Patrons will be treated to an entirely new experience for the upcoming season at Round House Theatre in Bethesda following a full interior renovation.
The building will have an expanded lobby with a full-service bar. A long staircase will provide better access to the theater, and ticket takers will move out from behind glass to better interact with customers.
“Our goal is to create a community gathering place,” Managing Director Ed Zakreski said. “We want theatergoing to be a more communal event to play up the fact that theater is a communal experience.”
Zakreski added the industry has changed a lot in the past 20 years, with the rise of streaming services such as Netflix. The new features are intended to bring the audience in for a bite to eat before the show, then keep them around after the performance to grab a drink and interact with the artists.
The 400-seat theater has been closed since January for the renovations, but Zakreski said the project is on schedule for the September reopening.
Round House Theatre unveiled a six-play mainstage lineup for the 2019-20 season, including performances of Tony Award winners “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and “Spring Awakening.”
The season will open with Jocelyn Bioh’s Off-Broadway show “Schoolgirls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play” beginning Sept. 18, directed by Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson.
Artistic Director Ryan Rilette will direct two plays in his sixth season with the company, including a performance of Martyna Majok’s “Cost of Living,” which won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play explores the lives of a man with cerebral palsy and a woman with no legs, and their caregivers.
“Each show looks beyond what divides us on the surface to reveal the many ways in which we are all actually much closer to each other than we might think,” Rilette said in a statement. “These plays will ask you to look at the world in a new way.”
The design of the theater will be updated as part of the renovations, addressing acoustic problems, Zakreski said. The original setup used a three-sided stage, so most of the seats weren’t focused on the center of the action. The new design will be a curved stage surrounded by an arc of seating, pointing all customers toward the focus of the show.
The stage will also by transformable, with decking that can shift as needed given the style of the play, Zakreski said. The two front rows are removable, leaving room for an orchestra pit depending on the performance.
The company has done “quite well” financially, with a surplus in five of the last six years until it took out a construction loan to finance the project, Zakreski said. The renovation will be funded by pledge payments from donors the theater has already raised and will be collecting over the next four years.
The renovations are expected to increase the intrigue of the theater and attract additional customers for the upcoming season.
“It’s really going to raise people’s awareness of Round House and make it an even more interesting destination for people,” Zakreski said.
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