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The little theater that could: Anacostia Playhouse turns 5

Urban Marketing Group Staff



It’s been a long hard climb, but the Anacostia Playhouse reached its five-year milestone this month — with flying colors. The small flexible theater, known as a “black box,” is located a few blocks from the Frederick Douglass house in historic Anacostia, an arts-friendly neighborhood that also includes the Anacostia Community Museum. While sometimes struggling to pay the rent, the 100-seat theater has built a reputation for presenting Helen Hayes Award-winning plays.

The Anacostia Playhouse evolved from the H Street Playhouse, which for a decade anchored the cultural and economic life of the H Street NE corridor north of Capitol Hill until it closed in 2012, essentially a victim of the neighborhood revitalization it helped to foster. Rising rents on the H Street Corridor meant the Playhouse had to find a new space. It was either that or “just get out of theater altogether,” said Adele Robey, a co-founder of both the H Street Playhouse and the Anacostia Playhouse, which she also directs.

Fortunately for theater lovers, Robey’s love of the stage won out. A year after the H Street Playhouse closed, she opened the Anacostia Playhouse across the river, remodeling an old warehouse, which she calls “the best kind of space for a small black-box theater” because of its high ceilings.

The first three years in the new location were the hardest. But slowly the new theater and the neighboring Anacostia Arts Center just around the corner — a frequent partner of Robey — have been developing what she calls “a little arts community.” Last month, Robey breathed a sigh of relief after signing a five-year lease for the theater.

So the Playhouse has a home at least through 2023. What does Robey envision for her theater over those years? Raising more money is certainly high on her list, she said, but there will also be expanded children-and-youth programming, including classes, workshops and productions for kids to perform in. She wants to forge new partnerships and is talking to Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus about resource sharing. The cultural and social services center in Ward 8 — better known as THEARC — just opened a small black-box theater of its own, relieving some of the city’s shortage of performance spaces.

Though Robey is not planning a fifth anniversary gala, she has secured a grant from the Cafritz Foundation to match donations dollar-for-dollar up to $7,500. She is also looking forward to a full season, and has bookings into October of next year.

On the calendar for the anniversary year are three plays to be presented by the Playhouse’s resident company, Theater Alliance. These begin in September with The Events, a play about a mass shooting, followed by a study of racism and sexism titled Blood at the Roots and the world premiere of Klytmnestra: An Epic Slam Poem next spring.

In November the Playhouse will present a new-works festival, Visions/Revisions, which invites playwrights to submit 10-minute and one-act plays that address themes of deterioration and renovation in Anacostia. Submissions will be accepted through Aug. 31.

This fall Pinky Swear Productions will put on a performance of John Bavoso’s Blight….

Read more by Mark Longaker @ The DC Line


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Anacostia News

Food Hall Benning Market Is Slated to Open East of the Anacostia River

Urban Marketing Group Staff



D.C.’s food hall boom is still going, and Northeast’s River Terrace neighborhood off of Benning Road is the next to get a Union Market lookalike.

The Washington Business Journal reports that developer Neighborhood Development Co. is hoping to open the 11,200-square-foot Benning Market at 3451 Benning Road NE this fall.

The idea is to outfit Benning Market with a wide range of food stalls, and a brewery or co-working space could also be in the mix. The project’s currently raised $191,000 on crowdfunding site Small Change, meeting its minimum goal, and Neighborhood Development Company’s CEO and founder Adrian Washington’s got big plans for the area.

Read more Eatery DC

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Anacostia News

Chase Bank To Open In Historic Anacostia As Neighborhood Experiences Retail Transformation

Urban Marketing Group Staff



JPMorgan Chase will replace a local restaurant in Historic Anacostia with a bank branch as part of its D.C. expansion. The deal is the latest in a series of major regional and national companies planning moves to the Southeast D.C. neighborhood that is poised for a major transformation in the coming years.

Landlord Curtis Investment Group signed the nation’s largest bank at 2200 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, the storefront where Uniontown Bar & Grill closed its business in recent months. Within three blocks of that space, national coffee giant Starbucks and regional restaurant chain Busboys and Poets are preparing to open their first east-of-the-river locations, and multiple developments are planned that will bring new housing and office space to the historic neighborhood.  Charles Wilson, a former ANC commissioner and head of multiple Anacostia neighborhood groups, first reported on his blog that Chase would replace Uniontown, and Curtis Investment Group confirmed it to Bisnow. Wilson said Uniontown was having problems and became less popular among neighbors in recent years, so people were not too disappointed to see it close, but he said many wish it had been replaced by another restaurant.  “It’s mixed feelings, because we’re losing a restaurant in a neighborhood that desperately needs more sit-down restaurants,” Wilson said.

“There are three or four banks within less than a square mile — Bank of America, PNC Bank and Industrial Bank — so you begin to ask what’s the value of another banking facility … another restaurant or café or some type of eating facility would have been great.” JPMorgan Chase announced in September it would invest $10M in driving economic growth in Wards 7 and 8, D.C.’s most historically underserved communities. Wilson said the new branch could be a positive if it helps spur more investment.  “Any time you have another banking partner who wants to make sincere investments in projects like the 11th Street Bridge, there’s definitely good things to come out of that,” Wilson said.

Busboys and Poets, a restaurant chain known for opening in parts of the city undergoing dramatic change, began constructing its Anacostia location in October 2016. The opening date has been pushed back multiple times, but neighborhood business leader Duane Gautier said he sees people working on it every day and expects it to be open by the spring. Busboys owner Andy Shallal did not immediately return a request for comment.  Gautier is CEO of Arch Development, an Anacostia-based nonprofit that runs multiple business incubators and art galleries in the neighborhood. He said Busboys will be a big step up from Uniontown and could create momentum for additional openings.  “I think it’s a positive, but it’s not going to be the savior of Anacostia, which it has been touted to be,” Gautier said of Busboys. “It will draw in people. A couple local restaurants are happy it’s moving in because people will come down and go to Busboys but not always, so we think it’s going to spur other small cafés and restaurants.”

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Anacostia Events

Review: ‘Happy Ending’ at Anacostia Playhouse

Urban Marketing Group Staff



Happy Ending is a one-act satirical comedy written in the 1960s by Douglas Turner Ward, co-founder of the Negro Ensemble Company. He had written an op-ed for the New York Times called “American Theatre: for Whites Only?” that prompted funding and other support for the new company. The NEC’s mission was to create theater by black playwrights from the black point of view primarily (not exclusively) for black audiences. It’s easy to forget what a radical notion about representation that was back then. For that memorial reason alone, the revival of Happy Ending just opened at Anacostia Playhouse is well worthy of attention.

But do not come expecting a museum piece—because this Happy Ending is fresh, funny, and bursting with song-and-dance pizzazz. Yes, song and dance! Director Ella Davis has juiced up this modern classic with a riot of musical numbers. Some of the tunes that embellish the zany storyline are familiar (“What a difference a day makes”); more are brand-new. As composed by Marion Johnson and performed by a spirited cast with big voices, they get the joint jumping. And by the time of the show’s happy ending (no spoiler: the title gives it away), Ward’s comic gem has jumped out of history into the hysterical present.

Read more at DC Metro Theatre Arts

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