''By several different measures, Washington is the nation's largest theater community outside of New York,'' says Buzz Mauro. ''It's a great theater town, but it doesn't have [New York's] kind of cut-throat competitiveness. We feel we fit in really well here.''
Mauro runs, with Deb Gottesman, the Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts, a ''community arts organization and theater school.'' The school has played a role in helping boost the quality of local theater over the past 20 years. Gottesman and Mauro co-founded the organization with Michael Rodgers immediately after the three graduated from Catholic University. ''[Creating Theatre Lab] was a somewhat unusual way for actors to go,'' concedes Mauro, ''but it's … given us a way to affect as many others as possible.''
Many of the region's best actors, including Naomi Jacobson, Rick Foucheux and Michael Russotto, teach classes at the Theatre Lab. They're open to anyone – even non-aspiring actors who simply want to become more comfortable speaking in groups. In fact, using acting techniques to help in everyday situations has become a key calling card for Gottesman and Mauro. The two best friends have written a couple books on the subject and also jointly run the business consulting firm Center Stage Communications Inc.
Among the accomplishments in the Theatre Lab's first two decades, Gottesman singles out its efforts helping homeless women in recovery share their stories – with a performance at the Kennedy Center, no less. The center's Michael Kaiser will be honored at a Theatre Lab anniversary gala next week for his work in helping realize what Gottesman called ''an outlandish dream'' for everyone in the program.
Alumni from the Theatre Lab's professional training program have gone on to work at many of the region's theater companies. And both Gottesman and Mauro, who occasionally act in roles around town, also regularly teach or lecture at area academic institutions, including their alma mater.
''We've really gotten nothing but support from the universities and theater leaders in this town,'' says Gottesman. And of course, there's the support that Gottesman and Mauro offer each other. ''To get to do what you love for 20 years is really awesome,'' says Gottesman, ''but to get to do what you love with people you love is that much more special.'' '
Theatre Lab's 20th Anniversary Cabaret Benefit and Dinner Auction is Monday, Nov. 12, starting at 5:30 p.m., at The Mayflower Hotel, 1127 Connecticut Ave. NW. Tickets start at $200, if still available. And donations can be made starting at $50. Call 202-824-0449 or visit theatrelab.org.
Theatre Lab promotional video from 2011: