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Struggles Despite Support: The Sad State of the Howard Theatre

I find myself often turning a blind eye and a full heart away from the business aspect of theater. I’d like to think that well intentioned theater spaces full of passionate people and important work will do well no matter the circumstances but of course this is an incredibly naive sentiment as evidenced by the decline of the very recently renovated Howard Theatre in Washington D.C. In 2012 the Howard, a historic champion of black artists, was awarded a 29 million dollar restoration partly furnished by the taxpayers of D.C. This revival was met with celebration and praise. The theater reached its peak as a hub of black culture in the era of segregation by hosting everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to James Brown but has seen a steady exchange of promoters all trying to somehow access this former glory. So with such a resurgence of support as recent as 2012 one would think that The Howard would be receiving a greatly needed breath of fresh air. Sadly this is not the case. Poor management, overpriced food (within the failing structure that is the gimmick of dinner theater), security breeches and complains, and lackluster ticket sales are all contributing factors to rent being late as recently as this past February.

JBL_HowardTheatre

I find this trajectory incredibly discouraging but also insightful into the importance of solid management and mission. Management is a foundation. A theater can have the best of intent and all the community support a city has to offer but if mishandled all of this is for naught. More than anything its just a shame, a theater so beloved and so rich with history is in such a state of mismanagement. But I believe all is not lost. Community support is a powerful thing and it only takes getting it right once. We know all too well that strong or poor leaders can make or break a program or company and this beautiful space has seen its fair share of poor management so let us hope that the right person comes along, good intentions in tow.

 

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