Metro Weekly

Deb Gottesman and Buzz Mauro Celebrate Theatre Lab’s 30th Anniversary

The Theatre Lab, a school for the dramatic arts, is turning 30 with a big celebration and even bigger plans for the future.

Deb Gottesman and Buzz Mauro, co-founders of The Theatre Lab

“We don’t like the ‘T’ word — the talent word,” says Buzz Mauro, who, in 1992, co-founded The Theatre Lab with fellow actor and Catholic University grad Deb Gottesman.

“We believe that if you are willing to throw yourself into it, you can learn it as you would learn anything else. Our job as teachers of acting is to present challenges and then to help actors find their way through those challenges. That’s how you grow. That’s how you can learn to be an actor. It’s not that I teach you ‘Do exactly this,’ but I give you a framework in which to think about it and to improve through experience.”

“We believe that acting is the art of being human,” adds Gottesman. “It’s the art of…accessing our humanity and connecting that to another person.

“Buzz and I had a great mentor in the MFA Acting Program at Catholic who ran the program, Bill Graham,” she continues. “He used to say that he believed all of us had all 88 keys of the piano inside of us, but most of us were used to playing ourselves in just one octave. So acting was the search for the other 80 keys. That’s our job — to help people access those other keys.”

Theatre Lab is the “largest and most comprehensive independent, nonprofit school for the dramatic arts” in the D.C. area, with more than 2,800 enrollments a year and a faculty of instructors that includes, in addition to Gottesman and Mauro, D.C. stage luminaries like Craig Wallace, Bobby Smith, Naomi Jacobson, Kim Schraf, Dorothy Newmann, Christopher Henley, and José Carrasquillo.

The school is currently celebrating its 30th Anniversary and will host a benefit dinner on Sunday, Nov. 13, at the Ritz-Carlton.

“There are a lot of new super exciting things happening at the school,” says Gottesman, who occasionally steps out of her administrative and teaching roles to grace Washington stages. “One is that we’re starting a major workforce development program in technical theater for young adults who have encountered barriers in their lives.

“Also, the theatre industry is suffering right now because there is nobody trained to work technician spots backstage and offstage — lighting and sound and building and painting sets, all the things that it takes to make theatre. It’s actually a high-wage industry. There’s endless work. But [because of COVID] there’s a ruptured pipeline to train people for that. We’re currently interviewing for our first class of 20 that’s starting in January. It’s just really exciting.”

“I am happy that The Theatre Lab has been able to take over my life,” laughs Mauro. “But I do miss performing. The last full show I did was A Man of Mo Importance at Keegan ten years ago, so…”

“Didn’t you do 1776?” interjects Gottesman.

“Yeah, that’s right,” he replies. “Oh, yeah. Man of No Importance was 12 years ago. 1776 at Ford’s in 2012 was the last thing I did.”

Mauro releases his creative energy by writing shows for Theatre Lab’s students.

“We do two musicals with teens every summer, and I’ve written a few for them with Washington playwrights. I wrote one called The Kids Table with Reneé Calarco. The idea was to try to write what I thought at the time was the first gender-free, gender-blind, non-gender musical. Every role in the show — there was something like 18 of them — could be played by any gender. That’s usually not done in a musical because you have to worry about the voice. What kind of voice is this character going to sing? But since I was writing it myself, I could change the keys at will.”

Gottesman notes that the funds raised at the upcoming gala form nearly a quarter of Theatre Lab’s operating budget. The evening will honor former student Jayme Lawson, an emerging Hollywood actor featured in The Batman and The Woman King.

Mauro and Gottesman hosting the 2019 gala

“We try to make it a super fun fundraiser,” says Gottesman. “There’s a focus on comedy and performance and a lot of socializing. So somebody coming could expect an open bar, one of the largest silent and live auctions in town, a fabulous three-course dinner at The Ritz, and performances by some really extraordinary emerging artists.

“We even have a little bit of performing from our littlest kids — Shakespeare by six-year-olds. It’s always a hit. We did King Lear a few years ago. But the one we haven’t touched is Titus Andronicus. That just seems like a bridge too far.”

Individual tickets are $300 and are still available for Theatre Lab’s Cabaret Benefit Dinner and Auction on Sunday, Nov. 13. Cocktail reception and silent auction at 5 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m. At the Ritz Carlton, 1150 22nd St. NW. For tickets or to learn more about The Theatre Lab and its classes, visit www.theatrelab.org.

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