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Shirlington-based Signature Theatre has announced a slew of new shows and events as part of a season-long tribute to Stephen Sondheim.

Earlier this week, the well-known local theater on Campbell Avenue released its show schedule for the upcoming season. It will feature a season-long tribute to the American musical icon Stephen Sondheim, who died last November.

The theater has produced 31 Sondheim productions in its history, more than any other theater in North America, per a press release from Signature.

So Many Possibilities: A Season of Sondheim” will include three all-new productions from Signature of Sondheim classics: “Into the Woods,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” and “Pacific Overtures,” a rarely-produced musical due to the need for specific casting and production demands.

The addition of three more shows will bring the total of Sondheim shows performed at Signature to 34, a press release notes.

As the American theater that has produced and championed more of Sondheim’s work than any other, Signature Theatre is proud to present So Many Possibilities in honor of his memory and in celebration of his unparalleled contribution to the American musical theater canon,” Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner said.

Along with three new fully produced musicals, there will also be a number of other events celebrating the lyricist. That includes book signings, sing-alongs, and a collective effort to sing (or speak) every lyric of every Sondheim song called “Sharing Sondheim.”

Signature Theatre opened in Shirlington nearly three decades ago, converting an old auto garage into a theater. In 2007, the theater moved about a quarter of a mile away into a $16 million space that was built in partnership with the county. Signature won the Regional Theatre Tony Award in 2009.

Signature Theatre’s show and event schedule through July 2023, from the press release, is below.

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Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation Director Jane Rudolph speaks to the Arlington County Board on Tuesday, Nov. 15 (via Arlington County)

Nine months after the summer camp registration process completely broke down yet again, the Arlington County parks department says it has identified ways to improve the process for summer 2023 and beyond.

Every year, parents get their clicking fingers ready to register at a given time — 7 a.m. for summer camps — and every year, error messages and spinning wheels thwart their ability to snag an enviable spot for their kids. In February, the Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation department promised new changes would ensure this didn’t happen again.

But it did. On Feb. 23, DPR says registration volumes caused a “system-wide failure” while parents reported long wait times for the call center. Frustrated moms and dads wrote to ARLnow, tweeted and brought their complaints to the Arlington County Board, which penned a lengthy statement about expectations for reforming the process — only for the platform to fizzle and call center to get overwhelmed three weeks later for spring class registration.

Over the last seven months, DPR reviewed what happened.

“Our registration system could not handle peak volume,” Director Jane Rudolph told the County Board on Tuesday. “We really don’t have a ton of staff who are skilled at that technology piece of knowing how to use the system, so we have a lack of redundancy on our side. We didn’t have a great crisis communications plan.”

It asked staff and two focus groups — the general public and specifically, families who report receiving registration fee reductions — about changes they would like to see. Mostly, people said “fix the system,” but some suggested different registration times and dates and requested improvements to registering multiple children.

Ahead of 2023 registration, DPR says technology provider Vermont Systems will modernize its platform, last updated in 2015, and introduce a virtual “waiting room” function to manage volumes. The parks department will allow families with documented hardships to register a week early and expand its call center from 50 lines to 100.

The “waiting room” functionality was first rolled out for fall class registration and seemingly solved the issue of the system crashing completely, though some parents still reported problems, including errors, slow load times and classes that seemingly filled up within a minute.

“We wanted to create a less stressful registration process, so that parents and caregivers can go into the summer being confident their kids will have a great experience at Arlington camps,” she said.

Other recommendations include:

  • beginning registration at noon on a weekday, rather than at 7 a.m.
  • splitting up registration for DPR-led and contracted-out camps
  • enforcing a stricter refund policy to discourage last-minute dropping out
  • increasing capacity at popular camps to upwards of 100 slots
  • adding more full-day, year-round offerings
  • reducing camps with low-enrollment, low-capacity or which run half-day
  • implementing a crisis communications plan

Board members welcomed the work, particularly the effort to improve access for underserved families.

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Teenagers can experience the life of an Arlington firefighter for a week.

