25 Years - 25 Stories


Every student, faculty member and supporter who has come through our doors has helped form The Theatre Lab into the creative, vibrant and inclusive community it is today. Throughout the year, we’ll celebrate our 25th anniversary by sharing the stories and reflections of some of our incredible alumni, faculty, students and supporters. 

Co-Founders Deb Gottesman and Buzz Mauro Reflect on the First 25 Years of The Theatre Lab

David Weiner  Life Stories Wounded Warrior program alum
Mary Mitchelson  current Theatre Lab board chair
Angelica Angdisen  Summer Camp for Kids and Summer Teen Institute alum
Victoria Fortune  Theatre Lab board member and alum
Amal Saade  Theatre Lab Honors Conservatory alum and faculty member
Quique Aviles Longtime Theatre Lab Life Stories faculty member
Jayme Lawson  Theatre Lab alum and current student at the Juilliard School
Michael Rodgers  Theatre Lab Co-Founder, Former Managing Director and creator of the first Life Stories class
Crystal Williams Life Stories Institute Alum and foster care advocate
Amy Austin former Theatre Lab board member and chair, current president and CEO of theatreWashington
Angelica Gregory former Theatre Lab student and graduate of Columbia University School of the Arts Theatre MFA program
Kim Schraf longtime Theatre Lab faculty member, founding co-director of the Honors Acting Conservatory and acclaimed actor 
Nora Achrati - Honors Conservatory alum and actor working in professional theatres throughout DC area
Greg Mangiapane - longtime Theatre Lab student
Dorothy Neumann - longtime faculty member and acclaimed theatre director, currently teaching Intro to Acting
Michael Russotto - longtime faculty member and acclaimed actor, currently teaching Auditioning and Directing
Felix Stevenson  - early Theatre Lab student, currently a visual artist and part-time actor
Constance Ejuma - Summer Acting Institute for Teens alum, award-winning actress and film producer
Isayas Theodros Honors Conservatory alum and Fulbright Scholar
Roberta Gottesman
 visual artist, first Chair of the Board
Jeffrey Slavin Mayor of Somerset, MD, Trustee of Sanford and Doris Slavin Foundation, longtime Theatre Lab board member and co-chair of the 2017 Cabaret Benefit
Jane Petkofsky
 - Honors Conservatory inaugural class alum, professional actor
Rose Shaw - Former Life Stories participant, current advocate for women in recovery 

Deb Gottesman and Buzz Mauro 

Buzz and Deb teaching in Theatre Lab's early days

June 1992.  George Bush (the elder) was in the waning days of his presidency. The Washington Redskins were still flying high after their Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills. And Microsoft introduced Windows 3.1 to much fanfare.  In other words, it was a really long time ago. It was also the year that we finished our three-year M.F.A. Acting program at Catholic University, a place where we became inseparable friends. And like thousands of graduates from acting programs across the country hoisting their wet-inked diplomas in the air, we turned to each other and asked,  “Now exactly what are we supposed to do with this degree again?” 

Perhaps the number one lesson we learned at CUA from our great mentor, Bill Graham, Sr., was “Don’t wait by the phone.” (Well, maybe that was the number two lesson.  The first, and obviously related, was “Give yourself permission!”)  So, even though we were both just beginning to make our way as actors at the time—Buzz mostly at Signature and Deb at Woolly Mammoth and the long-lost Consenting Adults Theatre Company—we gave ourselves permission to hang out a shingle and offer audition coaching.  We had a few takers but it became clear pretty early on that what was really needed in this town was not one-off coaching opportunities, but rather a place where people who wanted to study the craft could come to be challenged with rigorous teaching in a friendly, inclusive environment.  Buzz was an experienced teacher, having taught high school and college math among other things, and he pushed for us to add Beginning Level Acting classes to our repertoire, and that’s how The Theatre Lab was born. Read more ...


