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The Studio Theatre’s Real World House

by Lark Turner

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The renovated downstairs area.

A block on the southern end of Columbia Heights got about a dozen new residents at the end of 2013, and they’re all living in the same house. Most of them are just out of college. And apparently, the neighborhood is happy to have them.

The tenants of the Clifton Street home, now known as Butler House, are apprentices at Studio Theatre, the theater company headquartered at 14th and P Street NW that’s been part of the fabric of DC’s theater scene since 1978. The apprentice program recruits young talent to help the theater run everything from its production to its facilities, and for years the apprentices resided at a house at 17th and Corcoran Streets NW. But as the theater’s success grew, so did the apprenticeship program.

Though the old space on Corcoran was ideally located close to the theater, Liz O’Meara Goldberg, a Studio Theatre spokeswoman, said it wasn’t working.

“We kept adding more apprentices,” she said. “The space was outdated.”

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So in 2012, the theater bought the Clifton Street house for $876,066. The 3,100 square foot property had seven bedrooms and five and a half baths when it was purchased. Now, following a renovation, it’s a purpose-built house with 14 bedrooms and six bathrooms, somewhere between a dorm and an apartment for the 12 apprentices who currently call it home. The renovation, including furnishings, cost $918,267, of which $769,115 were construction costs. The home and renovations were paid for in part by donors to the theater’s Next Act fundraising campaign. The Corcoran Street house will be renovated and used as actor housing in the future.

It took about 18 months to finish the top-to-bottom renovation, Goldberg said. An architect and design team stripped the home, outfitted the basement with three bedrooms and a full bath, and created a central hangout space and decked-out kitchen on the main floor, along with an accessible bathroom and bedroom. The kitchen has two large side-by-side fridges, two dishwashers and two microwaves to accommodate the appetites of a dozen apprentices. Upstairs are two more floors, each with five bedrooms and two bathrooms. The apprentices have a chore chart and on a recent weekday, the house was surprisingly clean.

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One of the house’s 14 bedrooms after the renovation.

Two of this year’s apprentices said they appreciate their new digs, which come furnished and are provided as part of the program along with a biweekly stipend.

“We’re partly paid in housing,” said Chelsea Wells, a communications apprentice from California. “It makes it doable for all of us.”

Goldberg said the Clifton Street neighbors never protested the coming of the apprentices, and another apprentice, Anderson Wells (no relation to Chelsea), said a few even stopped by to welcome them when they moved in. Then again, the apprentices work long hours.

“We understand that we can’t be up at 3 in the morning blasting Beyonce and partying, because we have to be up and working the next day,” said Anderson Wells, who’s from Baltimore and helps manage the theater’s acting conservatory and classes.

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The entrance following the renovation.

Still, the apprentices manage to have fun; you might find them in a pack walking up and down 14th Street or out grabbing drinks at Drafting Room near the theater. The mix of private single bedrooms and the downstairs social space makes it easy to get away when they’ve had too much of each other, Anderson Wells said.

“You come home and sometimes you’re thrust into a social event,” he said, “but you always feel free to leave.”

Here are some photos of the house before and during the renovation.


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The downstairs area before the renovation.
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The upstairs in the midst of renovation.

Photos courtesy of Studio Theatre.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/a_studio_theatre_house_is_home_to_12_apprentices/8366

4 Comments

  1. z said at 11:44 am on Friday April 18, 2014:

    So THESE are the people that are keeping Drafting Table in business.

    (snark aside…great story!)

  1. Andrew said at 12:03 pm on Friday April 18, 2014:

    The trooooo story! of seven strangers, picked to live in Columbia Heights

  1. Lowet said at 12:05 pm on Friday April 18, 2014:

    Very nice story and as a regular Studio patron, it is nice to see they are providing housing for their hardworking staff!

  1. Skidrowe said at 1:29 pm on Sunday April 20, 2014:

    A different spin on this story is Studio’s creation of this group house means 12 fewer people competing for the dwindling stock of affordable units in the City.  And/or 12 more people from the 99% living in a central location rather than suburban hinterlands—good for them (they get the lifestyle they want), good for the city (which gets their diversity and vivacity), and good for Metro (12 fewer commuters to overcrowd the trains!). And/or affordable housing creation with few apparent compromises in terms of architectural quality and character, presumably because the budget and aspirations of the client supported it.

    The City should encourage this kind of enlightened self-interest.  Bowser and Catania should be competing to out-do each other in praise of Studio and encouragement of other private and nonprofit entities to follow Studio’s example.  Who knows, maybe they’d even propose a modest incentive, such as elimination of permit fees for such efforts. 

    It’s much easier to like voluntary, charity-based creation of affordable housing (which is paid for by wealthy donors) than government-mandated creation of affordable housing (which is paid for by taxpayers, site owners, and market-rate renters & buyers).  The latter is still desperately needed, but to the extent that non-government entities also create affordable units, everyone comes out ahead.

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