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Theater Space: The Final Frontier

June 29, 2013

One common argument in that tiresome old “theater vs. theatre” debate is this: “‘Theater’ is the building; ‘theatre’ is the art form.”

To which I ask: “There’s a building?”

As the theater/theatre scene continues to grow in my hometown of Washington, D.C., many companies are looking for a place to perform. As I wrote recently, this is a region with more than 80 professional companies and dozens of community theaters, and finding venues is a challenge.

From the standpoint of a theater artist or patron, it’s a good problem to have: There is so much work being done here that there is not enough space to do it. But for producers and artistic directors, it’s a major challenge. The Washington Post recently reported that the D.C. theater community “is experiencing a space crunch as emerging and growing organizations hunt alongside established companies that are suddenly out on the street.”

It’s not just a matter of the burgeoning number of companies — some venues are shutting down entirely, meaning there is actually less space as the number of troupes grows. And it’s not just the up-and-comers that are struggling. The city’s venerable Shakespeare Theatre Company is in litigation to try to block a 700 percent rent increase on the space it has occupied for 20 years.

My next professional role will be in a church basement theater, and it will be the third time I have taken part in a show in such a venue. Even these spaces are not immune — one small theater in D.C. ran the risk of closure last year because of the complaints of one neighborhood resident. Luckily the space was saved. We need all we can get.

Peter Sig

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