David Weiner- Life Stories Wounded Warrior program alum

David Weiner in a Life Stories session with Wounded Warriors I had always wanted to learn more about acting, and work on my presentation and public speaking skills. My opportunity came when I received an email from the Wounded Warrior Project about The Theatre Lab’s Life Stories Program.

The Theatre Lab gave me the space to open up to my peers about my daily struggles with my injuries. I no longer felt like I was alone. Joking around with other Wounded Warriors about our shared experiences was one of my favorite memories from the Life Stories Program. Our class developed a skit called, “Shit Civilians Say” about the ridiculous and random questions non-military folks ask us. During another class, Buzz taught us a warm-up technique to help us articulate our words and loosen up before we perform. I’m a teacher and I now use this exercise before every class.

I would highly recommend the Life Stories program to any Wounded Warrior or veteran with disabilities who feels as if no one can relate to them and the world’s weight is on their shoulders. I describe Life Stories as group therapy without a doctor trying to tell you why you are the way you are. The Theatre Lab is so unique because of its acceptance of who each student is, even if a student doesn’t fully understand who they are yet.

Not many people are as open and accepting as Buzz is, especially to topics that they are unfamiliar about. I want to thank Buzz for impacting my life more than you could possibly know.


Mary Mitchelson current Theatre Lab board chair

Mary Mitchelson (right) with Buzz, Deb, and 2016 Theatre Lab honoree Alma Powell I was first introduced to The Theatre Lab when a dear friend who was on the board invited me to attend the Cabaret Benefit in 2012. I was struck by the amazing talent of Deb, Buzz and all the students who performed that night. It was without a doubt the best fundraiser I had ever attended! The warmth and enthusiasm of all the supporters in the room was unlike anything I had seen before.

I stayed connected to The Theatre Lab after that and attended the performance of “How I Got Over” by the women of N Street Village at the Kennedy Center. I had heard of The Theatre Lab’s Life Stories programs before but had no real feeling for what they were or the impact they have. Watching the show, my understanding blossomed on a gut level. There was so much emotion in the room. I knew that an organization dedicated to empowering women to share their difficult and intimate stories on stage was the kind of organization that I wanted to support wholeheartedly.

I am now lucky to be chair of The Theatre Lab’s board. I rave about the organization to anyone who will listen. The only problem is choosing what aspect of The Theatre Lab to talk about first – from adult and children’s theatre education, to the Life Stories Program and Institute or just the warm and creative atmosphere that surrounds all The Theatre Lab’s activities. I’ve never encountered an organization that so vividly embraces its mission: transforming lives through theatre education. I want everyone to know about The Theatre Lab!


Angelica Angdisen-  Summer Camp for Kids and Summer Teen Institute alum

Angelica Angdisen in The Theatre Lab’s 2015 tween production of Honk Jr. Growing up, I always enjoyed watching kids on TV singing, dancing, and acting but I never thought I could do it. My dad enrolled me in the Bravos summer program at The Theatre Lab. At first, I didn’t like going because it forced me out of my comfort zone. Soon enough however, I was hooked. I’ve been attending classes at The Theatre Lab for seven years now..

I’m now 14 and this summer, I attended the Musical Institute for Teens. I really enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of the brand-new musical, The Kids’ Table, and work with a great cast. Another memorable role I’ve played was Maureen in Honk, Jr. I loved the role because Maureen reminded me of myself.

The Theatre Lab has helped me gain confidence in myself. I’m no longer scared of trying new things and I know how to voice my opinion. The Theatre Lab has helped me develop skills in all areas of my life from working with new people, to learning piano and hosting events at my school.

The Theatre Lab is a fun way to learn new things. Even if you don’t think you like acting, The Theatre Lab can change that. There’s never a boring day here.


