A story behind the show: Sense & Sensibility at the Folger

There’s a fun tid-bit about one of the shows we featured in our last edition of Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC — Sense & Sensibility.

When the good folks at the Folger were planning their season, they heard about this great show that a company in New York called Bedlam were doing, a very imaginative new take on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. British literary giants are sort of their thing at the Folger, so they were interested.

Originally, they figured that the New York production of this play would be finished by mid-summer, so the plan was for that production to transfer from New York to DC at the Folger. That would mean that everyone in the New York show would travel down here and perform their same parts. There would be some adjustments for the different shape of stage and house, but still, it would basically be the same show.

Transfers are great for a bunch of reasons. All the work that went in to designing and rehearsing the show get to pay off with extra performances in the new place. Also, the more times actors get to perform a show, the better they get at it. Even just knowing that there will be a fresh bunch of performances for a new audience, can give the actors extra motivation, so the audience often gets a better show whether they see it before or after the transfer. Finally, it generates more paid work for all the actors and some of the other artists involved. Benefits all around.

But as it turned out, the New York production from this fairly small company, became a smash hit. As a result it just kept extending and extending – currently it’s still onstage in New York, through November 20th, a week later than the show is expected to run in DC. When it became clear earlier this year, that the production couldn’t transfer, a new plan had to be developed for the DC run.  The original production’s director and artistic team started working on a brand-new production reusing many of the concepts but with a new, mostly local, cast, new set, and new everything else. That’s what is playing at the Folger right now. In the world of our dreams, New York playgoers and DC playgoers would be talking smack about which production was better with lots of people traveling back and forth to see both.

The show has done enormously well in DC also, and the run has now been extended through November 13th, so as of this writing there are still many opportunities to experience this Great Evening Out.

(Bonus food for thought: Why do theaters call it a “season”, even though it usually stretches from fall to spring? We don’t know, and no one has ever been able to explain it to us.)

Great Evenings Now, and Coming Soon

Fall has come to the DC area. Kids are back in school. Air conditioners are looking forward to a few months of rest. And we are pleased to trumpet the release of the latest edition of our free guide: Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC. In this time of transition let’s take a look at great shows still on stage from the last edition and a couple that are just popping onto the scene from the new book.

With seven shows in five neighborhoods, we’ve got fun things all over DC.

From the June – September edition, a few shows are still going strong and making these great evenings for you to check out:

Hand to God at Studio Theatre has been a big hit for the theater and the run has been extended several times, so it’s still onstage for at least another week or two. This story of a foul mouthed puppet in a church basement has been packing them in for months now. Insiders show up early for the best seat and a drink from the bar, and then get a genuinely fun arts-and-crafts project for the audience: make a sock puppet of your own to take and keep. Pro tip: Tuck the toe of the sock inward to make the articulated mouth. (1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005 202.332.3300 https://www.studiotheatre.org/plays/play-detail/hand-to-god)

Urinetown at Constellation Theatre will keep rocking audiences with laughter through October 9th. It has been playing to sold out houses most nights, so jump on it quickly or you’ll miss it. (1835 14th Street NW Washington D.C. 20009 202.204.7741 http://www.constellationtheatre.org/urinetown.html)

Angels in America at Round House Theatre continues through October 30th. We haven’t seen this yet ourselves, but have heard great reports from friends who have. (4545 East-West Highway Bethesda, MD (240) 644-1100 http://www.roundhousetheatre.org/performances/angels-in-america/)

We thoroughly enjoyed Be Awesome: A Theatrical Mix Tape at Flying V Theatre, which will be on stage through October 9th. It includes 16 songs from the 1990’s, 3 performed live, all with interpretive performances which tie together into the story of a mix tape made by a parent for a newborn child. (4508 Walsh St, Bethesda, MD 20815 No box office phone http://www.flyingvtheatre.com/2016-season/be-awesome-a-theatrical-mixtape-of-the-90s/)

Sense and Sensibility at the Folger Theatre on Capitol Hill. It will continue through November 9th. We’ll be seeing it in about two weeks ourselves. This promises to be spectacular, oh, and the museum exhibit at the Folger Library comparing the literary fame of Shakespeare and Austen is a lot of fun. (201 E Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003 202-544-7077 http://www.folger.edu/events/sense-and-sensibility)

And already open or spinning up soon from the October-December edition:

Romeo and Juliet has broken from yon window at The Shakespeare Theatre.

