Dock of the Bay
Vol. 9, No.27
July 5-11, 2001
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For Talent Machine, the Show Goes On

Eyes on the Prize: The young performers of the Talent Machine Company perform the group’s original production, The Talent Machine, in honor of the Company’s founder, Bobbi Smith, who died last winter.
photo by Amanda Lofton

Bobbi was The Talent Machine Company,” explains Vicki Smith, the younger sister of the late director, Bobbi Smith, as she tapes a ‘reserved’ sign across the center seat in the front row of St. John’s College’s Key Auditorium. This is Bobbi’s seat, the one she occupied during the past 11 years of Talent Machine productions. It wouldn’t be right for someone else to fill it now.

But filling Bobbi’s role and carrying on her vision is exactly what had to be done if the company was to continue after her death in January. Who better to lead the way than Bobbi’s daughter, Lea Capps, with guidance and support from her aunt, Vicki Smith. Their decision to continue finds them here at St. John’s for the premiere of the company’s original show, The Talent Machine.

Moving on was no easy task, as Bobbi left big shoes to fill. “Bobbi was different things to different people. She was a mentor, a teacher and a surrogate mom,” says Donna Arbogast, chair of publicity and one of the 50-plus parent volunteers. “Her loss had a tremendous emotional impact on everyone.” As you’ll see in the program’s numerous dedications to Bobbi from the youth participants. One is Steve Love, 15, who in this production captures the role of a nerd who finds glory and respect: “I owe everything I’ve ever achieved to you, [Bobbi] … You’re in the front row of my life.”

So, Capps knew, “somebody” had to carry on Bobbi’s legacy. “The kids needed someone.”

More than just a place where children learn to sing and dance, the organization, Arbogast says, “gives kids a chance to be challenged and to build self esteem.”

It’s also, Capps adds, an environment that fosters lifetime friendships between people from many locations. “There are kids [who were once a part of the company] getting their Ph.D.s now who still keep in touch.”

So once again this year, 45 young people make up the Talent Machine, giving their “ability, confidence and hard work.” But now it’s Capps and Smith pouring in their time and expertise. With an impressive history in theatrical performance, Capps also manages to run a summer performing arts camp as well as, with Smith, Bobbi’s dance classes.

Capps’ ability to juggle these activities, a regular job and a family are the qualities that enable her to keep the high standards for performance and attitude that her mother set for the children. There may be a difference in Bobbi and Lea’s directing styles, Arbogast notes, but the high expectations, achievable through lots of teamwork, remain constant.

It’s teamwork you’ll see as these seven- through 17-year-olds demonstrate impressive vocal skills and intricate dance moves; on more than one occasion, girls are dramatically hoisted high in the air. This production of The Talent Machine, written by two of Bobbi’s friends and originally directed and choreographed by Bobbi, was performed almost annually before Broadway plays took favor. Capps thought this the appropriate time to restage the show and take the Company “back to the roots.” Many of the children were familiar with the play about searching for talent and finding it in oneself, so, Capps says, with everything else going on, it was one they could manage to perform well.

No one can take Bobbi’s place in Talent Machine Company. Her front row seat remains empty. But the production’s appealing set of downtown Annapolis harbor, the cute costumes and characters and the impressive abilities of each performer make for a night of entertainment that is, as Arbogast says, “a nice tribute to Bobbi.”

The Talent Machine plays through July 22, 7:30pm ThF, 6:30pm Su, 2pm July 15 & 22 @ Francis Scott Key Auditorium, St. John’s College, Annapolis. $9: 410/956-0512.

- Amanda Lofton

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Into the Water, Is It?

photo courtesy of Baltimore National Aquarium

We just can’t swim here on the Bay. Blessed with a lovely, rich body of water, we want to have fun, but as soon as we go in the water, we encounter spoilsports ranging from the uncomfortable to the infectious.

We have jellyfish. They return each year, and while they may seem like a sudden occurrence, they have actually been there all along, in the form of tiny polyps, laying dormant on the Bay floor through the winter.

