Dock of the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 24
June 15-21, 2000
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Colonial Players Stages ‘Promising Playwright’s’ Premiere

photo by Pat Browning
In Frances Huxley’s original, prize-winning two-act comedy, Flowering Spurge, George Spurge, played by Frank B. Moorman, blooms after being abandoned by his wife. Among his new-found suitors are, from left, Julie Bacot, Anna Walker and Joan Ashwell.

“It Had to Be You” and “That Old Black Magic” weave their spell through a darkened theater. The mood is romantic as the lights come up to blooms everywhere. The Flowering Spurge, winner of Colonial Players’ 1999 Most Promising Playwright Contest is about to play its world premiere.

If you’re an aspiring playwright whose work hasn’t been produced elsewhere or copyrighted, this contest could be your way to be discovered. As it is for Frances Huxley, whose first full-length play comes to life in Colonial Players’ theatre-in-the-round this weekend and next.

Her comedy triumphed over 62 other two-act plays. Most came from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York; only a couple came from Maryland. As fits the name “Colonial,” the promising playwright contest is open to any writer living in states that were part of the original 13 colonies.

Huxley journeyed to Maryland from her Massachusetts home soon after casting for The Flowering Spurge was completed. She visited with actors and the director, Lucinda Merry-Browne, then sent her suggestions by e-mail. Huxley returns to Annapolis to attend the closing performance the evening of June 24.

Fran Marchand, coordinator of the contest, says that producing a winning play in June builds on the playwright’s enthusiasm in winning the contest, open from September 1 to December 30, 2000, this year, and takes advantage of the dark theater in summer.

The triumphant playwright’s wonder in listening to her original words spill across the stage is not her only reward. The contest carries a further monetary award of $750.

Marchand, however, believes that it’s not the money that attracts contestants but the love of writing and hope for seeing their play produced in a polished setting in front of live audiences. Colonial Players has attracted full audiences for these new plays. In the competitive field of play writing, exposure carries clout.

Huxley’s The Flowering Spurge is a gentle comedy of love, marriage, unmarriage and growth. Of the five main characters — contest rules stipulate not more than 10 — George Spurge is the only male role. After his wife Flora leaves him, the talents unappreciated by his spouse attract women of varied talents and charms. George blooms before our eyes, as do his tenderly cared for flowers. His gardening, cooking and physics profession are finally valued.

Director Merry-Browne loves the zaniness of the play, which she chose as her first to direct for Colonial Players. A long-time theater pro with credits that include acting, directing and teaching, Merry-Browne says she fell in love with the complexities of the characters and the clever script.

In its mission to encourage artistic endeavors, Colonial Players not only produces new works but also garners coveted honors from performing in area festivals. The most recent accolades are Maryland One-Act Festival and Eastern States Regional Theatre Association Festival awards for Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story. Honored were director Mickey Handwerger and actors James Gallagher and Joan Fontana.
Colonial Players’ theater-in-the-round is a place to weave spells, whether the magic is made by well-known playwrights during the regular season or aspiring playwrights in the summer off-season.

Learn more about the Promising Playwright Contest: Frances Marchand, Coordinator, The Colonial Players, Box 2167, Annapolis Maryland 21404 • ppcrul2k.doc

Flowering Spurge plays in six evening and matinee performances June 16-24: 410/268-7373 (details in “Good Bay Times).

—Carol Glover

For 31 Years, Sandy Speer Had Our Number

photo by M.L. Faunce
Retired demographer Sandy Speer kept tabs on Anne Arundel County.

Alexander ‘Sandy’ Speer counted heads and more during his 31-year career as Anne Arundel County demographer. He quantified things. All kinds of things. Recently retired from the job some might call dry as dust, Sandy Speer knew otherwise. “When you quantify things, you can say something is,” he told Bay Weekly.

The soft-spoken man described by colleagues as a “gentleman” often wore a smile. Maybe it was the sweet bottled ‘voodoo punch’ he sipped in the morning while other office mates chugged coffee and tea. Maybe it was because he knew that demographics foretell the future in a “somewhat reliable way.” To all who rely on statistics for their planning — government, business, hospitals, fire departments, schools — such words are reassurance in an unsure world.

Foretelling the future gave Speer, he said, “the ability to answer people’s questions — for whatever purpose.”

And questions he got, all the time — from housewives, bureaucrats, firefighters, police, developers. Some questions were odd: like how many raccoons there were in the county. Speer could answer most of them, though he had never counted raccoons.