Love’s LaBeers Lost by LiveArtDC clinks glasses for the first time this Thursday night.

Tap the download icon on this page to pull down the latest number and get all the details on these and the rest of the upcoming quarter’s greatest evenings out!

It’s time for more great evenings out

Just in time for the fall season and with some time to plan your holiday-season fun, Just the Ticket: The Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington DC, Oct-Dec 2016 edition, has been released.  At 42 pages, it’s a quick, easy read and an excellent resource for fun lovers, foodies and culture vultures who have some free time in the Nation’s Capital this fall and want to spend it well.

Get your copy today!  Only $0.99 on Kindle, and free to download as a PDF.

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What you see when you see a play.

Continuing our occasional series on harvesting conversational topics from plays, today we want to highlight the visual elements that might catch your eye during a performance and grow into something to talk about afterwards.

A play on stage offers many things to look at, nearly all of which are chosen by the director and design team for each production. The set, costumes, lighting, and props you will see in a performance, for example, of Urinetown (part of Great Evening #7 in the current edition of Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC) would be different from what someone seeing the same play in another town would see. While the words spoken and sung would be the same, everything meant for the eye is invented anew in each production.

So, you can get a good conversation going with a question like “How did what you were seeing in the play fit with what you were hearing?” This kind of question gets people talking both about what caught their eyes and what they felt was most important or most striking about the overall play.

You could also get the ball rolling by pointing out something visual that particularly impressed you and asking your companions whether they noticed the same thing and how they felt about it. In the bar immediately afterward is a great time for this kind of discussion, because for most people, visual memory fades fairly quickly. We tend to remember what happened long after forgetting the details of what it looked like.

A lot of work, including sketches, plans, and models, goes into putting the visuals of the play in front of you, the audience. In the end, your experience is what determines whether that was work well spent, so take a little time to share with your friends how what you saw struck you, and if you feel inclined, let us know where the conversation went with a message to peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

Staying in Gallery Place for a DC visit

We’ve written before about Gallery Place as a great neighborhood to spend time in while in DC. For those visiting, there are also a couple of great places there to stay and have all the riches of downtown and the mall just steps from your hotel.

The Fairfield Inn and Suites, a Marriott property at 500 H St NW, is a fairly basic but comfortable place to shelter at a modest price.   There’s a fitness center, free wifi, and a breakfast buffet. We know it mostly as the home of the Irish Channel Pub where numbers of our actor friends like the happy hour when they haven’t got a show call to get to. It’s just two blocks from the heart of the neighborhood, but right across the street there are a button-cute townhouse and a lovely church, giving you a sample of residential DC.

The Courtyard Washington Convention Center, another Marriott at 900 F St NW, we know mostly from the Gordon Biersch brewpub on the ground floor (do you sense a drinking theme?). It has the fitness center and wifi of the Fairfield, but substitutes an indoor pool for breakfast – giving you an excuse to try the raft of great breakfast options out and about. It sits less than a block from the Gallery of Gallery Place, so you’re in exciting city bustle from the moment you step ourdoors.

We have stayed at and enjoyed The Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Group property at 700 F St NW. It is a luxurious place with high-ceilinged rooms, some themed around particular persons from US history, and a free wine reception for guests at 5 PM every evening. It has a fitness center and free bikes to borrow. The general manager even offers bicycle tours around town. The in-building restaurant is closed for renovation until fall 2016, so they’re currently offering “Grab and go” breakfast for guests, and the concierge is working to be extra helpful directing you to the many spectacular neighborhood restaurants.

