A new generation of theater-makers are beginning to assert themselves in the DC area. They are the Millennial generation who have made DC their home over the past decade. Many are natives of the area, while others attended local colleges or came to work in town. They bring a different outlook for what theater can be with their new eyes and new ways. They are working diligently to capture the attention of fellow Millennials and theatre-goers of all ages.
This is another in my series of profiles about theater-makers who may be less well known right now in the larger DC area. This article is about the Maryland-based 4615 Theatre Company with an interview with its founding artistic director, Jordan Friend. When I first chatted with Friend, he said this about the theater company, “Everyone who works with 4615 has two things in common: we’re all multidisciplinary in some way, and each person is devoted to the shared task of telling a story.” That led me to ask more questions that are the basis for this article.
Friend also said that the mission of the company is “reinvigorating classic pieces as well as staging provocative contemporary plays. Our aim is to give young artists a space to collaborate and push the boundaries of conventional theatre.”
If you don’t know 4615, it has been producing shows for a few years. With support from the SHARE Fund and others generous donors, the theatre troupe has a more permanent home in the Highwood Theatre space in Silver Spring. And there will be a full season of productions generally running about 16 performances per production.
So, here is my interview with Jordan Friend about the 4615 Theatre Company
David Siegel: Tell me more about 4615’s mission and your outreach to new audiences?
Jordan Friend: I think many theatres in the DC area do excellent work reaching out to new audiences and making theatre more affordable and accessible. It’s vital to push against the stigma many feel that going to the theatre is some sort of lofty, far-off activity, when it’s actually the most communal thing in the world. That component of our mission is all about attacking the issue from every side. We keep our prices very low for all audiences, and pair fiercely contemporary material with work that was put to paper hundreds of years ago. We want people to see how plays separated by time can so richly communicate with each other. It’s all in the name of pushing audiences, especially younger patrons, towards experiencing something outside what they may think is their “zone.”
Our productions are all about encouraging audiences to take adventurous risks with their theatre-going. Accessibility for all is at the heart of that. We want it to be as easy as possible to see something challenging.
However, audience accessibility only comprises one half of our mission, and the other component is where I think we fill a more unique niche. My team and I are deeply passionate about making sure that the young artists who work and train with us are getting a completely hands-on experience. When we founded 4615, all of us were still in college. I was lucky enough to have teachers who taught me the joys and challenges of making my own opportunities, and not waiting around to work on what I was passionate about.
How else is 4615 reaching new and younger audiences?
We’ve grown quite a bit since the original days of setting up makeshift lights to perform in basements, but the sensibilities and discipline we learned then are what we try to impart to our apprentices. We train high school and college-aged theatre-makers of all disciplines to have artistic autonomy, and we directly involve them in working on our productions. We often pair an artist-in-training with a mentor, either in the cast or on the design/production team. Our goal is to give artists the tools they need to tackle challenges themselves.
Is there a “typical” 4615 Theatre production?
What you get with a 4615 show is epic storytelling on an intimate scale. Just as our material selection is often about polarization, so is the experience we offer with our productions. We stage our shows in unique, often very up-close venues; spaces that would, at first glance, be most suited to plays where the whole thing is set in a living room. Instead, we choose just the opposite, going for stories that take you around the world, back in time, or just about anything else that allows us to turn our constraints into opportunities to provoke or thrill.
Our focus is on narrative and storytelling, so we love to play with forced perspective, creative choreography and environmental design to create an immersive experience that feels much larger than it actually is. The best compliment we’ll get is whenever someone sees a space after everything has been struck and says “I had no idea this room was so small!
Is there a “typical” 4615 Theatre audience?
I love how eclectic our audience is. Our age range is quite large, and people come from every corner of town (and from out of town). What they share is an adventurous palette. They all share a love for stories, and a willingness to visit uncharted waters.
Please chat a bit about the upcoming 4615 Theatre Summer Rep series .
The rep structure allows us to directly juxtapose material, giving audiences a chance to see how richly two pieces can communicate with each other. In the past, our reps have tended toward pairing Shakespeare with one of his immediate Jacobean successors, but this time we’ve done something quite different and, I think, even more exciting. We are pairing Shakespeare’s King John with a legendary 20th century play, James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter. This gives us the chance to explore the same medieval family of characters through writing separated by 400 years. Many actors play the same character in both plays (and the child of their other character).
Not only do we meet these people at different points in their lives, but we get the unique chance to understand them through the voices of two massively different playwrights, and two entirely different styles of language. The plays were obviously not written to be paired, but the relationship is eerily close. And at the core, both plays are about parent and their children.