Help Save Backstage!! by Rip Claassen

Since opening its doors in 1981, Backstage has provided the DC theatre community with access to theatre scripts, books, make-up, costumes, and dance supplies. This company was founded due to the requirements of this niche market that most retailers were unable to fulfill. Today, some of those needs can be met through the Internet. However, the average Internet retailer lacks the knowledge and commitment to quality that is required for theatre. You need the proper books or costumes that will last through more than one event.

I am Rip Claassen, theatre teacher/director/costumer, with 1000’s of hours providing classroom instruction and over 100 theatrical productions in my career. I have also worked at Backstage for the last 24 years—20 of those years as its manager.

Backstage has lost its lease, and the current owners have no interest in continuing at a new location. I am raising money to purchase the current assets, relocate to a new site, and grow the business into a larger and improved company. The book room will become that again—The Book Room—dedicated to carrying an wider section of scripts and theatre books with easier access than before. The rental and sales departments will triple in size, thereby allowing us to costume more events and provide a wider selection at Halloween. We will carry all the major dance and make-up brands at elevated stock levels. This increase will allow us to better serve our clientele with the quality and knowledgable staff we are best known for and you can’t find elsewhere.

The space I found has 12,000 square feet (current space is 2,400 sq ft). This new space will give us 750 square feet for The Book Room; 750 sq ft for office space; 1,000 sq ft for the dance department; 500 sq ft for make up; 3,000 sq ft each for costume rental and sales; leaving 3,000 sq ft for two rehearsal classrooms and a black box theatre thus providing affordable space for emerging theatre artists to rent.  The new space is walking distance from Metro and has plenty of FREE PARKING!  I am also looking at  a 4,500 square foot space in the district  waiting to hear cost on that one.

We need $190,000 to purchase Backstage’s assets; $50,000 to build out the new space; $160,000 to buy fixtures and new stock; and $200,000 for the first year’s operating expenses, licensing, advertising, and staff training. The black box theatre will be built using revenues and special campaigns. We are creating the first combined theatrical supply and theatre studio company on the East Coast.

I had an investor lined up, but he had damage to his own business during Hurricane Sandy, so help is now desperately needed.

Our project is to take the old Backstage to its next level thus allowing it to remain a major support structure in the local theatre scene. This expanded scope will allow us to grow and consequently remain the premiere costume theatre supply company—not just to DC but to the entire mid-Atlantic region. Our commitment to excellence and our knowledgable staff will foster the growth of theatre by supporting costumers and thespians craft with quality and expertise they can not find on the Internet, at the Party Store, or in a Halloween shop.

I have run Backstage for 20 years, keeping it afloat through the rise and fall of the super bookstores, the Internet book boom, the fly by night Halloween shops, the bad service of Internet costume venues, the slowdown of DC business after 9-11, the anthrax scare on Capitol Hill, the DC sniper, and Hurricane Sandy hitting us this Halloween—a rent increase cannot stop me. We are the last  full service theatre  bookstore  & supply in DC area.

Please go to indiegogo to contribute to save Backstage. Or email me [email protected]

We must save Backstage!


  1. We must do whatever humanly possible to save backstage;your services has contributed immensely to our success as actors.

  2. And end to Backstage would be tragic but you can put me down as INCREDIBLY skeptical about whether it can support that level of investment simultaneous with a move to a 5x larger space. I would love to be wrong, but over a half million dollars into a business the current owners don’t feel is worth continuing would terrify me as an investor.

    • The current owners have other Careers and want out. The sales have been on a steady increase since Masters, Steins and Costumes Creative closed. Our biggest problem has been being too small to carry everything that is asked for from lack of space. The pairing the location with classrooms is a solution that has been very successful in the dance world with combined dance store studios. It has not been applied to theatre before but should create a more stable business. The store is profitable, but the current ownership do not wish to relocate and would rather sell or close down. Most successful theatre shops in other cities are 5 times the size of the small little mom and pops that cannot survive as they cannot carry the variety needed to compete. The projection based on sales data gathered from other shops has the new larger store turning a profit by yea 3, and giving investors a good return and exit strategy by year 5. The current owners have other reasons for getting out, which I am not at liberty to blast publicly.

    • Dan, my understanding is that the increase in store size will also accommodate classroom space. Backstage is not going to become a gigantic mall. But if you’ve ever been in the DC store, where every square foot is doing the work of three, you know it will be a much easier shopping experience if one can actually easily get to the books, without having to excavate them behind a rack of costumes; have a place to sit to try on dance shoes; use an actual dressing room to check the fit of a costume, etc. And rent-wise, you can’t compare floor space on Capitol Hill with a warehouse district in the suburbs!

  3. When I went to the website for Backstage, there was only one evaluation and it was negative. Didn’t know it existed until I was trundling my grandson down Barracks Row recently. Is there any evidence that this store should be financially supported by the Washington theater community?

    • The community has supported us for years, and we have lines around the block every Halloween. We unfortunately can not. Please or make everyone happy no one can. I know the review you speak of as it is one of two negative compared to thousands of positive over the years. It seems the posstive Come more from our peers in the theatre community. Please check out the save backstage page on Facebook to see the community support.

  4. Backstage has been in my life for 20 years . as a begining actor , i found a home there and Rip taught me so much about theatre so i consider
    myselffamily . here i am to help call me or facebook me susan


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