MetroStage, located on the edge of the Potomac River in northern Virginia, is a professional not-for-profit theatre company dedicated to producing an eclectic season of contemporary plays and musicals for the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
When we had the opportunity to speak with Producing Artistic Director Carolyn Griffin, the electrical force behind the theatre and with MetroStage since its founding in 1984, having produced over seventy-five productions, she told us: “When Metrostage was founded in 1984, it was originally called the American Showcase Theatre Company. I was just getting out of business school with an MBA in 1984 and I was offered the job of Managing Director. Eventually, I moved into the role of Artistic Director. I changed the theatre’s name to MetroStage because it has a more contemporary component to the name and I want the theater to serve the Metro D.C. area. I’m committed to producing the best contemporary writing and showcasing the best regional acting talent.”
From its inception until 1996, MetroStage operated out of a series of converted storefronts on Duke Street. MetroStage re-opened in its current new theatre in north Old Town Alexandria in July, 2001. The 130-seat theatre is a converted lumber warehouse offering an interior volume that lends an expansive, dramatic feel, yet maintains an intimate theatre environment for which MetroStage has become recognized, with seats on risers wrapping around a “thrust” stage, keeping the audience in close proximity to the actors.
Ms. Griffin added: “There is more of an opportunity for an “energy transfer” between the actors and the audience because of the “thrust” stage and performers play to the “wall of people” creating a “comfortable familiarity.”
Since the 2001 opening of the new facility, MetroStage has also produced staged readings and a Cabaret series.
Metrostage’s 2015-2016 season includes “Uprising” by Gabrielle Fulton, set in the aftermath of John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry, exploring the self-determination and sacrifice through the lens of a free-black community during secession-era America; “A Broadway Christmas Carol” by Kathy Feininger, a MetroStage holiday tradition, returning for its’ sixth season, celebrating the classic Dickens tale; “Shake Loose, a Musical Night of Blues, Moods, & Icons,” written and directed by Thomas W. Jones II, who also wrote the music and lyrics with William Knowles and William Hubbard, celebrating the music born of the gospel tradition, and the African American icons who invented the jazz, blues, and rhythm and blues of the 20th century; and in April presents “Black Pearl Sings!” by Frank Higgins, based on the discovery of legendary folk singer/guitarist Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter in prison by folklorist John Lomax and their subsequent musical partnership. We also meet two extraordinary women in Depression-era Texas: an ambitious Library of Congress musicologist and her discovery of the musical gifts of an African-American woman with a soulful voice.
Ms. Griffin told us: “It’s a journey of race and reconciliation, religion and tenacity, historical origins of folk music, and ultimate healing and understanding. I try to make sure all the shows at MetroStage have a musical component because everyone responds to music. For instance, in “Black Pearl Sings,” the music is woven into the fabric of the play, and with “Uprising” and “Shake Loose,” Thomas Jones does an amazing job telling these stories “seamlessly” weaving one scene into another with music creating the transition.”
Under the Lintel
Ms. Griffin continued, telling us: “All of the plays at MetroStage also have an “educational component. The audience needs to be entertained, enlightened, and enriched and that’s the truth. Some people come up to me ten years after they’ve seen a show here and still talk about the play and the experience they had because it gave them such insight into another culture. I want to give the audience ‘something to take home’ and people need to leave with an ‘emotional response.’ For that moment, that breathtaking experience is worth the price of admission.”
Griffin also shared with us: “My philosophy of being in the theatre business is you have one of two choices: You either have to have nerves of steel or you don’t have a nerve left in your body. The theatre business is so unpredictable you can never tell if an audience will turn out for a show. I take full responsibility for the financial success of the theatre and believe all the shows that are presented have some value both literary and psychological. MetroStage will continue to offer its’ audiences a rewarding experience with the highest level of artistry and leave the theatre with the feeling that you’ve gained something.”
Ms. Griffin is the co-founder of the Alexandria Arts Forum and has received many awards including the Actors' Center Award of Distinction, Alexandria Commission for Women’s Cultural Affairs Award, ALEX Award, and named a Living Legend in Alexandria in 2007. For info: MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, Va. 22314. (703)-548-9044, www.metrostage.org