After 10 years, 30 full productions, and numerous readings, workshops, and other creative programs, 4615 Theatre Company will sunset at the end of September 2023, with a final slate of outdoor programming in Temperance Alley, followed by a closing celebration. The theater was founded entirely by emerging artists who were still undergraduate students and spent its early years producing in homes, backyards, and other found spaces. Since then, it has grown rapidly, and become a staple in the DC area for dynamic, narratively ambitious, and often site-specific work. The company produced seven world premieres by both local and internationally recognized playwrights and earned the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre in 2020.
“We’re all feeling sad to bring this adventure to an end, but so proud of how far we’ve come, and confident that this is the right time,” said Jordan Friend, the company’s founder and former artistic director, currently serving as board chair. “After a great run of shows in February, we started having conversations about where each of us was in our personal and professional lives. With a small theater like ours, everyone on the leadership team and the board has many commitments beyond 4615, and in the past few years, we’ve all found new opportunities and passions to follow. We ultimately decided that the best path forward would be to finish our programming for the year, then close the book and celebrate together. We’re overwhelmed with gratitude to all of the artists, supporters, and theatergoers who have made these 10 years a reality.”
“4615 Theater Company leaves behind a legacy of innovation, artistic excellence, and being a playground/launchpad for great artists,” says Producing Director Gregory Keng Strasser. “I am immensely proud of what we achieved. We made an immersive museum for a world-premiere play (Renee Calarco’s MUSEUM 2040); we produced a video game in the pandemic; we helped support artists’ ambitious dreams — from Tristan B Willis’ play entirely held on a phone call, to over seven repertory productions (that’s 14 shows in total) — I mean, how many groups can say they achieved something like that? Am I sad that we are sunsetting? Sure. But even more, I am excited and proud to see what happens next to our cohort of company members. I love the work we made, but I love the people more. I am filled with gratitude to Jordan, the board, and the company members for allowing me in and giving me a home here. I have to single out Jordan here too: I love this man and everything he stands for. As an artist, a collaborator, a human, I am proud to call him my friend (no pun intended).”
The company’s unofficial first production was a 2013 site-specific version of the bloody Jacobean tragedy The Duchess of Malfi, set in multiple rooms of Friend’s childhood home, and produced, designed, and performed by a group of recent graduates from Georgetown Day High School’s theater program. “We had no intent of starting a theater company,” said Friend. “We just missed the spirit of collaboration and invention we had together.” Friend attributes a great deal of credit to Laura Rosberg, who recently retired after running Georgetown Day’s Performing Arts Department after 44 years, and nurtured countless students currently working in the theater industry. “Laura taught her students to be our own producers, and make theater work in any space. When our dreams of renting an auditorium were thwarted by having exactly zero dollars, we scaled back a bit to thirty folding chairs across three rooms and a backyard. It was the best thing that could have happened to us, because that spirit has stayed with us since. As Greg says, ‘Theater is everywhere.’”
The summer 2013 production of Malfi only ran for three performances, but attracted the attention of Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks, who wrote a feature story on the group, saying the “remarkable” production “used its environment with such gleeful conviction that the effect was downright tickling.” 4615 Theatre Company was formed the following year, named for the house address, and began producing in found spaces each summer between school years. “We spent our early days pretty detached from any conception of ourselves as a part of the larger DC theater community,” said Friend, who produced the first shows with his high school classmates Susannah Clark, now a casting professional in New York, and Clare Lockhart, now the manager of digital content for Arena Stage. “We were really fortunate to have that time to ourselves. There was a whole lot of young theater clunkiness in what we made, but also a lot of invention, and learning by doing,” said Friend. “A few times, someone would tell us we’d all be better off giving this up and starting with apprenticeships and fellowships before making our own stuff. I’m glad we didn’t listen.”