Victoria Fortune Theatre Lab board member and alum

Victoria with Buzz and Deb I first got involved with The Theatre Lab 13 years ago because I wanted to explore the world of creative expression through dramatic arts. The Theatre Lab is a judgment free zone that granted me the power to embrace the uniqueness in ME. At The Theatre Lab, nothing feels force fed. Instructors are just as open to learning from students as they are to teaching. This creates room for constant improvement, inspiration, and space to thrive.

Being a part of Ragtime is a very special memory. Going to rehearsal and being surrounded by such kind and talented people helped me cope with the grief of losing a family member during the same time.

Over the years, I have seen The Theatre Lab evolve into a safe space for not just those interested in theatre, but those battling with internal struggles. Whether battling alcoholism, drug addiction, or neglect, the Theatre Lab has become a place of refuge and hope for those that love the arts, but also those that have for so long been marginalized.

The Theatre Lab enriches our region because it embraces DC’s rich culture – both the good and bad. DC has its fair share of social challenges from the crack epidemic to the increasing homeless population. The Theatre Lab’s inclusiveness and acceptance of the city’s strengths and flaws is what makes it so special.

This organization has changed my life. Theatre Lab embraces you for YOU, and will do everything in their power to bring out the beauty in you through movement, theatre, and sound.


Amal Saade -  Theatre Lab Honors Conservatory alum and faculty member

Amal Saade works with children at NIH as part of Theatre Lab’s Life Stories program

I have a Bachelors of Arts in theatre, but I feel like my training at The Theatre Lab is what really prepared me to act professionally. The Honors Acting Conservatory gave me the additional skills and confidence I needed. The biggest acting jobs I’ve landed were direct results of connections I made with Theatre Lab faculty.

As a teacher, The Theatre Lab took a chance on me. When I first began as an assistant director in the Summer Acting Camp for Kids, I did not have much teaching experience — just a love for young people and theatre. Deb and The Theatre Lab let me dive in, and from there, I grew as a teacher. I am eternally grateful.

The Theatre Lab is the only theatre school I know of that offers top-notch education and programming in a warm, supportive environment.

Watch a video of Amal talking about her experience teaching The Life Stories Program


Quique Aviles -  Longtime Theatre Lab Life Stories faculty member

Quique teaching Life Stories Students at Potomac Job Corps

The work of Life Stories is based on improvisation. That has always been part of the joy of the work. It is truly amazing to witness the creativity of human beings, despite all adversities. I consider being able to witness this one of the most valuable gifts.

One experience I’ll always remember happened during a Life Stories session at Potomac Job Corps. There was a young woman who spoke of the continuous abuse, neglect and deprivation that she had grown up with. Yet, at that point in her life, she had decided that she was a queen and that she was no longer willing to live her life with the weight and oppression of all those voices of pain and negativity. On that day, a lot of us had tears rolling down our eyes. I can safely say that those tears were tears of pain but also tears of joy. The human spirit is truly an amazing thing to witness. I will never forget that day.

I’m particularly proud to be a mentor and to keep in touch with participants even after they go to college and graduate. What’s unique about the Life Stories Program is that all participants are given a DVD that they can replay for themselves and their children and take stock of where they’ve been and where they are in their lives.

Watch a video of Quique talking about his experience teaching The Life Stories Program


Jayme Lawson -  Theatre Lab alum and current student at the Juilliard School

Jayme Lawson stands next to a Juilliard billboard featuring her

After the first two weeks, I immediately fell in love with acting. I found kids like me and an environment that I enjoyed being in. The experience helped me come out of my shell and gain self-confidence, which is priceless. By the time I was ten years old, I knew I wanted a career in acting. I found my voice as an artist at The Theatre Lab.

What makes Theatre Lab unique is the fact that it is run by Deb and Buzz. If not for these two invested, caring, inspirational individuals, The Theatre Lab would be just like any other institution. Their love for the arts and for teaching is infectious and can be felt and understood by even the youngest person in the program.

The Theatre Lab cultivates aspiring young artists to voice their opinions and stand for something through the arts. At The Theatre Lab, kids of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs learn not only how to work together but how to create together.

