Perhaps best known as a bedroom community for Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia is also one of the Mid-Atlantic region’s brightest cultural hubs, especially when it comes to the performing arts and studio collectives for working artists. For groups meeting in the area, this translates to a wealth of engaging entertainment options as well as intriguing repurposed venues, among them a former torpedo factory, elementary school and correctional facility.
Founded in 1989 as an innovative alternative to the more traditional theater companies in the D.C. area, Signature Theatre has evolved into a Tony Award-winning company devoted to producing professional musicals and plays and reinventing classical musicals.
“Signature does a variety of great shows throughout the year and they are also known for their world premieres,” said Cara O’Donnell, spokesperson for the Arlington Convention & Visitors Service. “For example, Signature partnered with Disney to premier the musical version of Freaky Friday.
Once located in a former auto garage, Signature now has a two-theater facility that welcomes events. Along with ticket discounts, groups can arrange for catered receptions in conjunction with performances and have discussions or hands-on workshops with members of the cast.
Synetic Theater emerged from the creative vision of founders Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, Georgian artists who combine traditions of the Caucasus with American styles to tell stories through movement, music, technology and visual arts. Among Synetic’s specialties is performing wordless versions of Shakespearean plays that have earned the company numerous Helen Hayes Awards.
“The troupe is incredible in how they tell their stories—I can only describe it as a combination of dance, mime, live action and silent movie,” O’Donnell said. “They are extremely respected and known as America’s premier movement theater.”
Located in Arlington’s Crystal City district, Synetic puts on four to five mainstage productions per season and conducts behind-the-scenes tours. The company also offers several spaces for events, including the 350-seat mainstage theater, two rehearsal studios and the lobby.
Located in a former schoolhouse on the National Register of Historic Places, Arlington Arts Center is a nonprofit contemporary visual arts center that includes nine exhibition galleries, 13 studios for working artists and classrooms. Rotating art shows feature works by artists from the Mid-Atlantic region. Several galleries are available for private events, including the Tiffany Gallery with its panels of stained glass.
Built in 1918 to manufacture torpedoes (one is displayed on the first floor), the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Town is now the nation’s largest collection of working artists’ open studios under one roof. The former munitions factory retains its identity with exposed pipes, ductwork, and mushroom-shaped columns designed to send the roof flying upward should a torpedo accidentally detonate during its original use.
Along with browsing among the 82 studios for various mediums of art, groups can rent several spaces for private events surrounded by artwork. The main hall can host up to 400, while a third-floor space is designed for up to 50 or less. An outdoor brick patio with views of the Potomac River accommodates receptions for up to 350.
Spread over 117 acres in Vienna, Wolf Trap is best known as the majestic setting for a series of over 80 performances across all genres during the summer. Its main venue is the Filene Center, a stunning outdoor theater built of Douglas fir and southern yellow pine designed to be in harmony with its national park setting. Several outdoor terraces at the Filene Center, as well as the Meadow Pavilion, are available for private receptions before performances.
Wolf Trap also offers a choice of other venues for private events, with some available on a year-round basis. These include The Barns at Wolf Trap, two restored 18th century barns with audiovisual capabilities, service kitchens and dressing room facilities. The English Barn is an intimate space for seminars and smaller meetings while the larger German Barn is an acoustically sophisticated auditorium for gatherings of up to 400 people. Another indoor option is the Center for Education at Wolf Trap, a complex of meeting rooms and a lecture hall with fixed seating suitable for multimedia presentations.
The Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton is a working arts studio, performance and exhibition space located in a historic building that was once a correctional facility. Detainees once held there included 168 suffragettes from the National Woman’s Party arrested for picketing the White House for women’s voting rights. Today the center houses more than 150 working artists and welcomes visitors to tour the studios, participate in arts classes and workshops, and attend musical theater performances.
Event rental areas include the McGuire Woods Gallery, which features large windows, hardwood floors, an audio system and USB-compatible TV, and accommodates receptions for up to 200 guests. Other choices include Ritzer Pavilion, an events tent with removable side panels; Vulcan Muse, a space for small lectures and presentations; and W-3 Theater, which converts from a 100-seat theater to a banquet space for up to 50 guests.
Located on the main campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, the Center for the Arts Concert Hall is adaptable for uses that include conferences as well as symphonic, operatic and theatrical performances.
The nearly 2,000-seat venue features an expansive lobby available for receptions as well as a second-floor balcony area holding up to 125 for a seated meal. The facility also includes the 460-seat Harris Theater, a space conducive for speaking events as well as musical recitals.
This cinema theater complex in Fairfax’s hip Mosaic district offers eight auditoriums equipped with plush stadium seating, high-definition projectors, Dolby sound, customizable lighting, computer networking and projection, lecture podiums, set-ups for panel discussions and other amenities.
Along with traditional movie snacks, groups can enjoy global fusion cuisine created by chef Lee Anne Wong, a frequent competitor on the Top Chef TV series, in the theaters or the on-site cafe.
A popular dinner theater venue, Riverside Center presents Broadway-style productions preceded by a three-course plated meal served by wait staff. The 400-seat theater offers group ticket discounts and has scheduled evening performances on Thursday through Saturday and matinee performances on Wednesday and Sunday. Along with two function rooms accommodating up to 150 guests, Riverside can host large functions, including tradeshows, banquets for up to 675 people and meetings requiring videoconferencing support.
A landmark Art Deco former movie palace that opened in downtown Leesburg in 1932, Tally Ho Theatre was recently converted into a venue for live music, theater and event rentals. The facility accommodates up to 350 for a seated dinner and up to 600 for cocktails, and offers the ability to record events. Catering is provided by its affiliated restaurant Tally Ho Taco.
This timber-framed venue in Purcellville’s Franklin Park presents concerts and theatrical productions. The auditorium provides stadium seating for 263 people and there is also a 2,500-square-foot art gallery/lobby available for receptions.