Camp Heat, which aims to give teenagers a firsthand experience of being a firefighter, is now open for applications until June 30. Organized by the Arlington County Fire Department, the is scheduled to be held from Monday, July 18 to Friday, July 22, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

The camp is free and open to those between 15 and 18 years old, regardless of gender, though the camp was originally intended as a way to get girls interested in a firefighting career.

A total of 26 applicants will be selected to join, according to the online application form. The application deadline was originally on May 30, but it was extended partly because the camp itself was delayed, said lead coordinator Kristin Pardiny.

“It was supposed to be held in June when we first started planning, and then down at our fire training academy, we have a whole lot going on,” Pardiny said. “We realized it was gonna be too much of a logistical concern in June, so we moved it to July.”

She also hoped that by extending the deadline, more people would have the opportunity to apply.

During the five days of the camp, participants are scheduled to meet with “dynamic female leaders” in the fire department, participate in physical trainings and emergency simulations, listen to a panel of women public employees, as well as “experiencing the everyday life of a firefighter/EMT,” according to the camp’s website. The campers are set to interact with other firefighters and perform tasks related to firefighting, according to the application form.

Those interested need to fill out the application and complete a medical and physical examination.

“We have them write a short answer question in our application and they are asked about why they are interested in the camp and what women’s empowerment means to them,” Pardiny said.

Although not compulsory, the fire department would also look at why applicants may want to become a firefighter in the future. Local and first-time applicants are prioritized, Pardiny noted.

The selected campers are expected to bring their own blue pants, black belt and safety boots as part of the uniform. Because of the pandemic, campers need to check their temperatures at 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day of the camp and wear masks during the activities.

The camp was founded in 2013 to spark teenage girls’ interest in becoming firefighters and was only open to girls originally. However, since 2021, the camp has been open to all genders.

This change happened because the fire department believed all genders “must be involved in [the] conversation” in fulfilling the camp’s mission to “encourage and empower young women,” said Pardiny.

“While we’re interested in recruiting and empowering more women to join the fire service, we also are interested in recruiting more progressive and open-minded men as well,” she said. “There are many ways in which people identify nowadays and we want to ensure that we’re not excluding anyone in the conversation.”

Since the founding of Camp Heat, around 100 teenagers have participated in it and Pardiny knows of two campers who applied to be Arlington firefighters as well as several who ultimately became EMTs.

Only around 8% of firefighters in the U.S. in 2019 were women, according to a National Fire Protection Association report. Currently, out of the 340 firefighting and other employees in ACFD, about 33 firefighters are women, said Pardiny.

“While we of course hope that some may consider a future career in the fire service and when they consider that career, if they consider that career, we want them to view Arlington County as a top choice,” she said. “A lot of young people in Arlington County haven’t quite been exposed to the fire service and some have just never considered it.”

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The Enjoy Arlington 2022 spring catalogue (via Arlington County)

Waitlists, error messages and a call line 90 people deep thwarted Arlington residents’ attempts to enroll in spring classes through the parks department this morning (Wednesday).

The Department of Parks and Recreation offers a variety of classes in the spring, fall and winter that range from gymnastics and swimming to ceramics and jewelry making. The classes for kids are particularly popular with local parents. And registration day system failures — like those from opening day of summer camp registration — are not new for these classes, either.

Some compared the registration process to “getting front row Bruce Springsteen tickets” — to wit, “stressful and horrible.” Others likened it to the summer camp sign-up drama three weeks ago.

After summer camp registration crashed immediately upon opening the morning of Feb. 23 — despite attempts to beef up the platform in advance — parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish said the platform vendor conducted “tests and improvements that should have resulted in a smooth registration” on Wednesday morning.

That did not happen.

“This morning, Arlington County’s Department of Parks and Recreation saw slower than desired response times for the spring ENJOY Arlington class registration,” she said. “Even though we staggered class registration start times and limited user search capabilities, our vendor’s registration system could not handle the high registration volume.”

While the number of people competing for spots was high, it was still on par with prior first-day enrollments, she said.

