Newly renovated Studio Theatre to light new signs in grand reopening Tuesday evening

A rendering of the new Studio Theatre renovations. (Studio Theatre)
WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Studio Theatre renovations (Part 1)

Studio Theatre has won 72 Helen Hayes Awards since it first opened back in 1978.

Now, the newly renovated space will illuminate brand new entrance signs to celebrate its grand reopening Tuesday at 6 p.m. near Logan Circle at 14th and P Streets Northwest.

“It’s the first step in a lot of work we’re doing to make a bigger splash on the corner of 14th and P,” Artistic Director David Muse told WTOP. “Right now it’s a little hard to tell where the front entrance is or if there’s even a theater there, so one thing we’re doing is adding some dynamic new signage to the outside of the building. We light it up the first time Tuesday.”

It will include the lighting of two new, enormous marquee signs. One sign features the theater name emblazoned over the main entrance in 6-foot-tall letters spanning 35 feet wide. The other sign is a 17-foot-tall “blade sign,” which features three visible sides.

“We call it the Toblerone,” Muse said. “It has three sides to it. It’s designed so you can see it from 14th Street or P Street or catty corner. It’s designed to be seen from all directions.”

It’s all part of a $20 million renovation addressing what he calls three “buckets.”

The first bucket is “Artistic Innovation,” including renovating the performance space.

“We currently have three fixed-seat, thrust venues in the building,” Muse said. “We’re taking one of those formerly fixed-seat venues and turning it into a raw, empty, open room that’s totally configurable for whatever we’re doing in there.”

The second bucket of investment is “Community Engagement.”

“Opening the building up, making it more obvious from the outside of the building what goes on in the inside,” Muse said. “There’s also a new café space. We’re partnering with RAKO Coffee Roasters to run a bar and café all day long and into the night. … We’ve refreshed all of our lobbies and modernized the inside of our building.”

The third bucket of investment is “Operational Efficiency.”

“Things that are a little harder to see but are very important to us,” Muse said. “For example, a new HVAC system throughout the building, a new rehearsal room — we actually haven’t had a dedicated rehearsal room in the 35 years that Studio has been in the building — and refreshed backstage space … to help us run a little more efficiently.”

It’s the latest in a series of renovations since Studio Theatre’s founding in 1978, when it started as an outgrowth of an acting conservatory by Founding Artistic Director Joy Zinoman.

“Studio got a toehold in the complex we have currently and gradually expanded,” Muse said. “First it was just one floor of one building with one theater. … It gradually grew to take up that building, adding a second theater, administrative offices and classrooms, and then it took over the two adjoining buildings so it became a three-building complex.”

The pandemic was a blessing in disguise to make more time for the renovations.

“We were all set to break ground right as the pandemic kicked in,” Muse said. “This was actually an opportunity for us to get the work done inside the building more quickly. … In the original planning, we were also going to be performing while we were renovating. … Given that we weren’t performing … we could accelerate the actual construction.”

The theater is currently staging “Flight” now through March 6.

“‘Flight’ is an installation-based piece of theater that was created pre-pandemic but feels outrageously pandemic appropriate,” Muse said. “It’s experienced in an individual booth. There’s a series of chairs and booths arranged in a circle around this rotating object, which has little dioramas on it. You sit down, put on headphones and listen to an audio play.”

Next, you can enjoy “John Proctor the Villain” from April 27 to June 5.

“A brand new play that hasn’t been produced before,” Muse said. “It’s set in a school in rural Georgia where a group of students have started a feminism club in their one-stoplight-town high school and stuff starts to go down. It’s ultimately a play about reexamining canons and things we imagine to be classics. It’s also a #MeToo-era play.”

Finally, get ready for “The Hot Wing King” from June 22 to July 31.

“It actually just won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama,” Muse said. “It’s a comedy focused on a group of Black men in the South, one of whom is competing to try to take the crown as the Hot Wing King in the local wing-cooking contest. It focuses on the love and the joy among these men. … That will be the very first play we do in our renovated [theater] space.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Studio Theatre renovations (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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