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Miss “The West Wing”? This Bethesda Festival Is For You

Even Rob Lowe is intrigued by the September event.

Rob Lowe, Martin Sheen, and the rest of the West Wing cast. Photograph of The West Wing by James Sorensen/NBCU Photo Bank.

One day about ten years ago, Claire Handscombe watched her first episode of The West Wing on a friend’s laptop. “I was instantly mesmerized,” says the freelance writer, who was so inspired by the hit series about the fictional Bartlett administration that she decided to move to DC. It wasn’t just the writing and acting, she says, but also “the idealism of it.”

Today, that uplifting ethos feels eons away from our political reality. Which is part of the reason Handscombe and several other superfans are planning the West Wing Weekend conference, a September geek-out at a Marriott in North Bethesda. “The ideals of the show are not being upheld in the current White House,” says co-organizer Clay Dockery. “For me, that was important to go back to.”

After raising more than $10,000 on Kick­starter in two days, the organizers are now planning the fest, which will include fan performances and panel discussions. They’re also hoping some of the actors will attend.

Though he hasn’t gotten his invitation yet, West Wing costar Rob Lowe is intrigued by the idea. “You’re kidding!” he said when we filled him in. “Tell me all about this.” Lowe shares the organizers’ enthusiasm for a more collegial—if never exactly realistic—depiction of DC. “They would spar lovingly, and sometimes angrily, and then go out and have a beer afterwards,” he says of political opponents on the show. “I do believe that is not the case today, and that is profoundly sad.”

This article appears in the March 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

Courtney Vinopal is a former Washingtonian editorial fellow. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, and previously worked as a press attaché for the Embassy of France in Washington, where she ran the institution’s social media accounts and newsletters. She lives in Woodley Park.