Finally, we did a quick Airbnb search for next week and were surprised to find a number of quite attractive 1 bedroom properties available to rent in the neighborhood for around $200 per night. We have lately become addicted to staying in apartments while on the road so we can do some of our own cooking and have a couch to retire to when the hustle of touring wears us out. It’s well worth having a look when you’re planning your visit.

Any of these locations would position you for easy access to almost anything we list in Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC. Please share with us any tips you have for staying near the heart of things either in comments here or by dropping a line to peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

A great evening by design

As post-modern Americans, we live largely in a built environment. Because of that, appreciation of design has become a big part of our life. We notice and care about the design of our mobile phones, our clothing, our gardens. An evening from Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC provides many opportunities to evaluate and discuss different disciplines of design.

  • The décor of your restaurant, both outside and in, gives you a chance to think about and talk about the visual and audio design of the place.
  • Mixology or cocktail crafting is its own realm of design.
  • The chef designs the dishes for flavor, aroma, and visual appeal.

It can be fun to consider how these different disciplines of design articulate with one another during your meal. Do the sound and sight of your surroundings support or distract from the culinary design elements? Are the general themes of the design around you saying anything to you? Are you and your companions picking up on the same things?

If you stay for dessert, pastry chefs do some of the most elaborate and playful design, with bold graphics in sauces, jewel like colors, and intentional contrasts of sweet and sharp. Did this final course remain in conversation with the rest of the meal or did it make its own separate statement?

When you get over to the theater, there are many recognized disciplines of design all working to craft your experience.

  • The architect who designed the lobby and auditorium probably hits you first.
  • Your playbill is the work of several authors and a graphic designer who probably also had a hand in any posters you saw in the lobby.
  • If there is music or other soundscape playing in the auditorium, the sound designer for the show probably chose it – the same person responsible for sound effects and incidental music in a non-musical play.
  • Curtains being rare, you’re probably able to glance over what the set designer has done to help create the world of the play.
  • Eventually, the lights will go down and come up again, as chosen by the lighting designer whose job it is to color emotional tones and direct your attention where the play wants it from moment to moment.
  • When actors enter the stage they will be wearing things chosen for them by the costume designer and carrying things picked by a props designer.
  • With greater frequency, live plays are supported by projected images or videos which are assembled by a projection designer.
  • A playwright has designed the words to be spoken and much of the action to be carried out.
  • The director designs the whole experience much in the way that the executive chef did for you earlier in the evening.

Most of the same questions we brought up for your dining experience also apply to the play. Are the elements of design working together to enhance your experience of the play? If things stand out or clash, is that an error, or is there content in the clash? Do elements of the design draw your attention to specific places or moments? Are those the places and moments you wanted to pay attention to? In what ways did you feel a unified experience of design, experience, and story? Delivering that whole package, or thwarting the whole package to make some kind of point, is the primary work of the director.

In the bar after the show, you can both appreciate most of the same elements we talked about for the restaurant and have some great conversation about how the different disciplines of design throughout the evening have contributed to your enjoyment. Do you see yourself as a connoisseur of design in daily life? What kinds of design interest you the most? Please let us know with comments below or a note to peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

Great Evenings – Closings and openings

DC’s theatrical summer is in full swing now! One great evening from Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC finishes up this weekend. Three more just got going. Don’t let summer’s heat make you miss these wonderful opportunities.  Get your copy of the guide for the full details now!

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We’ve linked to the show websites below for your convenience, but don’t forget that there are lots of options to save a few bucks on tickets for most of these shows.  See our rundown here.

