You Never Know Who You'll Meet at the Theatre


Imagine my awe: last night when, at Signature Theatres’s performance of Hairspray, out of my peripheral vision I saw that I was randomly sitting directly next to civil rights leader Julian Bond and his wife Pam Horowitz. In any situation, to be in the company of this legendary activist who helped change the world for future generations, would be amazing. But to be sitting next to him during a production that depicts even a tame sliver of the horrifying segregation practices commonplace in 1960s Baltimore – which Mr. Bond played a leading role in changing - was actually kind of mind boggling.

Baltimore is my hometown. And in 1962, black and white teenagers were prevented from simply dancing together on the Buddy Deane show (on which Hairspray’s Corny Collins show is based). Thankfully, I was still at Temple Sinai nursery school, eating paste, and blissfully unaware of the strife that was going on around me. A few years later, I knew more, but still didn’t understand. Why wasn’t my best friend in first grade allowed to come to our neighborhood? Why wasn’t my babysitter allowed to use the bathroom in another family’s home? Why did all three of our TV stations say we couldn’t leave our house after 11:00pm? That’s when I learned the word “curfew,” a concept frankly I never respected either — but at least Spiro Agnew never threw me in jail for it.

When the lights came up at intermission, I coyly turned to Mr. Bond, introduced myself and told him — void of any internal filter (nothing new there) and gushing like I was a tween at a Big Time Rush concert – how incredible it was for me to be in his airspace. Both Mr. Bond and Ms. Horowitz could not have been more lovely and gracious. Later, during a post-show talk-back moderated by Robert Aubrey Davis — WETA personality, Hairspray “mom”, and VOG veteran of the Helen Hayes Awards (I had to get that plug in) — Mr. Bond generously shared his recollections of the 60s, race riots, and rock and roll. In his audience were those of us over a certain age who truly understand the profound impact of his work and words, and some for whom his actions and those of his comrades will just be another war story.

And all this on top of a great show. The magic that unfolds in a theatre never ceases to amaze me.

So who have YOU run into lately at a Washington theatre?