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Getting Started In D.C.

May 19, 2013

I did not move to Washington, D.C., to become an actor. Like many young people, I came for the “show business for ugly people” of politics. It wasn’t until I had been here for half a decade that I even discovered I had an interest in performing — and was surprised to discover I was in one of the nation’s up-and-coming theater communities.

It is hard to verify if, as many boosters now claim, Washington is actually “the second-largest theater market in the country,” since there are many ways that could be measured — by overall intake, number of theaters, number of seats, quality and quantity of performers, etc. But there are currently more than 80 professional or semi-professional theater companies in operation here, as well as more than 30 community theaters, the second-largest Fringe Festival in the U.S., a large improv community, and an active independent film industry. Chicago was the original “Second City,” but in terms of performance, D.C. may be the Second Second City.

This is an interesting region to pursue acting because of D.C.’s unique status. The District of Columbia itself is only the nation’s 25th most populous city, with just over 600,000 people — more live in Columbus, Ohio and El Paso, Texas — but because it’s the nation’s capital, the District has a cultural scene far beyond most smaller cities. (The full metropolitan area is the nation’s fourth-largest, with some 5.5 million residents, as well as the best educated and wealthiest, which helps keep the performing arts afloat.)

In my brief experience so far, I have found this a great place to get a start. It’s not as cutthroat as one might expect in New York or Los Angeles, and even established professional actors are often happy to offer advice and support to newcomers. But how to get started?

Anyone interested in a start in either professional or community theater in the D.C. area should sign up for the D.C. Theatre Connection listserv, which offers both audition notices and a moderated discussion forum. There are two great websites for audition links (mainly for community theater) — ShowBizRadio Auditions and The Theatre Pages. And DragonukConnects, created by regional actor Brian Dragonuk, offers a daily newsletter of jobs both on screen and on stage.

Every D.C. actor should join The Actors’ Center, which has a daily hotline of often-exclusive job listings, as well as regular workshops that are free to members, and classes and ticket discounts. The Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts is a welcoming and positive place for newcomers to discover the craft, and also offers a year-long Honors Acting Conservatory for those seeking a career. The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts and The Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory are more intensive programs that turn out many of the region’s working actors.

Four local theater news websites should be on every aspiring or established D.C. actor’s bookmarks: D.C. Metro Theater Arts, D.C. Theatre Scene, Maryland Theatre Guide, and ShowBizRadio. Those sites also have links to most of the region’s theaters, and it’s worth adding yourself to as many theater e-mail lists and Twitter/Facebook feeds as possible. (I also follow most regional theaters on my own Twitter feed, so you can take a look at my list there.) In addition, the Washington Area Theatre Community Honors website has links to all the major community theaters.

Peter Sig

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. California Triple-Threat permalink
    May 20, 2013 12:00 am

    I’ve always heard my hometown of San Diego was the 3rd biggest theater town but now I don’t know anymore! They seem to have a lot in common.

  2. May 21, 2013 10:55 pm

    great post, full of awesome resources. I just saw a show at Fords Theatre (Hello Dolly) and was wildly impressed.

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