Great evening #2, featuring Another Way Home at Theater J, has just three nights left – tonight, Saturday, and Sunday. This play takes you to camp Kickapoo with the Nadelman family to help find their missing boy. Picnic in Dupont Circle before and drink at Duke’s after for the whole experience. (DC JCC at 1529 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20036. 202-777-3210. washingtondcjcc.org)

Great evening #4 with Hand to God at Studio Theatre kicked off (because there’s a sock in the play) last week and continues until August 7th. We hear the set design puts the audience right into the church basement with the kids and the mad puppet. Look for a review of this any day, but you might want to pick a night and get tickets before that happens. (Studio Theatre at 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005. 202-332-3300. studiotheatre.org)

Great evening #5 encourages you to have an adventure at the Capital Fringe Festival. In the guide, guest writer Trey Graham offers his recipe for fun fringing. Several of the online resources he mentions are full of good information about shows you won’t want to miss, and the overall guide is at capfringe.org. Indulge in a wacky evening of theatrical delight.

Great evening #6 takes you to the cool, subterranean environs of Crystal City for Synetic’s Twelfth Night. We took our own advice last month and saw Synetic’s Man in the Iron Mask. These people can put on a show. If you enjoy high voltage spectacle with incredible acrobatics, beautiful sets and costumes, and, let’s be honest, a very attractive batch of performers hie ye to Illyria! (Synetic Theater at 1800 South Bell St, Crystal City, VA 22202. 866-811-4111 synetictheater.org)

Have a great weekend, and please share your adventure stories with us at peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

Fast Casual Dining – Choice or Chore?

Are you familiar with the restaurant concept of “Fast Casual”?  It’s the kind of place like Chipotle or Panera –– no table service, but the ingredients are fresher and the menu a little more diverse than a fast food place.  Often, as at Chipotle, the customer gets to assemble a dish cafeteria-style, asking for things to be tailored to their preferences.

We have mixed feelings about this sort of “Fast Casual” restaurant. This is the kind of place that we also think of as an assembly-line or car-wash restaurant. You order the basic structure of your meal from the first person you see, then you follow your food along from person after person at station after station making more decisions and pretty much supervising everything that happens to your meal. At the end, you have exercised extreme creative control over what you’re eating, but you also had to make a pile of quick decisions and interact briefly with four or five different people.

Sometimes we really like this. Eating exactly what we want. Trying out combinations or ingredients we might not previously have thought of. Other times, we just want to order a dish off a menu and get on with our day. How about you — what’s your take on assembly-line cuisine?

We want to know because in every evening in Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC we include a more affordable dining option along with the fancy place. And one thing we REALLY like about these Fast Casual places is that the diversity and quality of the menu usually adds up to great food value for your money. The clientele and staff tend to be young, lively and friendly, giving a really nice vibe for kicking off a great evening.

We’ve included Shophouse, which is Chipotle’s Asian side project, and Merzi, an Indian Fast Casual spot, as dining options in several evenings. Some of our friends and family are crazy about &Pizza which, you’ve probably already figured out, applies this model to personal pizzas. The whole category is growing rapidly; but should we let it grow in our evenings out?

Please share your thoughts either with comments below or by dropping us a line at peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

Metro, still better than driving through gridlock, but not as good as usual

Strange things are definitely happening with DC public transit, and unfortunately it’s not fun for visitors or residents. A couple of weeks ago, on our way home from The Who and the What at Round House Theatre, our conductor abruptly announced that all passengers should get out at Woodley Park Station. We emerged and determined this looked like it might be a big delay, so even though it was raining we decided to take our chances on walking home as it only added one mile to our walk. As we went up the stairs from the platform, we saw smoke curling in from the southbound tunnel and the station manager was rushing people out of the station. That was a completely new experience for us, and still rare but more common than it should be.

In Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC we extol the virtues of the Metro system, especially Metro Rail, as a speedy and convenient way to get around the area.DC has some of the worst traffic in the country, and Metro is especially valuable during the otherwise gridlocked after-work hours when you’ll be wanting to get to your neighborhood for a great evening out. To a large extent, Metro still deserves to be your #1 travel choice for speed and reliability.

However, you may have picked up on news coverage that parts of the system have been discovered to need unusually high levels of maintenance. The operators of the system have announced “SafeTrack Surges,” or week-long periods when entire parts of the system will have reduced or no service. There’s one in progress right now that has two stations in SE DC completely closed until July 3rd.

