Over the Christmas break, Mainstage, Leesville’s honor theatre class traveled to Washington D.C.
After arriving at the train station where we found out our train had been delayed, it almost seemed like the universe was keeping us from making it to D.C. in a timely manner. After a train ride that was much longer than it need to be, we arrived at our hotel. We quickly stowed away our bags in the hotel and rushed onto the Metro so we wouldn’t be late for our first show, Straight White Men, at Studio Theatre.
The show Straight White Men was absolutely fantastic. Littered with profanity, it was a very real and comical representation of four testosterone-filled men. While it was funny, it was also a very introspective show on the role white people — specifically white males — take in society. Considering the show had no concrete ending, it left think of how the family would come to some resolution and also how the characters of the show embody some of my traits and the traits of others in our world today The quality of Straight White Men made me hopeful that the next five shows we’d see would be able to reach the precedent it set.
Day 2 started off with a tour of Ford’s Theatre. Being able to stand right next to the booth that President Lincoln once sat in, as well as where John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln, is an overwhelming, but also eerie experience.
After Ford’s Theatre, we made a quick stop by the White House and then visited the Shakespeare Theatre Company where we saw a production of The Secret Garden. The Secret Garden, based off of the book of the same title written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was one of the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing shows I’ve seen. With the abundance of trees and pastel colored flowers, the garden looked like something pulled straight from a Romantic nature painting. Every line and every musical number was superb and executed with the expertise of a Broadway cast.
After leaving the show, we quickly visited and walked around the National Gallery before heading to the Kennedy Center. Visiting the Kennedy Center is one of the coolest and grandiose centers I’ve been to. While at the Kennedy Center, we had the chance to see Second City’s Twist Your Dickens. Filled with innuendos, parodies and improv, this (extremely) loose interpretation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen. One of the coolest aspects of the show was how they integrated a scripted show along with improvised jokes. The cast would call on audience members for inspiration for jokes — for example, I happened to suggest “Frosty the Snowman” for an improv Christmas song bit. I was very impressed with how the cast could come up with jokes on the fly; some jokes were even integrated, somehow, throughout other parts of the show as a recurring joke. I really don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much as I did during that two-hour period.
Probably my favorite day, day 3, started off with a visit to the Folger Shakespeare Library, the largest collection of Shakespeare works in the world. At the library we had the opportunity to view the “First Folio” — a book composed of 30 Shakespeare plays. If we didn’t have the First Folio, we wouldn’t be able to read and perform masterpieces like Hamlet, Macbeth, Twelfth Night and many other plays. Later in the afternoon, we toured the Holocaust Museum, which was, of course, a heartbreaking and breathtaking experience. For a group of goofy theatre students, let alone teenagers in general, it was the most serious aspect of the trip. While we would joke out on the street, there was complete silence in the museum. Even as young adults, our hearts still felt heavy after viewing one of the greatest atrocities in human history
That night we made our way back to the Kennedy Center to see Wicked. This was my second time seeing Wicked, my first time seeing a U.S. production, and it was just as amazing when I saw it the first time. Even though it appeared that the actor playing Glinda was sick, all of the actors were phenomenal and it was one of the most perfectly executed performances I’ve seen.
Our last full day in DC started off at the MLK Memorial. The sun rising over the memorial made the perfect photo and reflection opportunity for the group. After spending at the memorial and stopping at a grocery store for lunch — which had the best cheese pizza I’ve ever had — we went to Arena Stage to see Moby Dick.
Now, at first I was skeptical of how good it would be. Needless to say, it surpassed my expectations and ended up being my favorite show from the trip. The intimate theatre allowed for the actors to be right-up in the audience’s’ face, and even allowed them to use the house as an extension of land, sea and even turn the audience into Moby Dick itself. It was a very haunting and action-packed show that had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. After the show was over, some students were able to tour the new African-American Museum; other students, myself included, stayed for a “talk-back” with several cast members where we had the chance to ask questions about the rehearsal process and questions about their interpretation of the show.
Later in the evening, we returned to the Kennedy Center one last time to see the classic musical Into the Woods. I really wanted to like this show, but I couldn’t. My biggest gripes revolved around the “devised theatre (a creative form of theatre where actors must explore aspects of theatre like mime, puppetry, stillness, sound and lighting in order to tell a story and portray multiple characters).
At times the devised theatre was really cool (i.e. using shadows to represent a giant, or showing the Big Bad Wolf dressed as the grandma), but other times it just fell flat. For example, the actor playing the Big Bad Wolf was not dressed as a wolf but carried the stuffed hunting-trophy-like head of a wolf. This actor had to dress up and portray Prince Charming from Cinderella in the next scene, so I understood why he couldn’t have a full-body wolf costume; using just the wolf’s head, however, took away from the magic of the show. The show started with the grand curtain open and with the actors on stage talking to audience members. This odd interaction ruined my suspension of disbelief since it seemed that I was no longer entering another world presented on stage, but a fake world portrayed by average-joe people. These actors also all played instruments and the instrumental pieces for each number. While it was kinda cool at first, I would have preferred a full-sounding orchestra for the show.
Day 5, the day our departure, had finally arrived. As everyone scrambled to pack their bags, no one really wanted to leave D.C. Luckily, we still a little bit of time left in the city as we explored the Smithsonian American History Museum. Having the opportunity to see iconic memorabilia — everything from the Star-spangled Banner and the Greensboro Lunch Counter to Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz and Walter White’s Hazmat suit from Breaking Bad — was a special experience. Each exhibit museum — whether it was used for transportation, trade, civil reform or purely entertainment — helped build the America we live in today.
After our final walk through D.C. we hopped on the train to head back to North Carolina. With all of the top-notch shows, exhibits, museums, memorials and — of course — amazing dining locations, this trip was a special one. While we were a tight knit class to begin with, I had the opportunity to become close with students I didn’t know well before, and closer to those I did.