The Theatre Lab is the reason I decided to become an actor. Now, I’m studying the craft at my dream school, Juilliard, and am getting closer to reaching my goal of becoming a working actor. Thank you to The Theatre Lab and to Deb for helping me find the authenticity of who I am as a person and for helping me believe that I, Jayme Lawson, am enough.


Michael Rodgers -  Theatre Lab Co-Founder, Former Managing Director and Creator of the first Life Stories class

Buzz, Deb and Michael in 2004

I’m very proud of what The Theatre Lab has become, especially the growth and recognition of our Life Stories Program. I created the first Life Stories program that worked with senior citizens and it is amazing to see how Life Stories has been applied in so many ways throughout our community. We empower people through the dramatic arts and believe that everybody has a story to tell and deserves to be heard.

The Theatre Lab enriches the Washington, DC region because it allows folks from all segments of our community to express their feelings and experiences in a relevant and powerful way. Our style of teaching is unique because it is substantive but at the same time encouraging. At The Theatre Lab, there is attention paid to the individual student and heart is just as important as craft.

I have so many favorite memories, from our first Cabaret Benefit at The Childe Harold to our all-night Shakespeare in Pajamas fundraisers. It’s hard to describe the impact my involvement with The Theatre Lab has had on my life. I am so fortunate to have this connection.


Crystal Williams -  Life Stories Institute Alum and Foster Care Advocate

Crystal Williams (right) at a Permanent INK workshop. I got involved with The Theatre Lab because I am interested in using theatre for community mobilization and youth engagement. I am a foster care advocate and I’ve also written several plays, monologues, and performance poetry that utilize the arts for advocacy. I work with youth in foster care to express their creativity. I am also the founder of a theater troupe called Permanent INK that facilitates workshops for child welfare professionals.

I attended the Life Stories Institute in 2014 and valued the opportunity to be around other artists who have a passion to use theater for social change. My favorite memory from the Life Stories Institute was getting to meet some of the ladies from the documentary, “How I Got Over.” It was powerful to see how the [Life Stories] journey had impacted them and it inspired me to keep doing what I am doing. One of the ladies reminded me of my mother. I grew up in foster care and I lived in homeless shelters with my mother, so I can relate to her story. My mother passed away in 2008 and I believe that if she had had access to more intervention programs, maybe her story would have ended differently.

I believe that Life Stories can have a national reach because this model is so necessary. To me, The Theatre Lab is the perfect mix of both theater and addressing social issues.


Amy Austin-  former Theatre Lab board member and chair, current president and CEO of theatreWashington

Amy Austin (right) with former Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser and Theatre Lab co-executive director Deb Gottesman at the 2012 Cabaret Benefit.

I was first drawn to The Theatre Lab because Deb and Buzz were creating something special that the very nascent Washington theatre community didn’t have. The Theatre Lab wanted to teach theatre, and create a citywide place for everyone to experience the power of storytelling through theatre. While I was chair, The Theatre Lab expanded upon this by establishing The Life Stories program to bring theatre and storytelling to people who could benefit from having access to it.

My favorite memories include the pajama party Bardathons with NBC Washington reporters Jim Vance, Doreen Gentzler and Tom Sherwood, and former DC Council Member Carol Schwartz. I also remember many of the student productions, including Ragtime, performed in a church on Connecticut Avenue before we had the Gallery Place space. It was a very moving production of a powerful musical. The Theatre Lab student productions are amazing to watch.

The Theatre Lab’s faculty are compassionate listeners who teach people to rely upon one another. The Theatre Lab is unique because it teaches through ensemble acting. Everyone is important to the story in a Theatre Lab production. The Theatre Lab greatly enriches the Washington area community because it allows for a creative outlet in a city that thrives on business as usual.