That is clearly a huge inconvenience for thousands of locals.  For visitors, unless you are staying near one of the closed stations or outward from them, these closures shouldn’t have much impact on your enjoyment of the city.

Along with these Surges, some lines trains are running less frequently or “single tracking” at night and on weekends. While this is frustrating, the trains should still be able to get you home, you’ll just be waiting longer.

What can you do?  We suggest, first, doing a little bit of advance research:

  • Metro’s website: this web page has information on scheduled work that may disrupt your travel, through the end of the calendar year
  • Google: type “transit stops near [street address of your hotel or apartment]” into Google’s search field to learn more about public transit nearby
  • Your local hookup: call or email your concierge, Airbnb host, or a friend to ask for some backup transit advice
  • Your smartphone: download and set up Google Maps on your phone, which offers the best up-to-the-minute advice on transit options when you are on the ground in its Directions feature.  These include walking, Metrorail, buses, driving and hailing an Uber; speaking of which, download and set up the Uber app on your phone if you haven’t already.
  • Your wallet:  Of course, Uber and taxis are more expensive than public transit.  You may need to adjust your travel budget upwards for your trip this year — and invest in a decent pair of walking shoes, which will give you much more flexibility in this immensely walkable city.

Once you’re here in DC, you can use Google Maps/Directions, the Uber app, and the kindness of bartenders and theater house  managers to navigate the terrain.  And remember, in most neighborhoods in DC and almost all the neighborhoods we’re sending you to, you can hail a cab on the street or at a hotel as well (Shirlington is the main exception, and hailing an Uber works fine there).

Even with these delays, if you need to get on a weekday night from your just-closed museum on the Mall to a 6 PM dinner reservation in Bethesda, for instance a Metro Rail train is still a WAY better bet than trying to make the drive with thousands of homeward-bound commuters on the road. Hopefully, we’ll pass through SafeTrack Surges by the end of the fall, and get back to the more normal state in DC, which is of having one of the most useful and reliable transit systems in the USA.

We’ll always have that great evening out in DC

One of our big goals in curating evenings for Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC is to put together a series of experiences that will be memorable. At the risk of waxing philosophical, a human being consists fundamentally of a string of memories. Participating in activities that are easy to remember is basically a way to live more or bigger. We think there are three main things that make an experience especially memorable.

First, it is helpful if the experience includes strong and distinct sensory experiences. Visual appeal, texture, flavor, scent, and sound anchor memory. Sometimes, the sensory experience can be so strong it survives the rest of the memory. “Honey, where were we when we had that really incredible key lime pie?” Usually, though, stimulating the senses helps pin the memory to other facets of the experience and keep them fresh. We try to take advantage of this factor by choosing tasty food and drink in elegant surroundings, and leaning towards plays with an element of spectacle.

Second, we remember the exceptional better than we remember the routine. To a very large extent, things we do repeatedly like driving a commute or taking a favorite walk, get averaged together into one mega-memory. Even in those cases though, a sudden break from the script can anchor a memory. Pete has a regular walking route, around our neighborhood and through the National Zoo, that he does a few times a week for exercise. Two weeks ago, the Zoo was suddenly full of sculptures of sea creatures made of beach debris intended to dramatize the problem of ocean pollution (information here). That change to his expectations made that an especially memorable version of that walk. In our evening plans, we hope we’re showing you slivers of the DC area that aren’t already familiar to you, so that surprise can help rev up memory formation.

Finally, experiences you process in conversation lodge in memory. Inside the brain, when you remember something you really are telling yourself a story or putting on an internal play of what happened. Talking about the experience shortly after it happens lets your brain rehearse for later remembering. That’s why we recommend making some time toward the end of your evening to chat about the experience and start drafting the script for what your memory will perform for you in years to come.

So when it comes to crafting an evening out, we’re helping you make memories with sensory stimulation, novelty, and conversation. Please let us know what else makes an evening stand out in your mind at peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.