Located in the heart of Tysons, 1st Stage is a non-profit professional theater organization dedicated to presenting thought-provoking performances and nurturing talented artists. The theater creates an intimate connection between audiences and artists, offering a diverse range of productions including solo performances, dramas, comedies and musicals.
From a local volunteer organization to a nationally known, award-winning theater
1st Stage was started in 2008 by Mark Krikstan, a beloved drama teacher at Marshall High School who saw the need for a local theater where his students could perform professionally. At the time, there were no professional theater companies in Fairfax County anywhere. 1st Stage initially began, like most theaters do, with the help of passionate volunteers. The theater flourished quickly, fulfilling the community’s artistic needs.
By 2013, the company had expanded beyond its humble beginnings and underwent a national search for new leadership. Alex Levy, originally from Los Angeles, was appointed as Artistic and Managing Director, becoming First Stage’s first full-time employee. As the theater began to meet the demand for arts in Tysons, it quickly grew into a full-fledged theater company with seven full-time employees. Today, the company produces five main stage shows, hosts a festival that attracts artists from across the country, and offers educational and youth engagement programs.
Surviving and Thriving Through the COVID-19 Pandemic
Like most organizations, 1st Stage faced significant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Alex, the theater’s deep roots throughout the community played a significant role in its ability to survive during the unprecedented time. “Because of who 1st stage had been previous to the pandemic,” said Alex, “it allowed us to weather the storm and survive.” Despite the cancellations of shows, the theater continued to receive enough community support to pay all of its artists through their contracts. To accommodate for social distancing, the theater shifted to online programming and focused on maintaining its commitment to its audience and the stories they needed to hear. Recognizing itself as a community organization, 1st Stage used its platform to organize food drives and check on their subscribers, especially older folks.
The Brothers Size (2020) awarded the Helen Hayes award for Outstanding Production in a Play
As 1st Stage transitioned back to normal operations, the theater implemented a series of protections for both the audience and the cast, such as limited capacity and a strong testing protocol. These measures and more demonstrate 1st Stage’s commitment to the health and safety of their audiences and their cast, as well as their desire to provide an enjoyable theater experience in the post-pandemic world. In spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, First Stage was able to return stronger than ever, with their last show selling at 96% capacity.
Strengthening Workforce Engagement and Client Relationships
To address the growing need for community within the workforce, the theater recently launched a unique program for business partners.
“One of the things we hear all the time from the business community is ‘how do we build community within our employment and our labor?’” said Alex.
The Creative Catalyst program allows businesses to purchase subscriptions, or bulk tickets, to shows, which can then be distributed to employees or clients. The strategy behind this program is to provide businesses with a new and exciting way to foster a sense of community within their workforce, as well as offering a unique experience for their clients. In addition to the tickets, companies get the added advantage of exposure through 1st Stage’s various platforms, including their program, website and social media accounts, amplifying the visibility of participating businesses and expanding their reach to a diverse audience of theater lovers.
The Vibrant Future of Arts in Tysons
The future of arts in Tysons, according to Alex, is a big unknown, but one filled with boundless potential. However, one thing is for sure: Tysons is a community in motion, continuously redefining and remaking itself, and institutions like 1st stage allow for its community members to come together in an inclusive and vibrant environment.
The Last Match (2023)
More than just a theater company, 1st stage is a testament to the transformative power of the arts, a champion for diversity and inclusivity and an invaluable asset to the Tysons community. As we look to the future, we can expect 1st Stage to continue telling stories that matter, fostering a love for the arts and playing a pivotal role in the evolution of Tysons’ cultural landscape.
To learn more about 1st stage and their upcoming shows, visit https://1ststage.org/.