Members to Test Their Acting Mettle in Benefit

Posted April 11, 2008 at 4:57pm

With scripted monologues, house lights and microphones, the floor of the House may not seem much different than a real stage. But tonight, some Representatives will get to experience the real deal on the Arena Stage.

A cast starring Members of Congress, local politicians, athletes and television personalities will appear tonight as part of the theater’s 16th annual fundraiser to benefit Arena’s Community Engagement, an initiative to bring the arts to underprivileged children. The evening’s performance usually raises more than $300,000 to benefit more than 20,000 Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia children by providing them with opportunities like discounted or free tickets and transportation to Arena Stage productions.

Members slated to appear in the production of “Play On!” include Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Tom Davis (R-Va.). Other cast members on the bill are Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), WJLA’s entertainment reporter Arch Campbell, WNBA President Donna Orender and Tim Gunn, a TV personality best known for his role in the fashion reality show “Project Runway.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) has participated in the fundraiser before and said she’s not nervous about the bright lights of the stage.

“Going on the House floor is a performance,” she said.

She added that she would like to see more children get the opportunity to experience art and cultural events, including the productions of the Arena Stage.

“We’ve got to develop a sense of literature and drama in kids early,” she said, characterizing Arena Stage’s offering as “the pick of the litter.”

“Play On!” is an original one-hour play written by James Magruder specifically for the night’s fundraiser. The plot revolves around a Cinderella-like character who is athletically inept and surrounded by evil, athletic step- relatives. Cinderella finds her footing in the Scranton Olympics when the prince chooses her in a tryout over all of the other contestants.

Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) participated in last year’s fundraiser, and he and his wife, Peggo Horstmann Hodes, a professional vocalist, will also appear on stage tonight.

“I’m very happy being on stage. I don’t get nervous for this type of thing,” said the Congressman, a guitarist.

He said he has a copy of the script but has yet to be cast in a specific role. Still, he and his wife are planning to make a special vocal performance.

Preparation for the production happens just hours before the cast members actually step on stage. The cast reads the script aloud from the book and costumes are usually minimal, said Joe Salasovich, the costume shop manager.

“It’s tailored to the participants, so it’s exciting depending on who is gracious enough to participate,” Salasovich said.

Salasovich said Monday will be “a frenzy of a day” and that any costume alterations such as letting out seams has to happen hours before the show.

Despite the grueling last-minute work, Salasovich said that the Community Engagement fundraiser is one of his favorite events.

“[The] benefit is not only one of the most fun things we do every year, but it’s also the most important,” he said.