By David Siegel
Special to the Times
"Even before we met with an architect, we knew we wanted a gallery in the space. Shows don't start with a curtain. They start as soon as a patron walks in the door. It's like an overture to the play." said Mark Krikstan, Artistic Director and one of the founders of the Helen Hayes Award recipient 1st Stage. The company is located in the rapidly transforming Tysons area.
"You have to put folks in the mood to let any form of art flow into the mind and soul. The paintings hanging on our walls do just that. And hopefully the plays we produce will do the same for the art on the walls."
"We are more than just a performing arts theater space. We wanted to bring performing artists and visual artists and their often separate audiences together. Often they didn't know each other." said Jane Kalbfield, casting director at 1st Stage and drama coach at George C. Marshall High School.
Falls Church resident Debby Conn, a watercolorist, curates the works at 1st Stage. "I select the artists who show their work during each run of a production. I help them hang the show."
In selecting an artist, she gives thought to the kind of production, "Is it family oriented? Edgy? A comedy? Drama? When possible, I try to find an artist whose work will complement the show."
Over the years , 1st Stage has had artists representing many visual media including watercolor, acrylic, oil, colored pencil, pastel, soft sculpture, photography, collage, and stained glass. "Styles and subject matter have included representational paintings, objective and non-objective abstracts, figures, landscapes, and trompe l'oeil." according to Conn.
As an artist, Conn has also had her work exhibited twice at 1st Stage. "I love the theater, I really appreciate what 1st Stage is doing, and it’s nice to be able to show my work to other people who enjoy the arts."
For the upcoming production of "Altar Boyz," mixed-media artist Theresa Wells Stifel's work will be displayed.
"I revere the craftsmanship, intricacy, and beauty of bygone fabric, fashion and notions,” she said. “Being able to integrate them into my work so they take a new function as art, rather than end up in a landfill, makes me happy.”
"It's exciting to show a body of work to a new audience of theatre patrons who may not be familiar with my art," added Stifel.
She described her work as "constructed from salvaged and recycled vintage materials. I like to prompt the viewer to look closer to discover materials the pieces contain to create their compositions."
When asked about the difference in hanging artwork at 1st Stage compared to her own studio or an art gallery, Stifel noted that the 1st Stage space "has higher ceilings and a broader viewing area than my studio. It is gratifying to see a collection of my work, in its different applications in another venue. The average one-person show holds a dozen works. 1st stage can hold up to 40 depending on size. It is a huge opportunity to exhibit multiple series in one venue."
As 1st Stages begins production of its 29th show, the musical “Altar Boyz," the displaying of the newest art work is ready for viewing.
"The most important thing is that our audience always react. In our gallery shows, the patrons are excited, inspired, and even comforted by what they see," added Kristan.
The tradition of 1st Stage exhibiting visual artwork in conjunction with a live theater performance is expected to continue long into the future.