By Susan Galbraith
In June 2005 Lorraine Treanor, a relatively new theater-maker transplant from Chicago, who had followed her husband’s work to settle in the Greater Washington area, joined with Walter “Ronnie” Ruff to launch DC Theatre Scene (DCTS). Their goal: to bring greater attention to theater and in particular media coverage, critical lifeblood to the smaller theater companies. By the end of 2006, Lorraine was at the helm of a worthy enterprise and in 2007 DC Theatre Scene was fully incorporated.
It is in no small part due to her enthusiasm for all things theatrical that Washington has grown into the U.S. city, second only to New York, with the highest number of theater productions each year.
Under Lorraine’s leadership DC Theatre Scene’s coverage expanded to Northern Virginia, Annapolis, and Baltimore. She had a “field hand” or two to contribute write-ups for what was theatrically of interest in New York City and became a champion of special festivals, including Spoleto in Charleston and Glimmerglass in Upstate New York.
Lorraine imagined, designed, and managed a site that went beyond reviews of individual shows and included news, features on special artists by experts in the field, and opinion columns. She expanded DCTS theater coverage to include opera, dance, and then film.
DCTS offered the most comprehensive professional theater listings, and DCTS became the “go-to” place for people to find weekend entertainment. Lorraine also personalized the service. Many a time she would be on the phone with a potential theater customer to help find the right show for the family’s needs. She seemed endlessly resourceful and had great personal knowledge about what each theater company offered the novice theatergoer or out-of-towner.
This editor-in-chief demanded a lot of her stable of writers. She had no compunctions about telling someone that a piece went too far, was sloppily put together, or — Lord forbid — it went “too easy” on a production. She demanded rigor in the writing and always urged that DCTS writers respect the field of theater criticism and see ourselves as professionals. “That’s why your name goes at the end of a review. You give credit to everyone that worked on the production and you recognize you are also part of it. You are putting the final point to a show, and that last period says it.”
She felt that an important part of her job was mentoring young writers. When Lorraine took on covering the DC Fringe Festival in the summers, her work clearly doubled. But she thought it was important to seed new artists and theater experiments. She also thought it was a way to bring new young blood into the field of theater criticism. It was a learning experience with thrills and spills along the way, but at the annual pizza party for all the “fringers,” she sat and beamed at the happy gathering and all the achievements.
One of the most thoughtful and original accomplishments that Lorraine shared with husband Tim Treanor was the establishment of the Maker Awards. Partnering with a local theater, she and Tim made a special event of it mid-season to recognize an audience member who exemplified the passion and loyalty of a truly committed theatergoer. Winners included David Tannous (2011), Tom Holzman and Alison Drucker (2012), Linda Elyse Bryce (2013, deceased), Barbara Bear (2014), David S. Kessler (2015), Linda Carr (2016), Joel Markowitz (2017, deceased), and Alan Friedman (deceased) and Louis Altarescu (both 2019).
Even when advertising began drying up and when the tasks and coverage seemed ever increasing but with fewer resources to manage them, Lorraine worked hard to compensate writers. When COVID arrived earlier this year and the community as well as the theaters shut down and all advertising budgets dried, Lorraine pivoted as we all did and scoured the internet for worthy things to cover and encouraged us to expand our vision of performance. She never lost her zest and hope that the next best thing would be out there — and she kept us all keeping on.
Lorraine has just announced her well-deserved retirement and the shutting down of DC Theatre Scene. It’s hard to imagine how (or who) could follow her classy act.
She’s our Lorraine — and the best thing that’s been in DC theater.
If only her beloved Elaine Stritch were here, glass in hand, to bray — but we’ll have to do, along with husband Tim, who still refers to her as “My Bride”:
Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise!
Susan Galbraith received a BA in English and Drama from Tufts University, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Settling in Minneapolis for a time, she earned an MFA from the University of Minnesota, founded a theater company, Performers Ensemble, and also collaborated with Prince on writing songs and the first draft of Purple Rain. Susan moved to Boston where she was part of Boston Shakespeare Company’s acting company under Peter Sellars. Since 1991, she has made DC her home, where she has enjoyed the opportunity to write plays, direct, act, and produce. She helped co-found Alliance for New Music-Theatre and collaborated on original works across disciplines, styles, and cultural expressions of music-theatee. For the Alliance, Susan co-wrote and directed Sandaya: Burmese Lessons and has collaborated with the Czech Embassy on several works inspired by great Czech writers, including Vanek Unleased and an adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. She has collaborated with composer Maurice Saylor on adapting Karel Capek’s R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) as a retro-futuristic cabaret musical, and, with composers Dawn Avery and Milad Yousofi and co-writer Yalda Baktash, has developed Troy/Voices from Afghanistan, a music-theater work featuring the stories of Afghan women and American female veterans. She is grateful to Lorraine Treanor and the opportunity of DC Theatre Scene to jump into the privileged audience seat from time to time to learn from and be inspired by her colleagues making theater and opera in the Greater Washington area.