Just when people want to take to the water, jellyfish do, too. Their brand-new babies wake, break off from the oyster shell or other hard surface on which they have weathered the winter and grow up into big, strong, fully formed stingers.

Our only consolation is that the little pains in the leg, thigh, arm (or wherever one might have just stung you) like their water salty. So those happy summers when we enjoy frequent and heavy rainfall may be virtually nettle-free.

But don’t start your rain dance just yet.

“When there’s been a lot of rain, it may be safest to wait to swim for about 48 hours,” says Spencer Franklin of the Anne Arundel County Health Department.

Unless you like swimming with enterococci (en-tear-oh-cocks-eye), organisms that come from the intestines of all warm blooded animals. Unlike sea nettles, these bacteria present in all Bay waters cannot sting you. Normal amounts of enterococci are not particularly harmful to bathers; levels shift naturally with rainfall runoff, waterfowl population and tides. Nature rarely knocks bacteria levels into the danger zone, but septic system dysfunctions can leak large amounts of waste into the water, raising levels of all sorts of bacteria and giving you swimming partners to think about.

Keeping track of concentrations throughout Anne Arundel County is a corps of college kids employed by of the Department of Health to wade into waterways to collect samples. Their findings are checked against long-term data to monitor the levels of human and animal excrement that has gotten into the water. Average levels of enterococci are expressed in MPN (Most Probable Number)/100ml.

When numbers soar into danger range, the Health Department may close a beach. A site such as Eagle Eye Cove at Stoney Creek, which was closed for a week after a sewage system breakdown recently, must show levels lower than 35MPN before it can be reopened. Check up on your beach - or any of 78 sites - at As well as information on enterococci and testing procedures, you can download the week’s water quality report.

In the first week of July, there were no closings. Sandy Point’s East Beach was at 30MPN, while Stoney Creek showed 82 at the County Dock, and Rose Haven tested at 25MPN. All those numbers are in the safe range. It’s dramatic changes that sound the alarm.

Still, keeping an eye on the Health Department’s weekly assessments may keep boaters and swimmers out of really deep enterococci.

But jellyfish can be knee-deep, and even a watchful government can’t say boo. Our greatest defense when it comes to these overgrown plankton is avoidance. To avoid them, we have to know where to find them.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s pioneer program aspires to map sea nettles in the Chesapeake, noting their locations and levels by water temperature and salinity. Until recently, the program has only been able to make predictions and projections. The next step is for volunteer “Nettle Noticers” to get out there and collect hard information. Check out the latest map, learn about the Bay’s different species of nettles, and sign up to be a noticer at or

Where are they now? Just look in the water and see.

- Rachel Presa

Theatrics at Town Hall

The North Beach Town Hall is often the site of entertaining theater. It is a reliable venue for comic and tragic acting, brilliantly cast from authentic stock of the small town political type. As a member of the North Beach Town Council, I have witnessed, and occasionally performed in, scenes of political theater in that setting as well as in other venues around the Beaches.

A different kind of theatrical meeting took place on a recent Saturday, when the Twin Beach Players (of which I am also a member) met in the little town’s well appointed chambers for a first read-through with the cast of Steel Magnolias.

There was no talk of the usual weighty subjects — budgets, ordinances and zoning exceptions; there was no audience of the familiar faces of involved citizens. The cast of five, plus two understudies, were in attendance, as well as the producer, the director, the dramaturg (whatever that is) and one observer. Director Sid Curl took charge of the meeting, mixing warmth with a no-nonsense, get-down-to-business attitude.

It was the first work-session for this production, which is scheduled to open August 18. There was no written agenda, for the meeting was opportunity to become familiar with the script and to get to know fellow cast members. That much was accomplished, but in addition to the business at hand there was spontaneous drama and unexpected comedy. There were moments of tension and release, and there were surprising revelations of family history to boot.

Superstition and theatrical tradition prompted the highlight of the meeting: an astonishing dramatic display on the part of Director Sid Curl, in response to the seemingly innocent mention of a well-known Shakespearean play.

