The young theater company’s performance space, The Basement, is an intimate setting that reenvisions black box theater through a fluid, moveable space. “We try to create this eavesdropping experience for the audience where they feel like they’re in on what’s happening,” he says.
Deejay hopped only a few blocks from that space to Lift Coffeeshop to share his love of Richmond. Since he lives above the theater, he jokes that there are many days he doesn’t leave the neighborhood.
“I feel Richmond is on the precipice of something exciting,” Deejay says. “When you have a community where there are so many institutions of higher education, there tends to be a youth quake that includes more inclusive spaces, more forward thinking and more progress.”
Although he grew up just outside of Richmond and stayed in Virginia for college, he went to Mississippi after graduation for a year-long internship at New Stage Theater - the only regional theater in the state. He says it was an opportunity to build his chops in acting, directing and teaching.
“At that point, Mississippi was one of the least funded states in education,” he says. “It was exciting to go to this state and work in afterschool programming to build the community’s spirit while learning more about theater.”
He returned to Richmond at 22 with the idea of spending time with family before moving to New York. “I thought I knew everything,” he said.
After stage managing a show at Firehouse Theatre Project, he became fascinated with the Richmond theater community. “It was small enough to have a presence and not large enough where I wouldn’t meet everyone in the room.”
After working with Firehouse’s founding director Carol Piersol, he felt encouraged to start TheatreLAB to experiment with more evocative pieces. Firehouse acted as the incubator for the project before it branched out.
To give you an idea of the performances TheatreLAB brings to Richmond, the company produced Hedwig and the Angry Inch just a few seasons ago and will be bringing Heathers The Musical to the stage this summer.
TheatreLAB collaborates with the Richmond Triangle Players on a program called Spectrum. This program reaches out to build confidence in queer youth through theatre.
“If 15-year-old Deejay could jump into this program it would have empowered me in ways that I didn’t get to experience in high school when I was trying to figure it all out,” he says.
Now, he’s also the vice president for the Richmond Theatre Alliance. “Theater is no longer the biggest secret in Richmond.”
Richmond is a city full of collaboration and growth according to Deejay. With the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art joining the landscape with the University of Richmond’s downtown campus, there’s more foot traffic that brings new business.
“I think the whole rebranding of RVA has been an exciting and significant change in the city," he says. "RVA now knows who she is.”
One of the things Deejay was not expecting when he moved downtown was a built-in community and neighborhood. “I see so many similar faces up and down the street when I have my breakfast coffee,” he says. “I’m a smile and nod kind-of-guy up and down the street.”
Deejay’s Richmond Itinerary
- Lucy’s — I love the atmosphere. It’s very intimate. It’s easy to feel like you are having a meal at home and I really like their brunch a lot.
- Mama J’s — I mean… come on. The catfish bites are slap your mama good. You go and get one of everything on the menu, then you die of happiness. It’s so good and what a great environment!
- Perly’s — I just want a few orders of those potato and duck perogies. I’ve been doing the good and bad thing of going to Perly’s for almost all my coffee meetings in the mornings. It’s always packed especially if you try to go to brunch.
- Pop’s Market — They have the best biscuits and gravy you’ll ever have. They always run out on the weekend., We’ll wake up on a Saturday and Sunday and call ahead to make sure they still have then, then they’ll set an order aside.
- Pasture — Pasture to me is for pimento cheese and ham. And please can I have all of the Ritz Crackers? For a long time, it was my go-to happy hour spot. It’s a different way to enjoy comfort food and just a great downtown experience.
- Wong Gonzales - I don’t know if you’ve gotten the Fiesta Bites, but you have to. It’s chicken tossed in a spicy seasoning. It’s also got a nice nightlife feel.
- Virginia Museum of Fine Arts - I just joined the VMFA and the Valentine. I’m really trying to up my cultural appreciation. I always love going to these places and getting a membership is so easy and affordable.
- Broad Street - If there’s a First Friday Art Walk, there’s always something to see. I’m blown away by how many amazing galleries there are on Broad Street. There’s an amazing vintage store that just opened called 68 Home.