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DC Theater Reopenings: What We Know So Far

Live performances are coming back. Here's the when, where, and how.

Woolly Mammoth’s performance space. Photograph courtesy of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

Stages dark, actors scattered, and plays cancelled, postponed, or reimagined as Zoom productions: This has been the bleak reality for DC’s theater scene during the past 14 months. Though some mainstays like Shakespeare Theatre Company and GALA Hispanic Theatre were able to secure waivers from the mayor to host occasional outdoor and/or socially distant performances, most theaters pivoted to online formats and scrambled to find creative ways to keep their audiences (safely) engaged. But Washington’s stages are finally preparing for IRL shows once again. Here’s what we know so far. This post will be updated. 

Arena Stage

The announcement for Arena’s 2021-2022 season and reopening plans won’t come until early June, but they hope to resume live performances in late summer or early fall. Drama enthusiasts can also engage with Arena’s top-notch talent through the special Artists Marketplace (buy crafts, lessons, and more), by tuning into intimate talks with various theater-makers in Molly’s Salon, or by watching the three films that Arena produced last year including a look at Washingtonians in the early stages of the pandemic, and a work focused on the fight for statehood. Most recently, the theater released Arena Riffs, a three-part series of new filmed musicals written during the pandemic highlighting genres like hip-hop, indie, and folk.

Ford’s Theatre

Last week, Ford’s reopened its museum and the balcony of the theater (where you’ll find the presidential box, of course) for visitors with timed entry passes. But they have not yet released a specific timeline of when they’ll turn the stage lights back on and welcome a full audience. That announcement is expected to come sometime over the summer. Three exciting shows expected in the 2021-2022 season include My Lord, What a Night (about the close-yet-surprising friendship between Albert Einstein and Marian Anderson), The Mountaintop (Katori Hall’s historical fiction drama about Martin Luther King), and Grace (a new musical about African American food cultures and traditions created by DC composer Nolan Williams Jr.). In the meantime, though, Ford’s is currently offering a free radio play version of Necessary Sacrifices, which imagines a detailed conversation between Frederick Douglass (played by Craig Wallace) and Abraham Lincoln (played by Paul Morella), available through May 30.

GALA Hispanic Theatre

GALA officially reopened last month with Tía Julia y el escribidor after having a few special performances over the past year (including the comedy El perro de hortelano or The Dog in the Manger, which ran last October). The theater is currently allowing only 25 percent capacity per show, but starting June 11 they will expand to full capacity. In June, they’ll kick off a run of Ella es Tango, a musical revue from GALA co-founder Hugo Medrano featuring the Pan American Symphony Orchestra; the music spotlights women composers and vocalists with tango dancers from Argentina and the US. Plus, dance tango after the Wednesday night shows.

The Kennedy Center

In April, the center reassured everyone that yes, Hamilton would return to make up for its 2020 cancellation—though you’ll have to wait till summer of 2022 and hustle to secure a ticket for the slightly reduced run (from 14 weeks to 12 weeks). More immediately, though, the Kennedy Center is opening in various ways. The REACH will be hosting 19 weekends of mini-festivals in its expansive outdoor space starting on May 27 with an Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration of music, arts vendors, yoga, dance, and more from SAMASAMA, a local organization for AAPI-identified artists. Other summer festivities include The Wig Party: A Capital Drag Festival, spotlighting DC drag performers and queer artists; two back-to-back weekends of Latinx music and dance (including classes in bachata, merengue, salsa, and more); and two festivals focused on local go-go history and its future with #DontMuteDC.

Looking to the fall, the Opera House will be back in all-star shape beginning with the clever retelling of Greek mythological romance in Hadestown in October, followed by the popular jukebox musicals Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical in December. In 2022, look out for: Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Mean Girls, and Freestyle Love Supreme.