Angelica Gregory -former Theatre Lab student and graduate of Columbia University School of the Arts Theatre MFA program

Angelica Gregory at Dewitt Nursing Home with Scene-ior Acts As a child, I wanted to be ballerina, but a scholarship from The Theatre Lab introduced me to a new passion. Once I started at The Theatre Lab, it just felt right. The Theatre Lab gave me freedom to explore and make mistakes in a nonjudgmental environment. I loved being able to try new things and bring my dreams to life. For one performance, they let me wrap myself up in toilet paper and become a mummy. I always wanted to do that and they made it work with the piece.

To me, The Theatre Lab embodies love. It includes people from different backgrounds, experiences and interests and says, ‘let’s play together!.’

My grandmother was a huge supporter of me pursuing theatre and she recently passed away. I was inspired by her and my experiences at The Theatre Lab to create Scene-ior Acts! -- a program that brings in actors and singers to perform musicals with seniors at nursing homes in New York City. I’m incredibly thankful to The Theatre Lab for teaching me to never give up and to give back while pursuing my dreams.


Kim Schraf - longtime Theatre Lab faculty member, founding co-director of the Honors Acting Conservatory and acclaimed actor 

Kim Schraf working with 2017 Honors Conservatory students It all started with Deb cornering me at a party and asking me to teach for her. I’m so glad she did. Initially, I started teaching at The Theatre Lab to gain a deeper connection to the Washington, D.C. theatre community. Eventually, it became more about the opportunity to transform – and be transformed by – students.

The Theatre Lab operates out of a deep belief in the gifts and potential of each person who comes here to explore. Witnessing the growth of the students has been something that I’ve cherished. I’ve watched students wrestle with the frustrations of confronting their habits or their demons or their assumptions, and then shed them. I live for those breakthrough moments that follow the tears or the struggles or the denials. Those moments are exhilarating to behold.

Whenever I find myself in a production with an Honors graduate who has become part of the fabric of this theatre community that I so love, I feel a thump of pride for the work that we all collaborate on here.

The Theatre Lab enriches the Washington, D.C. region by allowing children, teens and adults to tap their creative impulses. Marginalized members of the community find recognition and self-worth. Aspiring professionals are nurtured and challenged in equal measure. No one else contributes as vitally or in quite the same way to deepening the artistic expression of this community.


Nora Achrati - Honors Conservatory alum and actor appearing soon at Imagination Stage

Honors alum Nora Achrati (Right) with husband Bradley Foster Smith in Scapin at Constellation Theatre My crowning theatrical achievement prior to attending The Theatre Lab was playing the Queen of Hearts in a schoolwide production of Alice in Wonderland when I was in sixth grade. Many years passed before the spark was re-lit and I was introduced to The Theatre Lab.

The first class I took was Intro to Acting and then I was hooked. I joined the Honors Conservatory in 2009 and some of my favorite memories are from that year. I was a total skeptic going into Scott Morgan’s honors voice module. We were doing all this meditation work and it was bizarre and it didn’t seem like it had anything to do with our voices. And then one evening we did this meditation in the dark, lying on the floor, and I remember getting up and feeling so completely in my body, so completely grounded. I remember recognizing that I sounded different when I spoke, and then things started clicking into place. Scott was trying to connect us to our deep selves, and to spark faith in ourselves. It was magic.

The Theatre Lab has had an enormous hand in shaping both my career and personal life. After graduating from the Honors Conservatory, I was cast in a play for 1st Stage with an actor who is now my husband. The director of that show officiated our wedding and we now have a toddler. I’m proud to say I’m working as a DC actor and have The Theatre Lab to thank. The Theatre Lab faculty and staff have become mentors and friends, and even employers and coworkers. I am so grateful for these connections.


Greg Mangiapane - longtime Theatre Lab student, currently rehearsing Chess, our Creating a Musical Role production

Greg Mangiapane as the Governor in Parade (2008)I was looking for something that would change my life for the better by challenging me. I saw an ad for adult acting classes in the City Paper and decided to sign up. I had no theatre experience but after my first class I was hooked. That was in 1996. I’ve been taking classes at The Theatre Lab ever since.