In mid meeting, Curl jumped to his feet and ordered dramaturg Marc Goodman to leave the room.

“What for?” replied Goodman.

“Leave the room now!” Curl commanded, adamant.

Back and forth they went for a very long moment until Goodman was persuaded to comply. The rest of us were stunned. What vicious thing had Goodman said or done to incur Curl’s harsh treatment?

The authoritative Goodman, who is known among locals by his ability to provoke a raised eyebrow, had, earlier in the meeting, impressed the gathering with an amusing bit of family history: His grandmother had been a circus high diver. But now Curl was causing jaws to drop.

Goodman’s transgression was the innocent mention of Hamlet, which prompted his ritualistic dismissal while Curl turned around three times, then circled the perimeter of the room. After Goodman was readmitted, the director, a theater professional, explained to us amateurs that mention of the “Scottish play” by name could bring down a curse that would tragically threaten the production with all manner of terrible consequences.

Who knew? None of us, especially not the normally cognizant Goodman.

In a charged atmosphere intensified by Curl’s passion for theater and this play in particular, cast members admitted to feeling fear and excitement in anticipation.

The cast features Bess Wilkins as Wheezer, Mary Healey as Annette, Jennifer Banks as M’Lynn, Anne Remy as Truvy, Sherry Hall as Shelby and Jeannie Blumenthal as Clairee. Blumenthal, Hall, Healey and Remy have all appeared in previous Players’ productions. Hall is also a member of the Players’ board; Healey directed the 2000 production of A Christmas Carol; Remy is a founding member and produced the group’s first play. Understudies are Sebrina Sander and Linda Bayeaux. Bayeaux, a stand-up comedian, demonstrated her comic talent by introducing herself to the group with a bit of improvisation reminiscent of Roseanne Barr.

Steel Magnolias is the third in a series of four productions planned by this ambitious group of amateur thespians for 2001. Performances are scheduled for August 17,18 and 19.

A string of successful plays culminating with this year’s early spring production of Last of the Red Hot Lovers followed by Run for Your Wife has put the small and very local group in the position to make a bold step toward becoming a more significant presence in the world of regional theater. Run for Your Wife, also directed by Curl, is the first of the group’s plays to be put on outside of the friendly confines of the Twin Beach neighborhood: It will be performed this weekend at Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts Studio Theatre in Brooklyn Park.

For Magnolias, producer Connie Odell has arranged a road trip to Calvert County’s Mary Harrison Center. Plans are underway to include Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts and Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in the tour.

- Gary Pendleton

Way Downstream ...

In Virginia, he state has completed the purchase of 8,300 acres of pristine forest in Wythe County for preservation. Hunting and fishing fees will be used to pay for the $3 million price tag, Virginia’s biggest such land buy in over two decades …

In North Carolina, biologists want to know more about what osprey do when they leave the mid-Atlantic in the fall. So they strapped a solar-powered transmitter on Osprey No. 245, a female, and intend to monitor her travels to South America. Learn more at

In Canada, the country’s Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling last week allowing municipalities to ban the residential use of pesticides. In a unanimous decision that was a huge victory for environmental advocates, the judges wrote that “our common future, that of every Canadian community, depends on a healthy environment.” About 40 Canadian cities have issued such bans after reports of damage from pesticides to humans and pets …

In Miami, a beauty contest took place last week in which contestants not only shed clothes, they shed skin. On Lizard Day at the Miami Museum of Science, 127 reptiles showed up, among them Chaos the Komodo Dragon. The Best of Show Prize went to Buddy, a five-foot long, sweet-tempered iguana wearing a flashy headdress …

Our Creature Feature comes from South Africa, where a golf course security guard should have ignored the suggestions of his boss last week to “observe the movements” of a hippo munching grass. The huge bull hippo charged the observing guard and killed him, Reuters reported.

The hippo later died, too, apparently of wounds from fighting with other hippos. While its wounds may have been the cause of its aggressiveness, authorities remind visitors that hippos kill more people in Africa than any other creature.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly