Buzz Mauro and Deb Gottesman in Theatre Lab's early days.
“What the Theatre Lab has done is produce a teaching model that mirrors the great thing about the Washington community, and that is, the community.”
Rick Foucheux, Faculty

History

The Theatre Lab was born in 1992, when Deb Gottesman and Buzz Mauro, just out of graduate school and keen to test their new skills as acting coaches, started a modest enterprise. Their mission at the time? To coach drama students for college and graduate school auditions. Their business became a school when five students agreed to pay $100 each to be taught basic acting.

Today, The Theatre Lab is the D.C. region’s most comprehensive theatre education center for adults, teens, and kids. Student enrollment has swelled from five students in 1992 to over 1,500 in 2014. More than 15,000 adults, teens, and kids have taken Theatre Lab classes and programs.

It all began when Deb and Buzz met on the first day of graduate school at Catholic University and became fast friends. Both had arrived at Catholic’s M.F.A. acting program from other fields. Deb held an undergraduate degree in psychology and had been a counselor for emotionally disturbed youth. Buzz had taught math and English in D.C. and Haiti.

 

“Here we are in a town known for its transience, in a field that requires actors to be on the move every few months, and yet so many of them have come to The Theatre Lab to train or teach and have just stayed and become like family. When we first started out I never would have guessed that would happen.”

- Deb Gottesman, cofounder
 
When they graduated from Catholic, the two were already working actors—Buzz at the newly formed Signature Theatre, Deb at Washington Shakespeare Company and Arena Stage. Passionate about theatre, they took the advice of their mentor, Professor William H. Graham, Sr., not to sit by the phone waiting for a casting director to call. That’s when they launched their coaching service, the precursor to today’s Theatre Lab.

In need of business expertise to complete their team, in 1993 Deb and Buzz asked fellow actor and singer Michael Rodgers, who had a degree in arts management, to join them. That year The Theatre Lab was incorporated as a nonprofit and began teaching in the District of Columbia.

Advertised early on as “A foot in the door that won’t cost you an arm and a leg”—a promise that holds true 20 years later—word about The Theatre Lab spread quickly. Deb and Buzz began hiring faculty to teach additional courses. Over time they added big names to their faculty roster and developed a uniquely comprehensive set of year-round offerings for students of all ages and experience levels.

True to its founders’ view that theatre is for everyone, in 1996 The Theatre Lab began launching fundraisers to support scholarship programs for disadvantaged young people to attend Theatre Lab classes. In 2000, Michael Rodgers founded the pioneering Life Stories program, which has brought life-transforming opportunities for creative self-expression to marginalized populations within the community, such as incarcerated youth, homeless women, and seniors. (Michael left The Theatre Lab in 2007 to pursue other passions.)

 

“We’ve been through many life cycles here. Two of our students met in class and got married, some of our early alumni are now sending their kids to camp here, and we even have teens from our first Summer Acting Institutes writing in to tell us they’ve started their own theatre companies.”

- Buzz Mauro, cofounder
 
In 2006 The Theatre Lab added a jewel to its crown with the Honors Acting Conservatory, an intensive, year-long program for those 18 and older preparing for a theatre career. The program is the closest thing to graduate-level training students can get without having to quit a job to attend school full-time.

That same year, The Theatre Lab also consolidated its offices and teaching spaces into its current home in the Calvary Baptist Church. At this location The Theatre Lab enjoys ample office space, a variety of versatile classrooms, and nearly unlimited access to a 200-seat theatre space and two additional performance spaces with flexible seating—right in the heart of Penn Quarter, one of D.C.’s busiest theatre districts.
 
The Theatre Lab has come a long way. It won the Mayor’s Arts Award in 2010 for Innovation in the Arts. It has been featured in the Catalogue for Philanthropy as one of “the best small charities in Washington.” Its directors have received the prestigious Linowes Leadership Award from the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region for their efforts to improve the metropolitan community through accessible arts training. And the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities has recognized The Theatre Lab as one of the 50 “top arts- and humanities-based programs in the country serving youth beyond school hours.”