COVID claims another local theater: Brave Spirits to close

The feminist company devoted to producing Shakespeare and his contemporaries was unable to recover financially after the pandemic hit.

Brave Spirits Theatre announced in September that its acclaimed eight-play Shakespeare’s histories series would end (“A tribute to Brave Spirits as it calls off Shakespeare’s histories due to COVID”). Now the company “is deeply saddened to announce its closing,” said Artistic Director Charlene V. Smith in a statement released November 21, 2020. BST is the second professional theater in the area to shut down since the pandemic began, after Quotidian Theatre in April (“Quotidian Theatre Company to close, a casualty of COVID-19”).

Smith’s statement went on to explain:

BST was in the middle of a historic project to stage Shakespeare’s eight history plays in repertory. In March, coronavirus forced the closing of the four of those plays that were in performance (Richard the Second, Henry the Fourth Part 1, Henry the Fourth Part 2, and Henry the Fifth). When it became clear that, due to the continued spread of the virus, live performances would remain unsafe indefinitely, BST also cancelled the second year of the project. Without the ability to plan for future performances, Brave Spirits is unable to recover financially from the loss of Shakespeare’s Histories.

Co-founded in 2011 by Charlene V. Smith and Victoria Reinsel, Brave Spirits Theatre produced twenty-three plays and provided creative employment for over 300 artists and technicians. A feminist company dedicated to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, BST’s offerings included five early modern plays professionally produced for the first time in the DC-metropolitan area. In 2016, Brave Spirits Theatre brought Middleton and Dekker’s The Bloody Banquet to the Capital Fringe Festival, the first professional production of that play anywhere in the world in 400 years.

BST also produced two original works: What, Lamb! What, Ladybird! at the 2011 Capital Fringe Festival and The Trojan Women Project as part of the 2018 Women’s Voices Theater Festival. BST’s 2019 production of As You Like It included an original score of eleven songs by local composer Zach Roberts.

BST was honored with the designation Helen Hayes Recommended for productions of Antony and Cleopatra, The Trojan Women Project, and As You Like It. The Trojan Women Project received two Helen Hayes Nominations, for Outstanding Ensemble and Outstanding Supporting Actress for Nicole Ruthmarie as Nefertiti. As You Like It received a Helen Hayes Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress for Rebecca Speas as Celia. BST was also frequently celebrated by Eric Minton of in his Top 20 lists. BST made his list in 2014 (The Two Noble Kinsmen), 2015 (Arden of Faversham), 2016 (Antony and Cleopatra), and 2018 (Coriolanus). In 2017, Minton named the “Incest Rep” of A King and No King and ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore as the number 1 Non-Shakespearean Theatrical Moment of the year, stating: “Creating gut-wrenching shock and gut-busting laughter with a single cast in back-to-back performances was a crowning theatrical achievement for this small, fledgling company.” BST’s production of Coriolanus, which Minton called a “piece of great visionary theater,” will be featured in his forthcoming book The Shakespeare Canon Project.

During its young life, Brave Spirits Theatre often caught the attention of the academic community for the company’s dedication to rarely performed plays of the early modern era and for its feminist aesthetic. Shakespeare Bulletin called The Bloody Banquet “a vivid, lurid, and thoroughly unforgettable production of an all-too-forgotten play” and praised the Incest Rep as “lively, intelligent productions” that “further solidified Brave Spirits as an important voice in the Washington DC area’s increasingly vibrant and varied theater scene.” The Changeling received notice for its groundbreaking and sensitive portrayal of sexual assault. Lydia Zoells of The Electric Eel wrote that Brave Spirits’ “staging of The Changeling is a compassionate approach to theater, with a reparative update to an epilogue that was overdue for it.” An archival film of this production is currently in the works, thanks to the efforts of three professors from the University of Toronto and King’s College London who wrote that the production “puts a critique of sexual violence and rape culture at the center of its production. After seeing it, a group of us said to one another: I want to write about this production; I want to teach with *this production* every time I teach the play.”

BST’s final project will be audio recordings of the eight plays of Shakespeare’s Histories, in order to commemorate the effort and artistry of the Histories team and provide entertainment and a resource for our audiences and the academic community. The company’s legacy will live on through these recordings, our open-source production and administrative archive on the website, and two essays in the process of being published: one on directing the Henriad in repertory by artistic director Charlene V. Smith and another on BST’s feminist staging of The Changeling, co-written by Smith and Musa Gurnis.

Brave Spirits Theatre remains deeply grateful to our venue, Convergence, and to the city of Alexandria, which we have called home for the last four years, for their support and partnership; as well as to our patrons and donors for their belief in us, and to the artists that have worked with us for all their time and talents.


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