I believe if you can make it in a Theatre Lab production, you can do well in other DC theatre environments. I value the consistently high expectations of the teachers, their attention to detail and the quality of the subject material as well as the support I get from faculty and fellow students. I’ve made many friends through The Theatre Lab and had performance experiences I will never forget – especially acting in Titanic.

The Theatre Lab has allowed me to expand my knowledge of life through the many themes and conflicts present in the great plays we work with.  My personal life is certainly much richer emotionally. I have accomplished things I never thought I could do, and done them well.  My friends have come to many of our shows and been amazed at the experiences they have had as well.


Dorothy Neumann - longtime faculty member and acclaimed theatre director, currently teaching Intro to Acting

Dot Neumann teaches Intro to ActingI was friends with Deb and Buzz from acting together in Washington’s small professional theatre circuit. When they started The Theatre Lab, I saw an opportunity to share my love for theatre with students. When I first started in 1993, The Theatre Lab was very small and limited in what we could offer due to the lack of space. It has now become a major presence in the community.

Teaching at The Theatre Lab has always been a joy. Whenever I have a new idea for a class, Buzz and Deb are always open and enthusiastic in their support.  the Holocaust project involved the students learning about some of the actual victims, and they turned their stories into a performance at Theater J. That was a favorite memory as was directing Medea.  But what I value most is the repeated enjoyment I get from watching new students realize the joy of acting. I love those magic moments in my Intro to Acting classes when someone will say, “I get it and I want to keep going.”


Michael Russotto - longtime faculty member and acclaimed actor, currently teaching Auditioning and Directing

Michael Russotto working with a student in Auditioning class

I started teaching almost from The Theatre Lab’s inception. In the early days, we were based out of Deb’s mom’s tiny office in Old Town Alexandria. Deb asked me to teach, and I thought it would be fun and informative. It gave me an opportunity to share what I’d learned in my years as a theatre professional.

Some of my favorite memories include establishing the Directing for Actors class and directing Sweeney Todd for the Musical Theatre Institute for Teens with Buzz doing music direction. Such great kids, so many challenges, and such a fantastic result. I’ve loved working with so many talented and enthusiastic students and faculty members.

The Theatre Lab is unique because it provides education and opportunity to a broader spectrum of the population than other theatre education programs in our area.  At The Theatre Lab there are classes for people young and old, professionals, amateurs, and the completely uninitiated - in an intensive but supportive learning environment.


Felix Stevenson - early Theatre Lab student, currently a visual artist and part-time actor

Felix Stevenson in an episode of The Wire
I started with the beginners' class at The Theatre Lab in the early '90s. I liked Deb's teaching style. After I enrolled in the Creating a Role class I found out the class was to perform Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. This scared me to death because I did not understand the language and I knew nothing about Shakespeare, nor performing on stage. Deb and Buzz grabbed me by the hand and walked me thorugh step by step until I got it. The performance turned out great.
Now I have the acting bug, and I blame Deb and Buzz for that. I call them my one-two punch of acting. They opened up a whole new world for me. Before this, I did not go to plays nor did I read plays. Now I do and I love it. Deb and Buzz told me to get out and audition. They said I can do this. They believed in me when I did not believe in myself. I jumped out there and have been performing in plays all over the DMV. I do TV commercials, small roles in movies  and TV shows. Nothing real big but it's good  enough  for me. I am still working on it. I am currently working on House of Cards as the White House steward, in seasons 3, 4, and 5.
Much love and respect to Deb and Buzz at The Theatre Lab for opening the doors of acting for me. I am forever grateful to them.