Mosaic Theater

After months of virtual shows and filmed performances, Mosaic plans to start its in-person season on September 10 with some level of reduced seating capacity at H Street’s Atlas Performing Arts Center. So far, it’s announced three productions. First is My Father, My Martyr, and Me, a lyrical work by queer Palestinian artist/poet Fargo Tbakhi who finds startling connections between his and his father’s lives and the life of Sirhan Sirhan, the man who killed Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. In October, catch Anna Ouyang Moench’s Birds of North America, about the ups and downs of a father-daughter relationship seen through their birdwatching. In January 2022, DC theatermakers Psalmayene 24 and Natsu Onoda Power will team up for Dear Mapel, a deeply personal look at Psalm’s coming of age told through the letters he writes to his distant father.

The National Theatre

Big-ticket Broadway shows are coming back to downtown DC. See Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical, opening November 23. Tootsie and Pretty Woman: The Musical arrives in December. Next year, they’ll stage the critical darling Come From Away, the food-themed variety show Alton Brown: Beyond the Eats, and the 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour of Pulitzer-winning classic, Rent, among other productions.

Olney Theatre Center

Olney plans to resume indoor shows in the fall but in the meantime has planned the summer series “Olney Outdoors.” A Midsummer Night’s Dream will run in July right before the weekend fest “Just Arts: A Celebration of Arts And Activism,” which centers performers and artists of color. Other programs will highlight jazz, cabaret, young audiences, and more.

Round House Theatre

The Bethesda company is still determining its upcoming season (the announcement is expected in June) but plans to reopen in the fall with careful safety measures.

Shakespeare Theatre Company

One of the few theaters open to visitors, STC is currently showing Blindness, a sensory performance that seats a 40-person audience onstage to experience the immersive light-and-sound installation based on José Saramago’s novel about a disease that spreads the loss of sight (ending July 3). Online, you can still catch the one-man show with the characters you love to hate in All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain (streaming through July 28). At publishing time, STC has not yet announced its 2021-2022 season, but the theater is expected to have news next week.

Signature Theatre

The musical powerhouse in Arlington won’t share its 2021-2022 season plans until the middle of July. Like its contemporaries, the theater plans to reopen in the fall and has only teased one show that will be directed by Signature’s Matthew Gardiner: A newly reimagined interpretation of Rent.

Studio Theatre

Studio is undergoing significant renovations to its building, expected to finish in early 2022. The theater will likely remain dormant until its planned reopening in December. For now, you can see three plays online: Tender Age, about a security guard at a Texas detention center who grapples with the cruel policy of separating children from their families; 2.5 Minute Ride, from Fun Home creator Lisa Kron, about a daughter and her Holocaust-survivor father who’s obsessed with roller coasters; and Flow, a DJ-backed hip-hop play.

Theater J

Horny-advice fans, rejoice! The eagerly anticipated run of Becoming Dr. Ruth, about the legendary life of the radio and TV sex therapist before she hit fame, will return to Theater J’s stage on September 30 after a cancelled run, starring Naomi Jacobson and directed by Holly Twyford. Closing the theater’s season in June 2022 will be Anna Deavere Smith’s solo show Fires in the Mirror, a documentary drama that examines the aftermath of violence between Black and Orthodox Jewish communities in 1991 Crown Heights, Brooklyn, starring January LaVoy (who also co-directs with Theater J artistic director Adam Immerwahr). Sometime in the summer, the theater is expected to announce three more productions for the season.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre

Woolly plans to present its upcoming season announcement and updated reopening safety procedures in early July. You can currently watch Animal Wisdom, billed as a “musical séance,” in which singer/songwriter Heather Christian works through her family’s stories and confronts the ghosts that haunt her. Coming up in the theater’s online programming in June: Where We Belong, co-produced with the Folger Shakespeare Library, is an autobiographical one-woman show that follows indigenous dramatist Madeline Sayet’s journey to England to pursue a PhD in Shakespeare—picking up illuminating lessons on colonialism along the way.

Rosa is a senior editor at Bitch Magazine. She’s written for Washingtonian and Smithsonian magazine.