Arts Desk

Artisphere Boots WSC Avant Bard

This post has been updated.

D.C. Theatre Scene reported this morning that Artisphere has given the boot to WSC Avant Bard, its in-house theater company for the last two years.

Artisphere spokesperson Annalisa Meyer confirms the news, saying the decision is part of the Rossyln cultural center's plan to cut operating costs. Meyer says WSC Avant Bard's long runs in the Black Box Theatre—which have ranged from about four to eight weeks—prevent Artisphere from booking simultaneous performances in its ballroom space, cutting into potential revenues. Update: Meyer says Artisphere is planning to reduce the lengths of runs in all its spaces—not just its black box theater—in order to maximize the flexibility of its rooms.

Meyer says Arlington County's director of Cultural Affairs, Karen Vasquez, has spearheaded an effort to find alternative spaces for WSC Avant Bard to host future shows. One option they're looking at for the spring, according to Meyer, is Arlington's Theater on the Run. But that venue doesn't offer the same technological capabilities or the accessibility as Artisphere, which is located within a few blocks of the Rosslyn Metro station. Meyer says Artisphere is still open to hosting shorter runs of WSC Avant Bard shows. (Vasquez did not immediately respond to requests for comment.)

The company got the bad news in a meeting with Artisphere Dec. 11 (not last week, as D.C. Theatre Scene reported) says WSC Avant Bard Artistic Director Chris Henley. The timing was less than ideal. "This hit, as you can imagine, right as everyone was dispersing for the holidays," he says, making it tougher for the company to find alternative venues right away. "In a perfect word, this shift in their business model would have happened between seasons with enough lead time for us to prepare and have a budget that would accommodate all of the dislocations. Happening midseason, obviously we've already passed a budget that we need to stick to as closely as we can."

In an email, Meyer writes that the cultural venue—which opened in Rosslyn in 2010 and has struggled to attract visitors and maintain a robust revenue stream—is transitioning from the "resident company" model it championed two years ago toward an "in residence" model. It's an extension of the retooled business plan it announced in 2011. "The revamping of this program is part of our ongoing process to ensure the future operation of Artisphere," she writes. "Additionally, the new 'in residence' model allows us to present a wider range of art groups, book shorter run shows, and allow for more flexible use of our spaces." She says WSC Avant Bard is "the only group immediately affected by this change." Other resident groups, like UrbanArias and the National Chamber Ensemble, already meet the "in residence model," and consequently are not affected.

WSC Avant Bard, formerly the Washington Shakespeare Company, relocated to Artisphere from the Clark Street Playhouse when the Rosslyn venue opened in 2010. It recently closed its production of Six Characters in Search of an Author, and planned to debut two shows at Artisphere this spring.

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