Registration opened for gymnastics classes at 7 a.m., aquatics classes at 7:30 a.m., and all other classes at 8 a.m. Residents reported struggling to get their preferences despite having their fingers poised over their keyboards ahead of time.

DPR encouraged people to call the office for assistance with registration. The line was quickly swamped with callers, and while they waited, the online platform timed people out.

Those looking to enroll in just one class said even that was impossible.

Following today’s issues, some repeated their calls on the parks department to fix the system, or change it to a lottery process. Under that system, parents would not have to wake up early and register at lightning speed, but it would add uncertainty to their kids’ schedules.

An unscientific ARLnow poll found 41% of respondents support a lottery system, while 58% said DPR ought to keep the current process but get better technology or a new vendor. At least one resident suggested Arlington look to the tech giant Amazon, currently building its second headquarters in Pentagon City.

Last month, Board Chair Katie Cristol issued a statement responding to and echoing parent frustrations with the process for getting into camp. She said the Board told County Manager Mark Schwartz and department leaders it expects a “full reform of registration.”

She reiterated those sentiments in a statement to ARLnow Wednesday morning.

“We’re disappointed and frustrated, and this highlights the need for the total redesign of the registration process to which DPR has committed,” she said of today’s issues.

DPR will start reviewing its processes and solutions this spring, Kalish said.

A plan for improvements to next year’s registration process could be ready by September, DPR’s Director Jane Rudolph told the County Board yesterday (Tuesday) during a work session on the upcoming 2022-23 budget.

She told the Board that preventing future breakdowns “is our highest department-wide priority.”

The timeline for DPR’s review of registration (via Arlington County)

“As we know, the issue goes beyond just a technology solution,” she said. “We have a high demand and not enough supply for certain camps and for certain age groups.”

DPR is looking into increasing slots where demand is greatest: options for older toddlers and elementary school-aged kids, as well as sports and robotics programs, Rudolph said.

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Morning Notes

New signage for the soon-to-open Amazon Fresh store on Crystal Drive (photo courtesy David Johnston)

Post Office Naming Bill Introduced — “Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) today introduced legislation to rename the post office in Arlington on George Mason Drive (currently designated ‘Arlington Post Office’) after local letter carrier Jesus Collazos. Collazos immigrated to Northern Virginia from Colombia in 1978 and worked for 25 years as a USPS postal carrier in Arlington. He died of COVID-19 early in the pandemic.” [Press Release]

Police Hosting Summer Camps — “As part of our department’s key initiative of Community Engagement, the Youth Outreach Unit (YOU) works to proactively engage youth in Arlington through community-based outreach strategies. YOU Officers are excited to offer three camps focused on education, relationship-building and positive youth development while ensuring participants enjoy a fun-filled and safe summer.” [ACPD]

Join the Press Club — ARLnow wants to invest more in our local reporting and audience engagement, but we need your help to make it happen. Support local journalism by joining the ARLnow Press Club. As a bonus, you’ll also get our exclusive Early Morning Notes email, with a 3 a.m. “early edition” of this post and a preview of the stories we’re planning to cover that day, plus an early look at some of our feature stories. [ARLnow]

It’s Wednesday — Sunny in the morning, then becoming cloudy in the afternoon before rain overnight. High of 68 and low of 44. Sunrise at 7:19 am and sunset at 7:18 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Aerial view of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor at left, the Crystal City-Pentagon City corridor at right, and the Four Mile Run Valley at bottom (staff photo)

Man Tased After Columbia Pike Assault — “The suspect was inside of a business, acting disorderly and aggressive towards other patrons, when he allegedly approached the victim and struck him in the face. The victim sustained minor injuries and did not require medical treatment. Responding officers located the suspect, who continued to act disorderly and resisted arrest. A brief struggle ensued, during which the officer deployed a TASER, and the suspect was subsequently taken into custody without further incident.” [ACPD]

D.C. Also Has Camp Registration Drama — “Hey… it looks like DC is having similar problems with @VermontSystems as @ArlingtonVA had last week.” [Twitter]

Library Reads on the Ukraine Conflict — “Ukraine and Russia are top of the headlines around the world. Dig deeper into the two countries and their history in these books.” [Twitter, Arlington Public Schools]

