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Arena’s All-Star Benefit Is Monday

Imagine a place deep in the wilderness where political pundits gather every summer for a very special camp, weaving lanyards, singing around the campfire and, most importantly, honing their skills for their return to Washington, D.C. Now imagine these campers find out their summer hideaway is about to be sold and must devise a plan to prevent its seizure.

This imaginative scenario sets the stage for the 15th Annual Arena benefit production “Camp Wannabeapolitiki.” The event intends to deliver its normal dose of zany performances by a host of notables from all areas of the political arena. According to Kirstin Lunke, media relations manager for Arena Stage, some noteworthy figures involved in this year’s event include Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and CBS News correspondent Bob Schieffer.

Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit Arena Stage’s community outreach programs, which include literacy and after-school programs as well as outreach to young people in pediatric AIDS care.

Anita Maynard-Losh, director of community engagement for Arena Stage, said the organization’s outreach programs help more than 20,000 students in a year. She added that the upcoming benefit is the “biggest fundraiser we have that specifically targets community engagement programs.” Last year, the benefit raised $286,910. [IMGCAP(1)]

This year the benefit will take place at the Mandarin Oriental hotel and will consist of a dinner, the play and the presentation of two awards: the American Voice Award, which will be presented to Norton, and the American Artist Award, presented this year to the theater’s co-founder, Zelda Fichandler.

Harry Bagdesian, playwright and director for this year’s production, has been involved in a number of celebrity productions, including last year’s Arena Stage event, and also is credited with founding D.C.’s New Playwrights Theater. Bagdesian said he enjoys working with the Arena Stage event. “[The] goal is for the guests to have fun, as well as the audience to have a lot of laughs,” he said.

With a cast of highly active individuals with very little time for rehearsals, the practices and production of the play occur in the same day. Lunke said the play’s assembly is a process that “just has to be seen”: With the assistance of a “stage buddy” provided by Arena Stage and a script that is used during the performance, those on the cast come in on the day of the performance to walk through the show. Immediately before the performance, there is one final run-through and, Lunke noted, “for many of the participants, this is their first rehearsal.”

Those behind the Arena Stage scenes have come to love the unconventional way in which the production comes together. As Bagdesian noted, “you learn to take a lot on faith. You trust that the energy in the room and the guests’ excitement is going to bring an energy to the performance.”

For more information or to obtain tickets to “Camp Wannabeapolitiki,” call 202-544-9066, ext. 266 or e-mail

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