and charming,” she said.
The space at 2020 Shannon Place has high ceilings, which Robey says she was drawn to after years with H Street’s 13-foot-high space. It’s also accessible via Metro and bus, and offers plenty of neighborhood parking. But the real draw was the response from the community. “People I didn’t even know were sending e-mails saying, ‘We’re so excited to have you,’” says Robey’s daughter, Julia Robey Christian, managing director of the H Street Playhouse.
The venue’s move also has support from Mayor Gray and Ward 8 council member Marion Barry, as well as the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. “This will be an amazing cultural hub here in Anacostia,” said executive director Lionell Thomas at a press conference Monday. “This is a win for everyone, having the arts and culture as a hub for development in an underserved area. Because Anacostia is underserved.”
ANC commissioner Greta Fuller agrees. “This is going to be the catalyst that lets historic Anacostia let the city and the rest of the world know what it has to offer,” she said.
Several local performers came to check out the new space, including African Heritage Dancing and Drummers founding director Melvin Deal. “We can’t forget the children and the seniors in the programming,” he said. “I’m certainly looking forward to some relevance in the programming.” Others said they were excited to finally be able to perform within their own community.
One thing H Street Playhouse won’t be keeping is its name, which Robey says they might open up to a competition via social media, even though “2020 is kind of a cool address.” The Playhouse’s resident companies haven’t said yet whether they’ll be joining the venue across the river. Theater Alliance artistic director Colin Hovde was wowed by the space, but says he also feels tied to the company’s Capitol Hill roots.
Regardless of which performances it’ll be staging, the move is a historic one for Anacostia, which in 2013 will finally receive its first performing arts venue. “We want this to be Anacostia’s playhouse,” said Robey Christian.