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Adele Robey, who opened Anacostia Playhouse with her daughter in 2013, will step down as the theater’s executive director at the year’s end. The end of her tenure was announced Friday, Nov. 5, along with her replacement, Stephawn Stephens, who served as the playhouse’s artistic director since 2019. Stephens will take over as ED on Jan. 1, 2022.
“I’ve been feeling that now is the right time for me to pass the torch and step down as executive director and the day-to-day operations of the Playhouse,” Robey tells City Paper via email. “It’s been 10 years since we created the Anacostia Playhouse and 10 years running the H Street Playhouse before that, plus we have such an excellent person to take over. I’ve known Stephawn for more than 20 years and we have worked closely over the past two years at the Playhouse. He is an excellent fit to lead the Playhouse into its next phase.”
As Robey notes, she’s been deeply involved in local theater for more than 20 years. Before relocating east of the Anacostia River, Robey owned and operated the H Street Playhouse with her late husband, which housed Theater Alliance among other artistic businesses. The northeast theater space closed in 2012, when Robey and her daughter Julia Robey Christian decided to relocate to a neighborhood with cheaper rent. Anacostia Playhouse opened its doors a year later with a mission to become an integral part of the community.
“While the Anacostia Playhouse hasn’t seen a lot of activity in the last 18 months, it’s always been the Playhouse’s belief that if we have something to share, we share. In our case it’s usually space, so we have made the Playhouse available to the community whenever we’ve been asked,” says Robey.
In the years since opening, the Playhouse has made space for art and community building, hosting Check It Enterprises talent and fashion shows, meet and greets for political candidates, Business Improvement District meetings, East of the River jazz, and more. It’s also been a space where the mayor and Metropolitan Police Department can interact with the Ward 8 community. Robey says they’ve been hosting the Anacostia Coordinating Council’s annual holiday party and MPD’s toy collection since opening in 2013 and have built a long lasting relationship with long-time Ward 8 community organizer Phil Pannell and former Council Chair Arrington Dixon. “In all of these we were active participants,” Robey says. “Not just the folks who opened the door.”
To honor her role in founding the theater and being its first leader, the Playhouse’s board has named Robey Executive Director Emerita. “I have known Adele for 35 years,” president of Anacostia Playhouse Board of Directors’ Patrick Martin said in the press release. “I am proud of the work she’s done and am thankful for my part in helping her build a vibrant community over these many years, both on H Street and in Anacostia, that includes the Playhouse itself and the surrounding neighborhood.”
Robey plans to remain active in D.C.’s theater community. “I’m not going away,” she assures us. “I will continue to be involved in the theater community and my community of Anacostia.” (Robey moved to the neighborhood eight years ago.)
“This shift will give me the time and energy I need to pursue theater projects that I have wanted to do for many years,” she says.
Stephens and Robey have worked together for years. She and the board selected Stephens to take over as executive director. “Through our longstanding friendship and theater collaborations, Adele has always made a home for me to create and perfect my craft over the years,” Stephens said in the release. “The Playhouse is that home for so many artists and I look forward to building upon the established relationships with the existing Anacostia Playhouse artists, as well as seeking new cohorts to collaborate with to create great art.”
To City Paper, Robey concludes: “I am excited for this next phase of theater making—for me and the Playhouse.”