Drama in the District: A brief guide to theaters in D.C.

October 19 marks Washington, D.C.’s first annual “Free Night of Theater.” Twenty-three theaters across D.C. will open their doors for free to a limited number of patrons in participation with this annual event. Presented by The League of Washington Theaters and the Theater Communications Group, “Free Night of Theater” is being launched as a campaign to draw more people into the theater scene.

Kevin Moore, president of the League of Washington Theaters, notes, “Theaters all across the country continually face the challenge of reaching out to new audiences, and price is often cited as a barrier to attendance. Free Night is a way to take price out of the equation for one night a year.”

A program modeled after similar events in Austin, Texas; Philadelphia and San Francisco, “Free Night of Theater” has been allotted 1800 tickets from the various theaters of D.C. in support of the event.

“Our goal is to introduce some non-theatergoers to the wonderful theater in D.C.,” as well as enticing passionate theatergoers to visit a theater that they have not been to, said Moore.

“Our hope is that once people see how much great theater there is in D.C., they will find their way back for future shows. Our experience is that a theater habit is hard to break, so we’re just helping to get the ball rolling with a few more people,” Moore said.

Starting this past Sunday, free tickets have been made available for reservation online at www.lowt.org. There is a two-ticket maximum for each order and, as pointed out by Moore himself, “The event is for whoever can log on quickly enough and reserve their tickets.” Check out the Web site to reference the various participating theaters.

D.C. is overflowing with tons of theaters some of which will be participating – big, expensive, flashy venues, and tiny, intimate black boxes. Look around and you’ll be able to find entertainment suitable for any crowd in the city.

Your best bet for quality productions is to check out one of the following six theaters, ranging in content from Shakespeare to world premiere contemporary shows. Some theaters also offer student discounts, making a night at the theater more reasonable for a college student’s budget.

Perhaps the most-accessible theater for students is the Kennedy Center. Located only a couple blocks from Hall on Virginia Avenue, the Kennedy Center brings big names and big shows to its world-renowned space. Tickets are often pricier than other theaters around, but they do offer a limited number of specially priced tickets for each performance, making its shows a bit easier on a tight wallet. The Kennedy Center also boasts free concerts every day at 6 p.m., perfect for getting a taste of something different without having to spend any money at all.

Arena Stage, conveniently located one block from the Waterfront-SEU metro station (Green Line), provides D.C. with great American theater. Its main goal is to present musicals and dramas that are American classics, or new and contemporary American-based works. Its stadium-type stage offers audiences a chance to experience theater in-the-round, which allows viewers to see the production in an atypical way – the actors play to every angle. Arena’s large-scale productions bring big names to its stage, as well as popular shows, such as their first show of the season, “Cabaret.” Also coming this season is the intensely funny comedy, “Noises Off,” as well as the musical “She Loves Me” (the very show on which the legendary Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks chick-flick, “You’ve Got Mail,” is based).

For the more intellectual GW theatergoer, take a trip downtown and check out the Shakespeare Theater. Known for its outstanding productions, the Shakespeare Theater shows both Shakespearean works and works by other classic playwrights such as Henrik Ibsen and Moli?re. First up this season is “An Enemy of the People,” by Ibsen. Also coming this season are Shakespeare’s extremely popular works, “Richard III” and “Hamlet” (or as some of you might know it, the original version of “The Lion King”). If iambic pentameter intrigues and excites you, don’t pass up the Shakespeare Theater.

The Studio Theater shouldn’t be overlooked by hardcore theater fans. Some of their productions may be obscure to the less-affluent theater crowd, but that doesn’t make their contemporary dramas any less amazing. It’s edgy and innovative – definitely worth a trip.

In the same realm as The Studio Theater falls the even edgier Woolly Mammoth Theater. The Woolly Mammoth makes its home just a block from the Shakespeare Theater, yet its works are far from similar. Woolly Mammoth boasts world premieres, national premieres and D.C. premieres. Chances are you’ve never heard of the shows they put on, because, more often than not, they’re brand spanking new. Their sets amaze and astound, and their material is perfect for college-aged kids.

If none of those theaters strike your fancy, try the National Theatre for national tours of musicals and dramas. The tickets are usually more expensive, but you are guaranteed a good performance. Last season, the National was home to the Pulitzer prize-winning drama, “I Am My Own Wife,” as well as “Les Mis?rables”, “Mamma Mia!” and others. The National Theatre houses well-known shows that even a non-theatergoer would recognize. If you want a spectacle similar to the big lights of Broadway, try the National.

Missing from this list are scores of other D.C. theaters. Try visiting the Web sites of some of the following companies and theaters to delve deeper into the D.C. theater scene: Signature Theater, Warehouse Theater, Folger Theater, Ford Theater, Warner Theater and Horizons Theater, just to name a few.

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