Olney Theatre Center

Even before COVID-19 forced theaters to close in 2020, members of the Olney Theatre Center staff were thinking about diversity and inclusion. Then the pandemic, along with the racial reckoning following the May 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, sharpened and accelerated the theater company’s aim to better reflect Montgomery County’s diversity. The theater reopened in 2021 with an ambitious summer season on the center’s outdoor stage that featured 50 events and more than 100 artists, designed to introduce new types of performances and serve new audiences. Shows included dance, jazz, spoken word, cabaret, drag, and musical performances from different spiritual traditions. For the summer and fall season, the theater introduced a “First Time Free” initiative, giving new patrons four free tickets to certain shows. About half of the audience members who came to summer performances hadn’t seen a show at Olney Theatre Center before, according to Joshua Ford, director of marketing and communications, and the hope is that having been once, they will return. The shows drew larger numbers of African American and Asian American people than usual, Ford says. This season and going forward, Olney Theatre continues to prioritize diversity theaterwide, an effort most visible onstage with casts that include more actors of color, and also in its creative and technical teams and designers. The result is art that’s more reflective of the community.

Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, 301-924-3400, olneytheatre.org