Artist-founded and artist-driven, The Studio Theatre began in 1978 as a partnership between director Joy Zinoman and designer Russell Metheny, with the support of arts advocate Virginia Crawford. Driven by a love of bold, provocative theatre, they began presenting seasons of innovative plays, many of which were extended by popular demand. From its beginning, the theatre worked in partnership with the Acting Conservatory that Joy Zinoman had founded three years earlier, in 1975.
By 1978, Zinoman had just found a new collaborative partner in designer Russell Metheny; the two had worked together on an acclaimed production of Marat/Sade at Washington’s West End Theatre. After three successful productions—The Rimers of Eldrich, Five Finger Exercise, and Hotel Paradiso—they decided to continue the venture. A walk up Fourteenth Street led the two to an abandoned hot dog warehouse on Church Street, where they built an intimate 110-seat theatre that would later serve The Woolly Mammoth Theatre and The Studio 2ndStage.
The Studio Theatre’s early seasons were exuberant and eclectic celebrations of style, ranging from French farce to traditional Indian performance. The 1980-1981 season, for example, included Greek tragedy (Medea), commedia dell’arte (Harlequin Goes to Bologna), classic realism (The Seagull) and twentieth-century naturalism (A Raisin in the Sun). With productions like Lanford Wilson’s Fifth of July in 1983, The Studio Theatre began to produce plays that focused on powerful acting and emphasized the intimate relationship between actor and audience. As the theatre grew and developed, its seasons focused on contemporary playwriting in a multitude of styles.
Zinoman established two other distinct producing wings within The Studio Theatre in the late 80s: The Studio 2ndStage, which featured rawer and frequently irreverent productions, and Special Events, which featured performing artists whose work might otherwise not be seen in Washington. This programming complemented The Studio Theatre’s subscription season, broadening the work that Studio produced for its audiences.
By the 1990s, The Studio Theatre’s seasons were dominated by the work of important contemporary writers like August Wilson, Paula Vogel, Tom Stoppard, and Caryl Churchill, offset by productions of modern classics by writers like Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, and Anton Chekhov. The Theatre began to insist on a “literary bottom line,” valuing works that seemed poised to make a lasting impact on the contemporary repertoire.
Now in its fourth decade, The Studio Theatre remains dedicated to producing the best in contemporary theatre, performed by acclaimed actors in intimate spaces. Its commitment to connecting actors and audience is built into the very architecture of its building, where none of its four performance spaces seats more than 225 patrons. No theatre of comparable budget size operates such exclusively intimate spaces.
Founding Artistic Director Joy Zinoman retired in 2010. Under the leadership of new Artistic Director David Muse, The Studio Theatre is building on its history of producing extraordinary writing, sophisticated design, and stunning performance, while expanding its commitment to developing new work with contemporary writers, and starting a long-term process to establish The Studio Theatre as a home for international work in DC.