An innovative partnership between the George Mason University College of Visual and Performing Arts and the Lorton Workhouse will provide new opportunities for arts performance and education, adding to the lively arts scene in Fairfax County.
A key to the new partnership is to use and share already available Fairfax County assets in creative and strategic ways.
What exactly is this partnership? Over time it is expected that the association will provide George Mason University students with off-campus Fairfax County sites to perform, exhibit their works and perhaps take education, craft-related course work and even have internships.
The partnership will provide local audiences with different venues to attend, performances where they can see artistic works of those who may become the next Broadway star or the next artist to be exhibited at a major D.C. metropolitan area gallery. Area venues such as the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia in Fairfax and the Industrial Strength Theater in Herndon have or will be involved as settings for Mason musical theater productions.
Activities to forge the new partnership have been in development for over a year according to George Mason’s Lynne M. Constantine, and assistant professor for the School of Art, and Susan Graziano, with the Provost’s office at GMU. Constantine mentioned that the Workhouse had fine craft facilities that could be used to provide additional opportunities for Mason students to receive training not now readily available on the college campus. New facilities would not have to be constructed on the Mason campus to enable students to have these expanded opportunities.
Graziano noted that by using the Workhouse and other local sites for events such as concerts, recitals or visual arts exhibits, “new audiences outside of the Mason campus” will come to know the high quality work of Mason undergraduate and graduate students.
One of the initial tie-ins between Mason and the Workhouse is with the musical theater activities of the Mason School of Theater. Last fall Mason partnered with the Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center and showcased a musical production called “Finishing the Hat” which was a Stephen Sondheim tribute, according to Ken Elston, Direction, School of Theater.
This spring James Gardiner, professional actor, Mason adjunct professor and a regular with Signature Theatre, has crafted an exploration of contemporary composers and music trends with, “The Millennials.” Gardiner was recently seen in Signature Theatre production of “The Last Five Years” and last year in Olney’s “Little Shop of Horrors” (Helen Hayes Nomination).
The cabaret crafted by Gardiner is “a very clever exploration of contemporary composers and trends,” said Elston. “The Millennials” title refers to the work of up-and-coming, influential composers and lyricists such as Jason Robert Brown “The Last Five Years,” Joe Icanis (NBC’s “Smash”), Michael John LaChuisa “Giant,” Ricky Ian Gordon “Sycamore Tree,” Robert Lopez “Book of Mormon,” Tom Kitt “Next to Normal,” Lin Manuel Miranda “In the Heights,” Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (NBC’s Smash), Jeanine Tesori, “Caroline, or Change,” and David Yazbeck “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”
Why is it important for students to perform off-campus? “It’s important that a university theatre program provide a safe environment where we allow students to make discoveries and more importantly give them a place where they can fail, but we also need to give them opportunities outside of their comfort zones. It’s also an opportunity for us to present the work that we’re doing at Mason, to give exposure to the program and hopefully build our reputation within the community,” Gardiner said.
“From both artistic and business perspectives, partnerships are important to the future of the Workhouse Arts Center. Partnerships bring strengths together from partnering organizations to achieve a synergistic effect,” according to John Mason, president and CEO of the Workhouse.
“George Mason University is the first of our formalized partnerships. This partnership will lead to GMU faculty and students being engaged with Workhouse programs, developing professional relationships, and helping to market each other’s activities,” Mason said. Over time perhaps GMU students will be attending classes at the Workhouse, using its specialized programs and studios.
Evan Hoffman, artistic director, of Fairfax County’s new professional “Next Stop Theatre Company” soon to perform at the Industrial Strength Theater venue, said it is important to improve “our capacity to collaborate with and support theatre organizations and artists in our region. Fairfax County is [and always has been] chock full of talented performers ... we are excited to be able to help shine a spotlight on their work. “