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The theater can be a great way to impress a gal and hook up, and Howie Schaffer, for one, is a young, Ivy-educated executive who happens to love theater. In a typical year, he attends dozens of performances. He also sits on the junior board of Source Theater and helps raise funds for several other local theater companies. A babe magnet, surely. Or, at the very least, a man with no shortage of introductions. But in reality, Schaffer, 30, is like hundreds of yuppies who aren’t quite sure where to meet kindred climberswell-educated, financially ambitious, thinking folk.
In New York, he thought, it was easy: Hundreds of cultural groups there act as veritable salt licks for the young jet set. Schaffer, in a refrain familiar to D.C., wanted to re-create that “scene” here. So he called several theaters and galleries in town, most of which have groups for younger subscribers, and got them to help him form the Young Executive Alliance for the Arts (YEAA), a consortium of the toniest arts institutions in the city and their patrons-in-waiting.
“The theater is sort of daunting to young people,” says Schaffer. “There’s always a perception of wealth and inaccessibility.” Through YEAA, he’s pushing for more cut-rate performances and social events for young theatergoers. “We definitely need to get the word out to the young professional public,” says Anne-Marie Guerrero, coordinator of Arena Voices at Arena Stage and a charter member of YEAA. YEAA-affiliated events, she says, will be “a way for young professionals to network.” Or whatever.
Like people who enjoy swing music and cigars, those who attend theater represent “a certain kind of person,” says Schaffer. “At these events, there is a high threshold of quality people. There’s a filtering effect that’s economic and intellectual.” In other words, you can be pretty certain that no one will mention Steven Seagal’s Above the Law. Still, YEAA members insist that the group is not a refuge for the moneyed elite. “We have a lot of [economically] middle-of-the-road people,” says Rebecca Dreyfuss, the special events coordinator for the Washington Ballet and also a YEAA charter member, “but most of them have an educated background.”
At a black-tie gala held several weeks ago by the Smithsonian Young Benefactors, hundreds of 20- to 30-year-olds toasted the town, taking part in what Schaffer calls “liquid philanthropy,” or drinking for a good cause. Schaffer compares these events to weddings, where people feel “safe” meeting others. “There’s a hyper-reality. Everybody’s well-behaved; everybody’s perfect,” he says. The Kennedy Center holds a twice-annual event called “Sunset on the Potomac,” which Schaffer likens to “18th Street Lounge on a Saturday night.” Except, at the Lounge, you might run into someone who got through the filter by mistake.Guy Raz
For more information on YEAA, call (202) 462-1073.