Arts Desk

Why 2013 Could Be a Great Year for Arts in D.C.

Peace out, cynical 2012. We’re embracing optimistic 2013.

Last year, we saw the arts take a few hits: Artisphere booted its in-house theater company, WSC Avant Bard; Riot Act Comedy Theater closed; the Corcoran threatened to sell its building; Shakespeare Theatre’s landlord tried to jack up its rent by 700 percent; Red Palace shut its doors; H Street Playhouse got priced out of H Street NE; and WPFW announced a format change that could alienate a lot of its listeners. Then America found out Psy once rapped about killing U.S. soldiers, and it couldn’t even listen to “Gangnam Style” anymore without shedding a bittersweet tear. In short, a little piece of the sky fell in 2012.

But that was last year. Now that D.C. is done rubbing the crust from its weepy, hungover eyes, it’s time to put on a name tag and jump into the happy drum circle. Here’s a list of 10 events, happenings, and ideas in local arts to look forward to in the new year. The best news? It was hard to choose just 10.

Capital Fringe. Executive Director Julianne Brienza says she’s already received “way more” applications for the sprawling, unjuried theater festival than she usually gets this time of year. The deadline is Jan. 7. “I am so curious to see what the final count will be,” she writes in an email. Just last year, Brienza told the D.C. Council that Fringe might have to relocate to the suburbs because city support for the fest fell short. But last fall, with a bumped-up allotment from the Council, the District’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities eventually floated Fringe a respectable $82,000, part of it specifically aimed at keeping the festival within D.C.’s borders. Now, Fringe could get even bigger.

Trillectro II. The organizers of D.C.’s first festival to meld hip-hop and electronic music threw together the inaugural Trillectro hastily, but it wound up a success anyway. At the D.C. Fairgrounds last August, D.C.-rooted hip-hop artists Oddisee and Tabi Bonney performed on the same bill as local DJ Tittsworth, DJ Underdog, the dudes from U Street Music Hall’s Nouveau Riche party, and a bunch of national acts. It was a sign that hip-hop and EDM can happily coexist in a town still known mostly for its musical heritage instead of its present. Festival co-founder Modele “Modi” Oyewole says another Trillectro is planned for this summer, and details are forthcoming.

Arena Stage. The last couple of years haven’t been rosy for new play development at the Southwest arts facility. It’s been criticized for not producing all those new works it hoped the Kogod Cradle would nurture, and in 2011, it lost part of the American Voices New Play Institute to Emerson College. But Arena marched on, hiring a new director of artistic programming, David Snider, and launching the local-playwright incubator Playwrights’ Arena. The new program—not full-fledged like Arena’s salary-paying residency program—offers up work space and hosts meetings with six local playwrights, with the overall mission of developing their craft. There’s no guarantee Arena will produce any of their works, but for followers of new plays, it’s enough to make Arena one to watch this year.

Lincoln Theatre. After announcing a search for a new operator, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities may be able to turn over the historic Lincoln Theatre to new management this year. Let’s hope for an overseer that knows how to play to the venue’s strengths.

“Taking Care of Our Own.” Theatre Washington recently began accepting applications for its new aide program, “Taking Care of Our Own,” a fund put together to help local artists in crisis. It aims to distribute free money—not loans—to help D.C. area theater professionals in times of need. Awards range from $500 to $2,500. Hey, every little bit counts. Even in so-called recession-proof D.C., theater practitioners have it tough, and this fund may help them breathe a little easier starting in 2013.

Bethesda Film Fest. This city doesn’t lack for local film events, but D.C. filmmakers probably won’t turn up their noses at another addition to the pile: The all-new Bethesda Film Fest comes to Imagination Stage March 23, promising to “promote and honor the work of local and regional documentary filmmakers” in a showcase of five short documentaries.

Echostage. Last year, the promoters of D.C.’s biggest electronic-music megaparty, Glow, took over the huge venue in Ward 5 formerly known as D.C. Star. Now Panorama Productions plans to vastly upgrade the space and transform it into the city’s biggest party venue. Their timeline seems ambitious—it’s only giving itself a few months to complete what may be a drastic physical overhaul—but if they pull it off, Echostage could be a salve to those still aching from the loss of Nation and its best-known party, Buzz, in 2006.

Anacostia Playhouse. Due to skyrocketing rents, the H Street Playhouse was forced to relocate from the gentrifying land of quirky pies last year, and has settled in Anacostia. Its in-house company, Theater Alliance, will come along—but only partially. For now, it plans to ship its offices East of the river, but produce its shows out of multiple area venues. Meanwhile, how will the playhouse work to accommodate both middle-class theatergoers and its new neighbors in one of D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods? We’ll be watching and taking notes.

Hyperlocal D.C. Exhibits. “Mumbo Sauce” at Contemporary Wing in March and “Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s” at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in February.

The Motherfucker With the Hat. Stephen Adly Guirgis’ provocatively named play, coming to Studio Theatre at the end of January, presents a problem for profanity-free family publications like the Washington Post. Fortunately, Washington City Paper doesn’t have that problem. We’re looking forward to reviewing the fucking shit out of The Motherfucker With the Hat. No [expletive brackets] necessary, motherfuckers.

Top image: Chuck Brown, 1986. Photo by Dean Rutz for the Washington Times. Appears in the Corcoran Gallery of Art's forthcoming exhibit "Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s."

Second image: Arena Stage's Kogod Cradle. Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • ATN

    Apparently this writer doesn't know there are middle class theatregoers in Anacostia :-(

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