Jim Cannelli, deputy director of the county’s Department of Planning and Code Enforcement, recalls the extra hours Speer gave to non-profit organizations. He served on the board of directors for the American Red Cross for many years, worked with the Cancer Task Force and counseled countless area churches. “There always seemed to be a pastor coming in the door to get statistics on where to move an old church or locate a new one,” Cannelli said. “He’d always go the extra mile to help them.”
You’re wondering what exactly is demographics?

Speer told us in his usual meticulous way: “It’s a discipline concerned with the size, distribution, structure and change of population in a narrow sense — and in a more broad sense with additional characteristics of population such as race, ancestry, language, marital status, family status, literary, educational attainment, occupation, industry and household income.”

Talk face to face with the man, and you can almost see numbers swirling in his head like sugar plums, suspended in space somewhere between his dreamy eyes and fertile mind. Ask him a question, like the county’s population, and the numbers slide off his tongue like honey: “(about) 485,800 persons.” Or about this distribution thing: “The population is arranged into 82 census tracts, 40 zip codes, 16 small areas,” he explains. Speer is a walking (information please).

In 31 years, he participated in four census counts — “the benchmark of all our data,” he says — three general development plans and the county’s master plan for sewer and water. From May 4, 1969 to May 1, 2000 — his employment dates with the county after migrating here from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania —here’s what he told us has changed:

  • Anne Arundel County’s population increased from 288,903 to 485,800: a 68 percent increase.
  • The average daily traffic on Route 50 at the Prince George’s border increased from 18,519 to 70,875. That’s an increase of 52,356 trips or 283 percent. (Now you know why it seems like you’re standing still instead of driving.)
  • Median household income rose from $9,551 to $68,000. (So what are you doing with all that surplus cash in your pocket?)
  • Public school enrollment has had small ups and downs. From 70,824 in September 1969, it climbed to 78,323 in 1973, dropped to 63,781 in 1984 — and in 2000 will be (as in “foretells the future”) 75,366.

Cannelli and colleagues chuckle about Speer’s meticulous characterization of growth and development in Anne Arundel County. Graphics describing the effect of different periods — baby boom, baby boom echo, baby boomlet — were a staple in all his presentations.

Speer could teach his former colleagues their own history: “PACE staff stood at 18 in 1969 when I arrived,” he says, “and currently stands at about 250 — though admittedly some through consolidation.” Reminds us of a quote often used at election time: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Or 31 years ago?

Newer colleagues won’t remember how the work was compiled back then: “By hand” Speer said. He got his first PC in 1983 and calls himself “a bit of a dinosaur for still using Lotus 1-2-3.”

The “mountain-high stacks” recalled by colleague Jean Tinsley on Speer’s desk are gone now. He won’t be in to bring in steamed shrimp for office lunches.

The man who came to the office every morning fortified with two bags of pretzels in his brief case will be missed, says co-worker Ramona Plociennik. She remembers the crisp shirt and tie, he always wore, even on dress-down Fridays, but particularly the smile always on his face.

The man Cannelli calls the “most knowledgeable source inside and outside of county government for demographic and statistics about the county and its communities” has moved on. He left figures that speak for themselves — telling us where we’ve been for 31 years and foretelling our future.
We know who we are thanks to Sandy Speer.

—M.L. Faunce.

In Anne Arundel and Calvert, Cash and Honor for Preservation

photo courtesy of Historic Annapolis Foundation
Maynard-Burgess House, in Annapolis’ historic downtown, was owned by African American families from 1847 to 1900.

With the first millennium Anno Domini on its way out, local preservationists are making sure our landmarks and artifacts don’t leave along with it. Now at least five such mementos in Anne Arundel and Calvert Counties won’t be making that trip.

Maynard-Burgess House, in Annapolis’ historic downtown, is being restored by the city into a museum devoted to the life of local African Americans before and after the Civil War. A simple house clad in wood siding, it’s unique among historic homes in a city known for colonial brick. Making it rarer still is that it was home to two successive free black families from 1847 to 1900. Restoration of its interior is helped by a recent $22,500 grant from the Save Maryland’s Treasures program.

In Solomons, Calvert Marine Museum’s Wm. B. Tennison still needs a lot of tender loving care. The bugeye buyboat turns 101 this year and remains one of the world’s last remaining log-hulled vessels. Another recent Save Maryland’s Treasures grant gifted $10,000 to help rescue its uncommon pine log hull from rot.

Two sites in North Beach won their owners Historic Preservation Awards from Calvert’s Board of Commissioners for “protecting and preserving the cultural heritage of Calvert County.” Gary and Betty Carlson Jameson were honored for their delicate treatment of Cadydid, a 1909 frame summer home that harks back to the town’s glory days. Also in North Beach, The Pop’s Furniture Company building was hailed for town developer Ronald Russo’s plan to rescue it from a mask of formstone and artificial siding. Underneath is a shop dating from 1920.

