Washington Shakespeare Company to sell years of memories, wooden duck at everything-must-go yard sale
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- Home of the Washington Shakespeare Company since 1994, this building is slated for demolition. The WSC moved into the Artisphere last fall, but they don't have the storage space for their years of props and costumes there. They're selling their entire inventory this weekend. (Photo: Courtesy Christopher Henley/TBD/Washington Shakespeare Company | Date: Apr. 15, 2011)
Everything must go in the Clark Street Playhouse's yard sale this weekend. That's because the theater is about to go, too – it's scheduled to be demolished this summer. And after 16 years of shows in the playhouse he built with his own hands, Washington Shakespeare Company artistic director Christopher Henley is about to sell the entire inventory of set pieces, costumes and props that have comprised the entire history of his theater company.
Henley told TBD in October that he had been waiting for the ax to fall on Clark Street for years now, and it's finally come. The theater has been threatened with demolition for the past few years – it's slated to become a park and recreation center – so the owners of the building did not want to put money into repairs. That meant that Clark Street's space was plagued with structural problems, including leaking ceilings, sagging floors, and drafty walls.
"We were always putting up plastic to catch drips," says Henley. "It would keep the heat much longer and much more intensely. You'd walk in and it would feel 10 degrees hotter than outside."
At the same time, there were plenty of benefits to having an isolated space of their own, saye Henley. "We had a lot of really terrific parties, because we didn't have to worry about curfews or neighbors. They would go all night in the lobby, spill out to the deck."
Henley can't even keep tabs on all of the things the theater is about to sell. Curtains, costumes, power tools, "really unusual lampposts," power tools, "oddly shaped furniture, painted weird colors," a wooden duck, and even the vintage theater seats, which Henley installed himself after they were salvaged form the Jenifer Cinema on Wisconsin Avenue.
"I remember hideous days in the build, moving sheets and sheets of drywall to build dressing rooms," says Henley. "We took the seats up a staircase, [at Jenifer] because there was no elevator. It was like building the pyramids in terms of the comfort level of the people actually doing it."
Henley also has good memories of the company's first-ever show in the space, The Normal Heart. One scene in the play, about the AIDS crisis, involves Henley' character throwing a carton of milk on the ground.
"It would explode on the floor and make this big white spill. One night the milk went little too far ad hit these people in the front row, and I was like, 'Oh God, these people are never coming back,'" says Henley. "One was Mark Okrand, who invented the Klingon language. It introduced us to someone who became a vital part of our board." (Okrand is responsible for the WSC's Klingon Shakespeare fundraisers, which were covered exhaustively by TBD.)
But as Henley looks back through the years of stuff, he's going to be ruthless – no sentimentality allowed. He's not even keeping some of his favorite stuff, because there's simply no storage space in the company's new home, the Artisphere.
"I might be blindsided by a surge of nostalgia and throw something in the car, but my husband will be mad at me, so I'll try to resist that impulse," says Henley. "It's bittersweet. There are so many memories."
The sale will take place at the Clark Street Playhouse, 601 S. Clark St., Arlington, on Friday, June 10 (for theater professionals only – 12-4 p.m.), Saturday, June 11 (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) and Saturday, June 12 (everything is free from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.).