Constance Ejuma - Summer Acting Institute for Teens alum, award-winning actress and film producer

Constance Ejuma
While it has been 20 years since I took a course at The Theatre Lab, the experience has shaped my entire life since. I was reserved and had no acting experience prior to joining the Summer Acting Institute for Teens. The Institute gave me the confidence I needed to even dream about the possibility of acting as a profession. Without The Theatre Lab, it’s unlikely that I would have studied theatre in college. I’m now an actress is Los Angeles.
The Theatre Lab demystifies the process of acting for people who have absolutely no experience with it. One of my favorite experiences during The Institute was watching a guest teacher act in a play at the Olney Theatre. It was really inspiring to see some of the things we were being taught in class applied in the professional world. I look forward to seeing The Theatre Lab continue to thrive in the community and help people tap into their potential as storytellers.
Isayas Theodros - Honors Conservatory alum and Fulbright Scholar
Isayas Theodros
I came to The Theatre Lab with no formal training, and limited theatrical experience. I was looking for a theatre training program that didn’t require me to completely uproot my life. The Theatre Lab’s Honors Conservatory offered me quality training, affordable tuition, excellent instructors, and a flexible schedule that allowed me to maintain my day job. My experience is a great example of what makes The Theater Lab’s Honors Conservatory so unique, it is part-time, holistic, and high-quality. A favorite memory of mine was my final performance of “Solomon and Marion” with Claire Schoonover.
The Theatre Lab shaped my life for the better. Even after moving away from D.C., I’ve maintained lasting friendships from my program. The Theatre Lab gave me the time I needed to build my confidence and helped me realize that theatre was what I wanted to do with my life. Since graduating from the Honors Conservatory, I’ve received my master’s degree in Classical Acting from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art as a Fulbright Scholar. I’m currently a professional actor and high school acting teacher in Los Angeles. I am so grateful to The Theatre Lab for providing me with training that opened new doors of opportunity for me.
Roberta Gottesman - visual artist, first Chair of the Board 

Besides being Deb’s mother, I got involved with The Theatre Lab because I thought Deb, Buzz, and Michael had so much to give to the community. My small publishing office in Alexandria, Virginia was also the perfect place for them to start teaching.

What I value most is The Theatre Lab’s commitment to the community, especially to the young people in this area who have so much potential but who couldn’t otherwise afford to train in the theatre arts.

My favorite memory Theatre Lab memory is the first Cabaret Benefit at The Childe Harold in 1994. I’m a terrible cook and I made all the hors d’oeuvres myself. Everyone had to eat them because there was nothing else.  And 25 years later people are still coming—but now it’s at The Ritz Carlton!  I also remember that my mother, Lillian Kamen, wanted to see Deb, Buzz and Michael (also known as “The Mood Swings”) perform so bad, that we all carried her up three flights of stairs.  Now ‘The Lillian Kamen Fund’ supports many of The Theatre Lab’s outreach programs, so her enthusiasm lives on!

Of The Theatre Lab’s many accomplishments, my favorite was seeing the women from N Street Village perform at The Kennedy Center. They were so courageous and the performance lifted them up.  It was really special.

When Buzz and Deb first started, they were teaching five people in Alexandria.  One day they locked themselves out and called me to come bring the key.  They had decided to walk their class down to the Alexandria Waterfront to do some outside observation exercises.  I drove by and saw them and screamed out to Deb, “Hi, sweetheart!  I have the key!”  I guess I blew their nonchalant, professional cover. Now, they are the ones providing the key to so many people, using theatre to help people discover things about themselves they did not know were there.  I’m very proud.

Jeffrey Slavin - Mayor of Somerset, MD, Trustee of Sanford and Doris Slavin Foundation, longtime Theatre Lab board member and co-chair of the 2017 Cabaret Benefit
Jeffrey Slavin

I was first introduced to The Theatre Lab when Michael Rodgers invited me to the first Cabaret Benefit back in 1994. I was so impressed with their programs for underserved communities and I had an “aha” moment. Theatre can empower people and change lives no matter who you are or what your talent is.  It has nothing to do with whether you want to be a professional actor.  The skills you gain through the dramatic arts are skills that everyone should have no matter what they do.