Marymount Going Mask Optional — “On Monday, Marymount University announced to students, faculty and staff that the institution’s indoor mask requirement will no longer be in effect starting this Tuesday, March 1. This decision is based upon low COVID-19 metrics in Arlington County.” [Press Release]

On to States for W-L Boys Hoops — “The host South Lakes Seahawks played a part in the Generals’ failed attempt, winning that Feb. 25 boys 6D North Region tournament boys high-school basketball title contest, 56-47… Next for Washington-Liberty is the Virginia High School League’s Class 6 state tournament, with a first-round quarterfinal game against the undefeated Hayfield Hawks on March 4 or 5.” [Sun Gazette]

Beyer Wants to Nix Stadium Tax Break — “A Virginia congressman wants to sack a financial incentive package aimed at luring the Washington Commanders’ new stadium to the Commonwealth. U.S. Representative Don Beyer, a Democrat who represents Virginia’s 8th Congressional District in the heart of Northern Virginia, said stadium bond packages like the one working its way through the Virginia state legislature takes needed tax revenue out of the pockets of taxpayers all to benefit people who have more than enough money to build new stadiums on their own.” [WUSA 9]

Cherry Blossom Bloom Prediction — From the National Park Service: “We’re projecting cherry blossom peak bloom to fall between March 22 – 25 this year!” [Twitter]

It’s Wednesday — Sunny skies in the morning become partly cloudy. High of 60 and low of 40. Sunrise at 6:40 am and sunset at 6:03 pm. [Weather.gov]

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A man clicks a mouse (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class William Tracy)

Yet another year of summer camp registration drama is prompting action by the Arlington County Board.

The online registration system used by Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation again melted down as camp registration opened at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, despite efforts to beef up the systems this year.

Camp registration is competitive in Arlington, with parents jockeying for position to claim some of the prime camp slots the second registration opens. That makes it tough to keep up with demand, amid hundreds or even thousands of people trying to register at the same time.

At stake is not only enrichment opportunities for kids, but affordable de facto childcare for parents.

After another year of stories of frustrated parents spending an hour or more trying to get the registration pages to load, Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said the Board has “been in touch with the County Manager and department leadership about expectations for a full reform of registration.”

DPR will be “designing a new process” and the Board has “asked for details… including a timeline for implementation,” Cristol said in a statement she posted on social media.

What’s unclear is what a new registration system might entail.

One possibility is that the process remains competitive, with more robust technology preventing server crashes and those with quick clicking fingers continuing to get an advantage.

Another possibility, as suggested by some parents in the wake of last week’s fiasco, is a lottery system that would remove the need for parents to wake up early and try to register as quickly as possible, but would add some additional uncertainty to parents’ summer childcare plans.

In a lottery system, one might have to try to register for multiple camps in order to increase the odds of getting a given time slot. Then, they would have to cancel the registration for any duplicate entries. But if everyone adopted that strategy, it might lead to a chaotic registration process and make it hard for DPR to predict the true demand for a given camp.

Which do you think the parks department should choose?

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Morning Notes

Aerial view of Rosslyn (staff photo)

County Board Wants Camp Revamp — From County Board Chair Katie Cristol: “More from the Board on expectations for reforming summer camp registration, below. Importantly for this year: 6,000 spots are still open for this summer, and families who need DPR camp can continue to register online or w/ customer service team, [email protected]” [Twitter]

Jobs in Arlington Increase Slightly — “Year-over-year employment within Arlington County improved in the third quarter of 2021, according to new federal data, but lagged the overall national rebound. There were a total of 172,600 jobs recorded in Arlington for September 2021 by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and reported Feb. 23. That’s up 0.4 percent from a year before.” [Sun Gazette]

New ACPD K9 Graduates — From the Arlington County Police Department: “Join us in congratulating Cpl. Doescher & K9 Wilson on their graduation from basic patrol K9 school, which includes training on conducting building and area searches, advanced obedience and tracking!” [Twitter]

