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DC: Critical mass in Washington

June 17, 2008
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It’s been about a decade since I’ve been to Washington, D.C., but memories rush back.

On a junior high field trip, a kid sticking his hand in front of my Super-8 movie camera as I tried to film a “Hard Day’s Night”-inspired sequence with four friends in front of the Washington Monument. I pushed the kid away, he fought back, and we were both given week-long detentions. Ah, what we do for our art.

In college, pulling into town at about two in the morning because someone—we aren’t sure who—had the brilliant idea to take a spontaneous road trip to see the Vietnam Memorial rather than, say, go across the street for a pizza. I should mention that we were going to school in Philadelphia. Entering the Memorial in the middle of the night, with just a few veterans around us rather than the flocks of tourists, firmly implanted in me the power of the piece. Later, we climbed the steps of the Capitol while blasting music from our boom box and felt remarkably free—even if a security guard eventually told us to turn it down.

As a fledgling writer, wandering into the Folger Theatre’s bookstore and recognizing actress Pat Carroll (known to many as the voice of Ursula in “The Little Mermaid”) who had only recently cross-dressed into the role of Falstaff. Later, I saw the Shakespeare Theatre’s production of “Love’s Labors Lost” and fell in love with that odd little play about too-smart-for-their-own-good guys and the women that make them swoon. A fire alarm interrupted that performance and I was amazed at how smoothly the cast reconnected us to their characters and the play after we returned from the less-poetic real world. I liked the show so much, I did something I rarely do—bought the T-shirt. Its faded green print now adds even more poignancy to my memory.

On another trip to town, catching the pre-Broadway run of the revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Growing up, I was always fascinated by the Kennedy Centers Honors specials that ran between Christmas and New Year’s, honoring living legends in the arts. And here I was, in the same seats—which, admittedly, distracted me a bit from the production. Matthew Broderick was terrific, of course, and I made a mental note of a terrific unknown in the lead female role—a silly-voiced energy machine named Megan Mullally.

Today, I’m back in town, sitting in the sound booth of the Arena Stage (the only place nearby where I could get an Internet connection), preparing for an onslaught of Washington theater. I’m here for the American Theatre Critics Association annual conference and we’ll be ricocheting all over the region seeing two shows a day. In between, we’ll be talking about the arts, how they are covered, and how that is changing.

I’ll report here as often as I can on the new memories I’m hoping to make.

Anyone else with thoughts of Washington arts? Feel free to chime in with a post here.
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