The quality of teaching offered to emerging artists at The Theatre Lab is unparalleled. What makes Theatre Lab completely unique is the breadth and the reach of its training programs—both the number of people being served and who is being served.  A lot of theatre organizations have training components but The Theatre Lab’s primary mission is to teach people and they are working with nearly 2,500 people each year in really substantial and empowering ways. The Theatre Lab is also unique because of its collaborations with other theatres and social service organizations.

My favorite Theatre Lab memory was probably the Bard-a-Thon.  People stayed up all night to read Shakespeare in their pajamas to support a worthy cause. It was like a political campaign, the workers stayed up all night, ate pizza, and famous people like Jim Vance and Doreen Gentzler dropped by to perform.  It was so unique. I’d love for everyone to know about the work Theatre Lab is doing so that we could double or even triple its capacity.


Jane Petkofsky - Honors Acting Conservatory inaugural class alum and professional actor

I can’t remember when my first class was, but it was some time before I took Creating a Musical Role in 2004. I was in the first Honors Acting Conservatory class in 2006, and I continue to take classes as my schedule permits. I had always been interested in theatre, and participated in theatrical productions from about age 5 onward. I considered a professional career, but a stint as a dresser/wardrobe assistant in a professional theatre at age 17 convinced me it was not the right path.

In the 1980s and 1990s I discovered the rich community theatre world in the DC area, but I was still involved with a day job that demanded significant attention, so being able to take an occasional course was a great way to start that process. I valued the opportunity to work with theater professionals whose work I admired, who were also marvelous teachers. Students are encouraged and instructed constructively with respect. Small classes made up of students of varying levels of experience and ability create an opportunity to both actively work and learn from the work of others.

Performing in Ragtime remains a highlight both of my time at The Theatre Lab and of all of my acting work to date. The process gave me a confidence that I don’t think I had ever really experienced. The training I’ve gotten has made me a better actor and has helped me get parts that I might not otherwise have landed. It has made me more confident and willing to take risks. The DC region is enriched simply by having such a high-caliber source of theater training.


Rose Shaw - Former Life Stories participant as featured in the film How I Got Over, current advocate for women in recovery

In 2012, I was in recovery at N Street Village and as a requirement of the program, I did The Theatre Lab Life Stories program. I’m glad I did!

What I valued most about my experience at The Theatre Lab was knowing that someone was interested in hearing about my pain. One of my favorite memories was when I first saw Deb (my instructor) shed tears of feeling over our stories. Knowing that she felt our pain and was moved by it. My other favorite memory was performing our [original Life Stories] play at The Kennedy Center--I was thrilled, happy, excited, relieved and proud. I felt I had accomplished something.

Having an opportunity to share and be around the other women in Life Stories made me identify that I wasn’t the only one. The Theatre Lab has the ability to get people to open up honestly and to laugh at themselves. Doing Life Stories was a part of my recovery that all helped put me where I am--helped me to get honest and remain spiritually honest. It gave me spiritual growth as well as recovery growth.

Every time I post something about the Life Stories play or the documentary (How I Got Over), people applaud me for helping someone else by sharing my story. In our play, there’s a part where I apologized to my children because that’s what most mothers who are addicts want to do. Forgiveness is a big part of our recovery process—especially our children. I had to stand up and take my part. Allowing myself to be in the addiction so long, it took my motherhood from me. I thank God for the process The Theatre Lab gave me to be able to express my deepest apology and love to my children on stage, and that process continues for me today.

In fall of 2017, I celebrated six years in recovery. I work at N Street Village as an advocate and lead AA meetings. I love my job and love that I’m in the field of recovery and helping other suffering females. I also come back every year [to the Life Stories Institute] to help teach people how to do Life Stories in their own communities. It makes me feel that I was part of an important assignment and I matter.