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It’s given D.C. talking dogs, 20-inch dildos, a very bad Santa, and miles and miles of George Bernard Shaw. But the temporary shutdown of the financially troubled Source Theatre, a crucial venue for edgy local theater, has some dramatic types shaking their heads and scrambling for space.
“It’s a goddamn shame,” says Ian Allen, artistic director of Cherry Red Productions, which has played regularly at Source since last year. “It truly is one of the only spaces in town available to small-time producers.”
This isn’t the first time the 27-year-old Source Theatre Company, whose building is at 1835 14th St. NW, has taken a break from production: It didn’t put on a single play last season, in an attempt to get solvent. What’s new is that Source is also canceling shows by guest companies, leaving homeless upcoming performances by the Washington Improv Theater and Actors’ Theatre of Washington.
“You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before putting it on the child next to you,” explains Peggy O’Brien, president of Source’s board of directors. She adds that the company will now try to formulate its second new business plan in the past four years.
Source is legendary for living on the financial as well as the artistic margin. In the ’90s, the company ran up approximately $250,000 in debt and underwent massive board turnover. In 2000, Source summoned Mary Ann de Barbieri, former managing director of the Shakespeare Theatre, to help replan its finances and fundraising.
For the past five years, Source has sought also to generate revenue by renting its space to a host of other local companies, from Actors’ Theatre to Project Y Theatre to the Washington Stage Guild. In a single month, Sourcegoers could be whiplashed between, say, Shaw’s Getting Married and Allen’s Angel Shit.
But Source Artistic Director Joe Banno (who’s also the Washington City Paper’s opera critic) claims that such diversity hasn’t always paid off. “Without naming names,” he says, “some companies have come in and owe us a good deal of money. It’s either feast or famine.”
That seems apply to Source’s tenants, too. “The equipment started falling apart when we were there,” says Stage Guild Executive Director Ann Norton. “We had to use the theater lights for setup because their work lights weren’t working—and that’s just changing a light bulb.”
“Joe is a wonderful artist and collaborator, but he’s not there,” says Carla Hübner, artistic director of the In Series, which leases office space from Source. “As a building and as an arts-center concept, [Source] needs a lot of TLC. And it’s not getting it.”
De Barbieri apparently agreed: One of her recommendations was that the company hire a business manager, but so far, Source hasn’t been able to fund the position. For now, Banno says, the company will finish its current production, McNally: The Early Works, scheduled to run through March 24. And he and O’Brien insist that the annual Washington Theatre Festival, which is scheduled to start rehearsals at Source in June, is safe. Beyond that, they say, everything except Banno’s job is on the table—although Banno denies that Source might be closing for good.
Allen finds only partial solace in that news. “Small theater is dying on the vine [in this town],” he says. “And Source is symptomatic of that.”
Jonathan Newton is awfully placid for a guy whose record store is closing. In fact, sometimes he wavers on whether Now! Music and Fashion actually is closing.
“Who knows?” he says, glancing around Now!’s 3,000-square-foot space at 615A King St. in Alexandria. “We still haven’t wrapped up here, so it might be premature.”
In the next breath, though, Newton, 35, confirms Now!’s March 8 mass e-mail message announcing its closing after four years of operation. No surprise, really: Since Now! opened in Clarendon in December 1999, a box set of its counterparts, from DCCD in Adams Morgan to Yoshi Toshi in Georgetown to Yesterday and Today Records in Rockville, has gone on to that big cutout bin in the sky.
But Now! held a special place for local music geeks. Inspired by the nerd-friendly policies of the late Go! Compact Discs of Arlington, Newton and Now! co-owner Tim Rollins let you listen to their entire stock of indie rock, avant jazz, electronica, ’60s psychedelia, and contemporary classical. This back in the days before the iTunes Music Store, when getting that kind of access without startling the Recording Industry Association of America was still a big deal.
Add the vintage housedresses hanging for sale at the ends of the aisles, the sofa-and-chair corner complete with acoustic guitar, and the sometimes inscrutable bin categories, and Now! provided a haven for those who prefer homeyness and serendipity to one-click checkouts. It even took on regular volunteer help—a tradition alluded to in last week’s e-mail, which asked for aid in hauling junk and “free professional advice in liquidation or related legal matters.”
“Everybody in D.C. seems to have a record store that they loved to hate,” says Brent Burton, a former Now! volunteer and a freelance music critic for the Washington City Paper, the Baltimore City Paper, and Revolver magazine. “But everybody just seemed to be kind of pulling for Now!.”
But on a March evening days after the closing announcement, only a few mournful-looking browsers range through Now!’s razor-thin stock, which includes Xavier Cugat discs and a red baby-doll coat from Garfinckel’s.
His hands full of used clothing, Juan Carlos of Springfield claims he remains loyal to Now!’s particular brand of brick-and-mortar record-selling. “I really can’t count more than three record stores I’d go to, and this is one of them,” he says.
Pressed, though, Carlos admits that he hasn’t been to the store in four or five months. “I go to shows now and buy my music directly from the bands,” he says. “And I’ve been getting a lot of MP3s.”
It was just supposed to be about peace, love, and understanding, say the artist and the curator. But that was before somebody spotted the Star of David.
Three stars, actually, painted into three works by painter Jorge Perez-Rubio that were part of his recent “People and Places of Egypt” exhibition at the Egyptian Cultural and Educational Bureau on New Hampshire Avenue NW. Both Perez-Rubio and the show’s curator, Aaron Pomerantz, say that Ala El Din Sarhan, a cultural attaché with the bureau, asked them repeatedly to take down the three paintings as the show was installed on Feb. 23.
“And as the show was being hung, [Sarhan] looked at [all the other paintings] very thoroughly,” says Pomerantz, a Chevy Chase consultant who says he’d showed Sarhan the exhibition catalog months before. “He was being proactive in discovering any Stars of David.”
The Miami-based Perez-Rubio, who lived in Cairo for two years, has painted more than 20 works in what he calls his “New Jerusalem” series—a kind of Where’s Waldo? of monotheism in which a cross, a crescent, and a Star of David are tucked into topsy-turvy, four-horizoned cityscapes. “In every great city—Cairo, New York, Miami—you make room for everybody,” he says. “[The concept] makes some people uncomfortable, and that’s what I felt that evening.”
Sarhan denies asking for the paintings to come down. And he now says that he’s even come to appreciate Perez-Rubio’s project. “The way he explained [the works],” says Sarhan, “he’s able to portray himself better than the curator. I liked the idea very much. Tolerance. If you rotate it 180 degrees, you can still get the same idea: We’re all living under the same sun.”
But the day before the show closed on March 9, the exhibition languished unmarked, unlit, and unguarded. A long table and a podium obscured access to a whole wall of works.
“Dr. Sarhan didn’t honor the art,” says Pomerantz, who adds that the attaché pestered him to remove the works as quickly as possible after the opening. “I would love to do another show at the Egyptian Embassy,” he adds. “Just not with Dr. Sarhan.” —Robert Lalasz
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