An Oral History of Shear Madness Everyone loves to mock the Kennedy Center's longest-running play. But for 24 years, this lowbrow tourist fare has helped generations of D.C. actors make ends meet. The show's story, as told by those who made it happen.

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In 24 years at the Kennedy Center, Shear Madness has played host to more than 100 marriage proposals—straight and gay. But Bradley Rosenberg and Kathy Clark, formerly of Oakton, Va., love the show so much that on Aug. 29, 1999, they held their wedding on stage during a performance. This year, they retired, sold their house, and began living on their yacht, Shear Madness. It’s their second boat by that name.

Kathy Clark: When we decided to get married we were looking to do something different and innovative and fun. We must have had 100 different ideas. But there were a few requirements. We didn’t want to have a traditional wedding, anything that was overly formal.

Bradley Rosenberg: It was important to us because of our age the wedding had to be really fun for the audience. Often you go to weddings and you can’t see or hear them and it’s all about the bride and the groom and that’s fine. But our objective was that the guests had a really enjoyable evening and have some great memories.

Clark: The Kennedy Center is a great facility for having a wedding, but it’s a more proper place. Bradley said, “It’s too bad you can’t have any fun at the Kennedy Center.” That reminded me of the Arch Campbell quote [about Shear Madness] saying, “You can’t have more fun at the Kennedy Center.” We started doing some research and found out you can in fact rent the whole theater. It’s relatively inexpensive and seats 399 people. It cost about $8,000.

Rosenberg: One of the reasons we were able to do it was a change in the mayor. I refused to spend money in D.C. while Marion Barry was the mayor.


Clark: Nobody had gotten married on stage. One of the ideas was that we wanted to be in the play. We wanted to fill the theater with people we knew and get married on stage. The invitation invited them to “an afternoon of murder and marriage.”

Warren: They had her dressed up as an undercover call girl and she did a little cameo as the warm-up of the show and he was one of the assistants to the detective.

Clark: I was highly offended. I put on my best outfit for that. People called me all kinds of name: hooker, trollop. I just thought I was a hot babe. I got a little miniskirt, Elton John platform shoes, and a see-through blouse.

It may be lowbrow, but Shear Madness does offer its actors security against the constant hustle for roles. Of the 125 who have passed through since 1987, most spend a few months. But some have made it nearly their entire career.

Sills: It’s an amazing service to actors in an industry where it’s so hard to work, period. It’s so hard to work. As you’re out there struggling to achieve whatever your goals are as an actor, to have something like this to come back to where you get paid a reasonable salary, and you get to have a really good time. It’s kind of a gift.

Cleary: My first day as Mrs. Shubert was Sept. 11. I drove and I didn’t even have my radio on, and the plane had just hit the Pentagon. I turned around the Tidal Basin as the smoke started rising. I was evacuated from the building as soon as I got there.

Jordan: It’s impossible to give anyone a script of the entirety of Shear Madness. You’ll hear the audience say something in June, they might not say that again until January. It does help when you have long-term actors in the show. It gives them the opportunity to test new stuff.

Cleary: I step in and out, so it’s not 10 consecutive years as Mrs. Shubert. Part of my trick is that I don’t lie there with my head in the sink thinking, “Oh, god, this is the 10,000th time I’ve had my hair washed.”

Marcus Kyd, played Mikey Thomas from 2003 to 2008: It’s been a great blessing to many actors. It kept me alive for a while. It’s one of the best-paying jobs in town. There’s about five houses in the area if you work a cycle of them you can make a decent living, and Shear Madness is one of them.

Our Readers Say

Thanks City Paper for such a delightful article. Although I usually go to the Kennedy Centre for drama, ballet, and concerts, I've enjoyed Shear Madness several times. It's great to have silly laughs sometimes, and Shear Madness delivers on that count.
I enjoyed being with Barbara at your delightful, memorable wedding. Jean

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