Farther afield, Linthicum’s Historical Electronics Museum readies to restore America’s first operational radar. The Signal Corps Radar-270, built in Baltimore between 1941 and 1943, is of the same technology that detected the incoming Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A grant of $10,000 from Save Maryland’s Treasures is helping to keep this blip from fading.

Unfortunately, some 400 other blips are in danger of disappearing. So says the Save Maryland’s Treasures program — a partnership of Maryland 2000, the Maryland Historical Trust and Preservation Maryland. Together they’ve catalogued Maryland’s threatened and historically important buildings, sites, artifacts, monuments and documents. From their list, 18 such treasures were picked for a total $465,000 in grants.

Though only a lucky few won out, the money will help projects ranging from archeological excavations at Harriet Tubman’s birthplace, near Cambridge, to restoring the main deck and outer hull of the nation’s oldest operating steam tugboat in Baltimore.

The Save Maryland’s Treasures triumvirate expires come New Year with the demise of Maryland 2000, though organizers don’t plan on letting the other 400 treasures go forgotten. “We’ll be giving a list of all the nominees to the governor,” says Maryland 2000’s Christine Duray, “so that hopefully, maybe we can save these places.”

—Mark Burns

Feeling Lost? Improved GPS Gives ‘Dead Reckoning’

photo by Mary Catherine Ball
Steve Felix of Tri-State Marine, shows off some of the boat dealership’s Lowrance GPS models.

Find your place in the world, literally.

You can now pinpoint your location within 30 feet. As long as you’re using a Global Positioning System, you can tell more nearly than ever before where, precisely, you are.

GPS works by measuring distances between satellites in orbit and a receiver on or above the earth. The receiver then computes “spheres of position” from those distances.

The intersection of those spheres determines the general position of the receiver. You hold the receiver, a video screen in a little black box, that can be mounted or held in your hand.

Until last month, you could find your global position only within 300 feet. GPS wouldn’t be any more specific. But there was a reason for the inaccuracy. The Department of Defense called it “selective availability.”

When GPS was unveiled by the government for civilian use in the early ’80s, “selective availability” was imposed to deny terrorists the benefits of accurate GPS.

As a result, we good guys lost out, too.

To achieve pinpoint accuracy in the past, you needed a Differential GPS, which used a second receiver to compute corrections to the GPS satellite measurements.

For boaters, that meant spending an extra $300 for a special DGPS receiver or DGPS capability upgrade.

So for over 15 years, boating advocates like BoatU.S. lobbied for total GPS accuracy for civilians.
It’s finally paid off.

As of May 1, the government eliminated selective availability on the nation’s Global Positioning System.

“We are elated that boaters will no longer need to pay this extra cost for the accuracy and precision of GPS that has been available all along,” said BoatU.S. lobbyist Elaine Dickinson.

Those expensive DGPS receivers continue to work just fine. Boaters will also find improved accuracy in their regular GPS. You don’t need to buy a new receiver to get the benefit.

—Matthew Thomas Pugh

Way Downstream …

In Virginia, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission recommended that the Commerce Department shut down the horseshoe crab fishing industry. Virginia stubbornly refuses to comply with multi-state cutbacks to prevent the 30-million-year-old horseshoes from becoming extinct …

In Washington, the Phoenix Park Hotel had four special guests last week: a flamingo, a red rat snake, an armadillo and an osprey. They were in town for the “Annual Great Arboretum Cookout” — but organizers promised they would be spectators, not entrees …

In Pennsylvania, the Beck family in the town of Howard awakened last week to a strange sight: a deer taking a bubble bath in their hot tub. Authorities said the deer had knocked over a bottle of bath foam while climbing in. The clean and sweet-smelling deer was captured by a game warden and released …

In Brazil, a court last week convicted a rancher of ordering the assassination in 1991 of Amazon environmental activist Expedito Ribeiro de Souza, who fought to prevent destruction of the Amazon Rain Forest. One of the men who carried out the murder escaped from prison and a second man was paroled …

Our Creature Features comes from Manitoba, Canada, where you can spend your vacation watching the world’s biggest gathering of snakes.

Over 70,000 black-and-gray garter snakes slither in pits near the town of Narcisse, a tiny farm town. The four dens of snakes are described by Reuters news agency as “smelling of serpents and swamps.” They are fenced off now to keep back the 20,000 tourists who travel to see them.

“There’s nothing like this anywhere in the world,” said herpetologist Robert Mason.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly