H Street Playhouse to Become Anacostia’s First Performing Arts Venue

The theater hopes to open in its new location in February.
A performance from the Lumen8Anacostia Festival in the space that will house the H Street Playhouse. Photograph by David Lee/courtesy ARCH Development Corporation.
A performance from the Lumen8Anacostia Festival in the space that will house the H Street Playhouse. Photograph by David Lee/courtesy ARCH Development Corporation.

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

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

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.

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