Yorktown Hockey Is Undefeated — “With blowout victories in their final two matches, the Yorktown Patriots completed their first undefeated regular season since 2003 with a 10-0 record in high-school club ice hockey. In its final match, Yorktown blanked Flint Hill, 10-1.” [Sun Gazette]

High School Hoops Update — “Two Arlington teams advanced to the semifinals and another lost in first-round action of the girls and boys 6D North Region high-school basketball tournaments the night of Feb. 22. Moving on are the Washington-Liberty Generals in boys action and the Yorktown Patriots in girls, each Liberty District tournament champions. The Wakefield Warriors (11-10) had their season end with a first-round 69-56 loss to the host Madison Warhawks in a boys game.” [Sun Gazette]

Va. ABC Removes Russian Vodka — “In the spirit of Gov. Youngkin’s call for decisive action in support of Ukraine, Virginia ABC is removing 7 Russian-sourced vodka brands from our store shelves. Russian-themed brands not produced in Russia like Stolichnaya and Smirnoff will not be removed.” [Twitter, Axios]

Nearby: Bailey’s Xroads Arson Suspect Sought — “Fire investigators are seeking the public’s help in identifying a person of interest related to a fire that occurred on Tuesday, February 22, at approximately 6:30 a.m., in the 5600 block of Columbia Pike.” [Twitter, Fairfax County Fire/Rescue]

It’s Monday — Clear throughout the day. High of 43 and low of 31. Sunrise at 6:43 am and sunset at 6:01 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Cover of Arlington’s 2022 Summer Camp catalogue

(Updated at 11:50 a.m.) Like death and taxes, Arlington summer camp registration drama is inevitable, despite efforts to avoid it.

This year, of course, was supposed to be different. This year, beefier systems and new monitoring tools were supposed to help avoid the technical meltdowns of past years.

But Arlington moms and dads and their fast clicking fingers are undefeated, instantly bringing down the Dept. of Parks and Recreation’s camp registration website when the virtual gates were opened this morning at 7 a.m.

“Pulled up the web page at 6:50 this a.m.,” one frustrated parent of a seven-year-old tennis enthusiast recounted to ARLnow this morning. “Found the only camp I was trying to register… Waited until 7:00 a.m. when registration opened and tried to register… [spent] 40 minutes trying to log in.”

Numerous others reported similar experiences. The lucky ones were able to register for some camps after nearly an hour of navigating various error messages.

“With so many two parent working families in this county, summer camps are child care — plain and simple,” another parent who reached out via email wrote. “How can a county that proclaims equity have such a crappy website that crashes when it comes to summer child care? Every single year this happens.”

That parent, who was also prepared in advance and started clicking at 7 a.m. on the dot, was only able to notch a hollow victory in her registration quest.

“I got [my daughter] into one [camp] after an hour of watching the wheel turn saying please wait, trying to add the camps to my cart only to get kicked out, and then the website timing out completely just as I was about to register,” the parent wrote. “She is now waitlisted for 4 of the 5 camps. I have no idea what I am going to do for childcare over the summer.”

The parks department was, as in years past, apologetic.

“Thank you for your patience,” DPR said in a message posted to it website. “Due to increased registration volume the system is performing slower than anticipated. DPR is working hard to address the problem. Please stay in queue. We are seeing registrations go through slowly and have been working with our vendor all morning.”

Late Wednesday morning, a parks department spokeswoman provided the following statement to ARLnow.

We understand how important summer camp is to Arlington families and we strive to make the customer experience positive from beginning to end. That clearly did not happen today. We apologize for the frustrating experience that many people had this morning trying to register for summer camp. The DPR team is working diligently to help enroll our customers who have been waitlisted or otherwise unable to successfully register this morning. 

Last year our contractor added resources to support an even higher transaction volume and implemented. However, this year due to substantially higher registration volume these efforts didn’t go far enough.    

DPR will do a full review of the summer camp registration process; this will include exploring both technology and operational solutions to provide a better registration process for 2023.

More parent accounts of this year’s registration issues are below.