In 2016, the company moved toward a year-round operation and began planning its first full season. It defined a mission to program a blend of narrative-driven shows (classical and contemporary) with each season built around a unique theme, encouraging audiences to think “not just what a story is about, but how it’s about.” At this time, Paige Washington also joined the company, first as a choreographer, then as its director of patron services, and finally, as its executive director. “Paige has been part of 4615 through almost every stage of its journey, and has brilliantly worn so many different hats in that time,” said Friend. “They are a multi-talented artist, and someone I’m lucky to call a friend and collaborator. I’m so glad that other theaters are recognizing their work and can’t wait to see what they do next.” Washington, who now also directs for area companies such as The Keegan Theatre, and works as assistant production manager for Imagination Stage, added, “I like to think I have grown as a professional and a person along with the company. Much of what I do now was first tested out during that summer, with it being my first professional choreo gig. Being one of the fresh-faced college students coming in (I had just finished my junior year), it helped me define myself, and in turn I got to define 4615 and DC theater as a whole.”
From 2016 through 2020, 4615 began producing three to four shows a year, performing in black box spaces as well as continuing its site-specific work. “The body of work not only increased but so did the quality,” Washington remarked. “Once we had the space to expand, we filled it with ambitious technical elements, thought-provoking themes, and partnerships from all over the DC area. We had this great sandbox to fail, learn, and succeed in and oh boy did we do that over and over, but learning more each time. I remember our ENRON/Betrayal rep of 2019 being quite the learning experience. New venue, bigger set, and a more topical set of plays than we had ever done before. It was one of our biggest risks and it no doubt was one of our biggest returns as audiences couldn’t get enough!”
The company’s team of collaborators also grew, with 15 local actors, designers, directors, and writers joining as resident artists. Director Stevie Zimmerman became a frequent collaborator, helming five productions for the company, including the DC premiere of Moira Buffini’s Dinner, which Friend notes as a major breakthrough moment for the company, as the production caught the eye of the late Victor Shargai, founder of Theatre Washington. The company also grew into a home for new work, attracting acclaimed playwrights such as Caridad Svich, Saviana Stanescu, Tristan B Willis, Renee Calarco, and Joe Calarco, who also directed a site-specific production of his play A Measure of Cruelty for the company, staged in a local pub. 4615’s acclaimed world premiere production of Calarco’s Separate Rooms also marked its first collaboration with actor Jacob Yeh, who later went on to join the company’s leadership with Zimmerman, as company manager and resident director, respectively.
In 2017, Gregory Keng Strasser joined the leadership team first as a line producer. “I sent Jordan an email out of the blue,” He recalls. “I saw the website after stalking through the list of theaters on the Theatre Washington page. I needed to be a part of it.” Strasser continued to produce and direct for 4615, including the world premiere of The Infinite Tales and the video game series Dark City, which was created during the pandemic. “I cannot believe they let me do either of those projects,” Greg mentions. “Like, who seriously goes up to an artistic director and says, ‘Can I make a game about white collar crimes set in a solarpunk noire universe that centers BIPOC characters?’ It’s a testament to the experimental and supportive culture at 4615. When I was developing The Infinite Tales, for example, it was Jordan who encouraged me to bring the idea to him first — not me pitching it. We both loved mythology and staging epic stories and impossible events. It makes me nervous to work at any other institution now because at 4615 (even with our small budget) we made s**t happen.”
Strasser became producing director in 2018 and helped spearhead gatherings and programs such as the BIPOC Emerging Theatre Leaders Forum, 4615GO, and the company’s final partnership. 4615’s last slate of programming will be a series of readings and workshops in Temperance Alley, a community garden maintained by the U Street Neighborhood Alliance. The garden itself is also sunsetting and this summer’s programming will mark its final events.
“Two things in particular make this feel like the perfect ending for 4615,” said Friend. “First, I’m a firm believer that not every theater has to last forever. Our company was created by emerging artists, and since then, so many of the incredible people who have worked with us have gone on to exciting new opportunities in DC theater and beyond, as well as other fields. Nothing makes me prouder than seeing a 4615 artist thriving elsewhere, and in a way, it feels like we’ve hit a point where we’ve fulfilled our original purpose.”
“The second reason has to do with where we’re ending,” added Friend. “The fact that Greg and Paige have programmed our final performances in a community garden couldn’t feel more fitting. It takes us right back to where we began, telling stories in a backyard.”