Before the pandemic, 1st Stage theater company in Tysons annually welcomed about 15,000 people to its shows and was gearing up for a promising future.
“We really felt like an organization that was sure of its impact, building in our community, proud to be a part of it and moving on all cylinders,” said artistic and managing director Alex Levy at a Sept. 9 roundtable discussion hosted by the Greater Tysons Citizens Coalition.
That changed on March 13, 2020, the day before the company’s annual benefit. The group canceled that event and has not since held a public performance in its usual space at 1524 Spring Hill Road.
“I’ve spent my entire career trying to provide both a reason and space for people to come together,” Levy said. “To walk out on that day in March and say, ‘You need to stay away,’ was the hardest professional moment in my career . . . We had spent so much time growing. None of had ever thought of what it meant to stop.”
1st Stage members met soon after the initial shock and acknowledged that the performing-arts field was financially vulnerable, with many experienced performers just scraping by even in the best of times, he said.
Instead of shutting down and laying off workers, 1st Stage took a different tack. The company committed to fulfilling every contract for three scheduled productions, keeping its entire staff employed and continuing to function at the fullest capacity possible under the circumstances, Levy said.
During the pandemic, 1st Stage commissioned 11 artists to create plays, put up 35 online performances and did readings for five new plays. The company also hosted a drive-in holiday concert that was simulcast to people at some local venues and live-streamed on the Web, held four semesters of classes, convened 18 panel discussions about making art and launched the recently concluded Duck Harbor Live series on the Web.
The theater company’s community outreach didn’t end there. The group also led a drive that collected 13 refrigerator-sized boxes’ worth of food items for the Capital Area Food Bank; hosted the Tysons 2050 project, in which corporate and community leaders expounded on the urban center’s future; provided entertainment for the Fairfax NAACP’s annual fund-raiser; and led a supplies drive for homeless people.
1st Stage just held its first in-person event during the pandemic, using a partnership with The Boro development in Tysons, Levy said.
The company currently is continuing its residency at Boro Park in Tysons and will not return indoors for performances on its home stage until mid-November, he said. “Secret Things,” by Elaine Romero, will run from Nov. 18 to Dec. 19.
Levy thanked the community for its support in helping the 13-year-old company fulfill its mission.
Eileen Mandell, 1st Stage’s director of community relations, on Aug. 19 told the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce that the company is looking forward to its planned new space at The View development, which has yet to be built. Until then, 1st Stage has a solid base at its current home, she said.