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A man repeatedly clicks a mouse (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class William Tracy)

Get your clicking fingers ready, Arlington’s often competitive summer camp registration process will be opening next week.

Arlington’s parks and rec department has made some changes to try to ensure last year’s technical problems don’t happen again. The problems stem from a crush of parents all trying to register for limited camp slots at the same time.

“Summer Camp registration is the busiest registration for Arlington County Parks & Recreation,” department spokeswoman Susan Kalish tells ARLnow. “And for good reason. We provide more than 600 camps to our community, from classic camps to computing. We recognize the importance of providing options for our diverse community with indoor, outdoor and a combination.”

The camps this year run from June 21-Aug. 26. Registration for Arlington residents is set to open next Wednesday (Feb. 23) at 7 a.m., a month earlier than last year’s registration date.

“We have space for about 20,000 campers throughout the summer,” noted Kalish. “We anticipate about 50% of these spaces will be taken the day registration opens.”

Last year ARLnow heard from multiple people about the registration system going down shortly after opening. It was fixed an hour later, but not before considerable consternation among parents.

“The Arlington County Parks & Rec summer camp registration website was a total mess this morning,” a tipster told us at the time. “It opened at 7 a.m. for parents to register and immediately started crashing and timing out… I suspect there will be many angry parents this morning.”

It wasn’t the first time for such problems.

“Another epic registration system meltdown this morning for Arlington Parks & Rec summer camps,” said another tipster, referencing past issues. “Having an open comments section on this topic will drive significant traffic of all the parents who need to get out their rage after spending 1.5 hours on a platform that timed out repeatedly.”

Screenshot of the Arlington parks department camp registration going down in March 2021

The problems are also not unique to the parks department. Arlington Public Schools has repeatedly had issues with its similarly competitive extended day registration process.

This time around, county officials say the technology contractor used by DPR for camp registrations has beefed up their systems to account for the zeal with which Arlingtonians try to register at the earliest opportunity.

“To ensure we have the capacity to support community interest, our contractor has added resources to support an even higher transaction volume and implemented additional monitoring tools to provide more visibility into our software’s performance,” Kalish said.

“Camp registration is an all hands on deck event,” she added. “We pull in staff from various units to make sure it is as seamless as possible.”

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Morning Notes

Summer Camp Registration Woes — “There were technical problems with the online registration system for Arlington Dept. of Parks and Rec summer camps this morning, readers tell ARLnow. From a parks dept. spokesperson: ‘Our online registration system experienced some technical issues this morning during the first hour of registration, but it was fixed by approximately 8:05am. By noon, over 8,300 registrations were completed.'” [Twitter]

Reminder: HQ2 Phase 2 Meeting Tonight — “The County is kicking off a public review process for the proposed next phase of Amazon’s HQ2. Thursday at 6:30 p.m. join an virtual community meeting to learn more about the plan, how the review process works, and when you can share feedback.” [Twitter, Arlington County]

‘Our Revolution’ Joins Civic Federation — “You say you want a revolution? Upon further review, the Arlington County Civic Federation has decided… it does! At the organization’s March 13 meeting, a vote on the membership application of the left-leaning political group Our Revolution Arlington came up for consideration by federation delegates. The final vote was 40 to approve, 11 to reject, eight abstentions and one non-response.” [Sun Gazette]

New GOP Entrant in Delegate Race — “The district trends Democratic in the same way Chicago winters trend cold, but a Republican has stepped up with plans to contest the 45th House of Delegates district in November. J.D. Maddox, a small-business owner and former Central Intelligence Agency official, announced March 23 he planned to seek the seat currently held by Del. Mark Levine, a Democrat.” [Sun Gazette, ALXnow]

Death Penalty Repealed in Va. — “Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday signed legislation to officially abolish the death penalty in Virginia, making it the first Southern state to ban capital punishment. ‘Justice and punishment are not always the same thing, that is too clearly evident in 400 years of the death penalty in Virginia,’ Northam, a Democrat, said during remarks ahead of signing the legislation, saying that it is both the right and the moral thing to do.” [NBC News, Commonwealth of Virginia]

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