WASHINGTON - Joel Markowitz has always been a theater buff. After seeing countless community and professional theater productions through the decades, he decided to showcase the arts on a website – which eventually became DCMetroTheaterArts.org.
"Community theater around here is outstanding,” Markowitz said. “People don't know about it."
He forged connections and friendships quickly, and maintained them through the years – a fact not lost on his friends.
"He has schmoozed all of the famous people,” explained John Stoltenberg, a longtime friend who became a contributor to DCMetroTheaterArts.org in recent years.
He described Markowitz as demanding at times, but someone whose heart is always in the right place.
Markowitz has also developed a reputation as someone willing to help aspiring young theater professionals looking to make career connections.
Stoltenberg said, “I rarely write about a young actor, but [Joel] will say, ‘Oh, I helped that actor out when he was 12!’”
In a perfect world, Markowitz’s site would last as long as his passion for theater burned bright. But life had other plans. About a month ago, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“Here we are. ALS is not a fun thing. There is no cure. There is very little medicine,” he said.
But Markowitz isn’t sharing his story in the hopes of soliciting financial assistance. Instead, he is sharing his story because he sees his legacy as maintaining his website beyond his time on Earth.
Friends like Stoltenberg are working to do just that.
"A group of writers, some 30 of us, came together and we’re building the infrastructure to keep the site going, which isn’t easy,” said Stoltenberg. “I don't know how many Joels there are. I think he clones himself. He works 24 hours a day it seems.”
The news of Markowitz's diagnosis also spurred the local theater community into action. On May 1, MetroStage in Alexandria, Virginia, plans to present him with their Gary Maker Award, given yearly to honor those to have enriched the D.C. theater scene. The event will coincide with a fundraising cabaret.
As for the reaction, Markowitz is taking it all in stride.
"Some of my friends are thrilled I'm not talking as much,” he said. “But my job is to speak on the phone. And it's very discouraging, but I'm working my *** off on the site. They haven't been able to get rid of me, but they have tried!"
He knows there is a fight ahead, but one he plans to face head on.
"I want to survive as long as I can, but the legacy is very important,” said Markowitz. “The whole generation, they love what we do. It's important to keep it going."