Leslie Jacobson has always followed a certain philosophy in life.
"We should live life as if we have control over it, even if we don't," said Jacobson, founder and artistic director of Horizons Theatre, the nation's oldest continuing women's theatre. "That way, anything you can control, you'll be able to control."
It is this philosophy that has enabled Jacobson to keep Horizons Theatre up and running for the last three decades – no small feat considering how many small professional theater companies have popped up over the years.
"The landscape here in D.C. was very different 30 years ago," said Jacobson, who lives in McLean. "Now there are over 90 organizations that do theater every year, and just an astounding amount of theatrical activity … there are so many different places to choose from."
Jacobson grew up in New York, but moved to Washington D.C. after getting married in 1972. She had gotten her master's degree in directing and knew that she wanted to take advantage of the burgeoning theater scene in Washington. She also saw a void that needed to be filled.
"I think the landscape for women was much more limited, and there were very few community theaters of any kind doing plays that were written by women or directed by women," said Jacobson.
Looking back, Jacobson is often amazed at the longevity of the company she started so long ago.
"I think that any big endeavor that one undertakes is often like becoming a parent — if you knew how hard it was going to be, you would never have done it," said Jacobson. "I didn't anticipate that there would be 30 years to look back on … it's been very difficult, and it is the kind of thing where from year to year you're never sure what's going to happen."
Despite the struggles of keeping Horizons alive, Jacobson has no doubt in her mind that it has been a task that has been well worth all the hard work.
"I don't think that the kinds of plays we're attracted to, and the kinds of projects we're attracted to, don't need to be done," said Jacobson. "That is to say that I think what we're doing is important. I feel as if we're contributing to the human dialogue about a lot of important things in life."
HORIZONS THEATRE will launch its 30th season this month with "Still Going Solo," a showcase of four dynamic one-woman performances that "explore the mind, body, spirit and voice of womanhood." The repertory is building on the success of Horizon Theatre's 2004 showcase "Going Solo."
"At that time we had four performance pieces, and one of them was done every night, and then the sort of second act of the evening rotated between a cabaret performance and a movement piece, and then one other solo performance piece," said Jacobson. "I think that for any artist, being able to do a solo piece is a wonderful opportunity to show your versatility and really express yourself as an artist — and I think for women it can be particularly compelling because often the roles that women get to play in theater and society can be limiting, particularly since theater is often a reflection of society."
The four distinct performances of "Still Going Solo" include "Bulletins from Fatland," "Communion," "Deep Thoughts and Dark Chocolate" and "Frida Vice-Versa." The shows explore topics such as body image and familial, political and societal relationships. In "Bulletins from Fatland," Reston resident Caren Anton takes on the roles of several different female characters, including a female sumo wrestler, an African American pastor, an East London housewife and a Big Easy waitress — all of whom are struggling with body image, acceptance and redemption.
"I've done 'Bulletins from Fatland' a few times over the past couple of years — but as a stage reading — so this is very different and somewhat daunting," said Anton. "It explores several different characters … I do about eight different women in this show, so I'm finding in rehearsal now that I'm completely exhausted by the time it's over — both mentally and physically."
However, Anton said that she also knows that "opportunities like this don't come along for actors everyday."
"I'm thrilled and very grateful to Horizons for giving me the opportunity to do this," said Anton. "That's what Horizons is all about — the things that women speak to, and go through and feel."
ANTON FIRST started working with Horizons Theatre 15 years ago, after getting cast in one of the company's shows. The experience was so positive and so rewarding that Anton decided to get more involved with Horizons.
"I guess because it was my first experience in a women's theater, I immediately sensed the difference," said Anton. "There was just something very compassionate and nurturing about the whole experience, and I just felt that this was something that I wanted to stay a part of."
Anton has been an artistic associate for Horizons Theatre for several years, and also took on the role of business manager for two years. For now though, she is focused on preparations for "Bulletins from Fatland."
"For the moment this is enough because this is a huge, huge undertaking for me," said Anton.
In "Still Going Solo" the piece "Communion," by Kumani Gantt and Vanessa Thomas, deals with how women handle the intersection of spirituality and sexuality.
"That show is looking at all the things that we lay on women from religion — that she must be pure, or that she is the source of all sin as Eve — and how all that is reconciled to the things that women want, like love and childbearing," said Jacobson. "Each of these shows that we are doing to launch this 30th year connect somehow to ideas and issues that we've been grappling with since we've started."
Horizons Theatre will continue its 30th season with "And The Rest Is Silence," a play conceived and directed by Leslie Jacobson and Vanessa Thomas that sheds light on the inner thoughts and emotions of some of William Shakespeare's female characters who remain silent at critical moments during their plays. In addition, the final production of the season will be the world premiere of "The Mother/Daughter Project," which consists of three short plays that explore the tensions between mothers and daughters struggling between generations and cultures.
LESLIE JACOBSON plans to keep running Horizons until she no longer feels like it is what she needs to be doing. However, she does not imagine that such a moment will come in the near future.
"People like to use terms like 'post-feminism' and 'post-modernism,' meaning that everything is solved and everything is great … but of course that isn't true," said Jacobson. "If you look at American politics and religion, you can see that women still have a long way to go … and unfortunately women still don't make the same amount of money as men for the same job."
Since Jacobson started Horizons Theatre to "explore changing gender roles in contemporary life," there is still plenty of fodder for the professional theater company.
"I think that there are ways that men and women are different and unique, and it's interesting to explore the ways that they are different and the way that they are the same — and the way that our society responds to gender," said Jacobson.
Caren Anton attributes the success of Horizons Theatre to Jacobson's steadfast dedication.
"She is sticking with projects that she believes in," said Anton. "Nothing has the staying power of Horizons … it's very tough — the competition for audiences now is enormous and the quality of theater in Washington has become so much better, but we think we have an audience."