Theater is illusion. Part of the illusion is making a big job look effortless.
The show goes on in community and professional theaters all around the Bay. The cast dances, sings and acts. The audience laughs, cries and applauds. Down front, musicians bow. Behind scenes, director, choreographer, set designer, technical director and a galaxy of volunteers and supporters swell with pride. Then they go back to work, worrying over the next show, the next illusion of effortlessness.
Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre
|Outside noises are all part of the scene for Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.
Its a bit of a rush all the time because its live and you never know whats going to happen.
The show is over at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre until next spring, but behind the scenes some work never stops.
The theaters core group, a board of 12 who meet monthly throughout the year, is even now determining what shows will play next season and who will direct them. Not just anything or anyone makes the cut.
When selecting plays, the audience gets first consideration. From 100 or more surveys collected at the three plays of summer, the board gets an idea what its audience wants to see. Thats mostly musicals and some Shakespeare. A mix of two popular musicals and a late-summer musical with family appeal, as well as an accessible downtown location, have helped Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre appeal to all ages from kids to teens to adults to seniors for 38 years.
The board also must consider its limitations: space, sets, costumes, cast size, local talent and costs.
Once a slate of plays is at hand, directors are invited in. Interviews determine a directors experience and range. Directors, in turn, sometimes suggest plays to the board.
Starting in February, the director calls for auditions. Actors and would-be actors show up to read, sing and dance for parts. Sometimes directors bring players to a part, and other times actors are attracted by a directors fame or skill. Theres a good talent pool, says board member Evan Brierly. Most of the actors play everywhere in the area.
Once the parts are chosen, rehearsals begin in auditoriums and music rooms at Eastport Elementary and other local schools because the Summer Garden Theatre is outdoors and the theaters office and storage space is unheated.
In April, says Brierly, well have a cleanup day and start to bring things back out. Last time, that included cleaning up hundreds of burst soda bottles left there after the fall Boat Show. It was a mess.
As the rush intensifies toward the summer season, money competes with preparations as the issue of the day. Though the non-profit is lucky enough to own its stage and historic building, to pay the bills it relies on box-office sales, contributions, concessions and grants from the Cultural Arts Foundation of Anne Arundel County. Costs include the rights to plays and recorded music, mounting the show, small stipends to director, music director and choreographer and maintaining the theater in accordance with historic guidelines. As with most community theaters, actors get paid only by the response and applause of the audience.
|Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre board members, including directors Amber Perkins, Bruce Kibbey, Nikki Gerbasi and Glenn Singer, meet monthly to hash out a given seasons performances.
This years weather was a major challenge and a budget-buster to the outdoors theater. As the season opened, Evita was rained out 11 times, Brierly says, All together, 14 shows were rained out. We usually have a full house signed up a couple of days before each show. With 208 seats, we lost a lot of money.
Would the theater consider a roof? No, says Brierly. A roof would spoil the place. We have motorcycles going past, jets, sirens, the sound of motorboats. We have learned to make it all part of the scene. The audience has learned, too.
Love of the stage draws volunteers as well as actors. They work in set and costume design, in the technical booth, on the board, in concessions, behind the scenes. Like Brierly, who caught the theater bug when his son was cast in a Merely Players production 10 years ago, they stay at it because its a bit of a rush all the time because its live and you never know whats going to happen.
People have no idea what goes into getting a show on stage.
As Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre ends its 38th season, Colonial Players begins its 54th. Colonial Players, too, owns its own downtown theater. Its theater-in-the-round on State Circle began its latest season at the end of August with Over the River and Through the Woods.
A full Colonial Players house is 180 people, and a full stage holds up to 30 actors. An acoustic shell holds up to six musicians offstage or two onstage. Sets are designed and built at a Defense Highway annex, which houses a carpenter shop, prop storage and a rehearsal hall with the same dimensions as the main stage.
As well as property, Colonial Players has reputation: 16 Ruby Griffith Awards or citations reward its brand of community theater. Two thousand to 2,500 people typically see each show. But the last Ruby Griffith the Washington areas biggest award for community theater, which oddly enough, is administered by the British Embassy Players was won six years ago and attendance is falling. Now, Colonial Players must rise to the tastes of a new century. That challenge has sparked a reorganization of the board and policies.
Over the River and Through the Woods and the four other plays plus the annual A Christmas Carol that make up the 2003-04 season are chosen by the company board from a slate presented by the play selection committee. Directors follow plays, and actors directors. Directors are explicitly denied the right to pre-cast, though they can ask actors to audition.
|photo by R.A.R.E. Photographic
Aida Gianelli, played by Rosemary Feeney, offers a serving of veal to vegetarian Caitlin OHare, played by Julie Richman in Colonial Players season opener Over the River and Through the Woods.
Were not a repertory company, says Colonial Players community relations director Ken Sabel. But a lot of people appear over and over.
Funding is strictly through subscriptions and box-office sales, but Sabel says he hopes to garner corporate sponsorship for individual shows. Thats not his only idea to lighten the load of the volunteers who bring community theater to Chesapeake Country.
Subscription renewal in itself is a big job, says Sabel. Id like to see a co-op box office used by all theaters in the area.
Mounting a six-show, all-volunteer season is another big job. While Over the River plays, August Wilsons The Piano Lesson is in rehearsal and A Christmas Carol is in audition. Even now, Sabel is thinking up ways to accommodate the grand stairway for Rebecca next May.
People have no idea what goes into getting a show on stage, Sabel says. Even I have no idea what all goes into it. The amount of work is phenomenal.
2nd Star Productions
We have found a team that shares the vision and strives to make it a reality.
At 2nd Star Productions, too, house lights were up at Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park before Labor Day. Annie opened to rave reviews (see Dick Wilsons in 8 Days a Week) leading off a 2003-04 season that reprises four standards: Annie, Once Upon a Mattress in November, The Odd Couple in March and Mame in May.
This balance of comedies and musicals is typical for 2nd Star, where, says executive director Jane Wingard, we generally feature family-style entertainment.
2nd Star is community theater in that its a labor of love. We cant not do it, says Wingard of the governing board and artistic staff board. This is our life. The arts keep us young and alive.
As is so often the case in arts organizations, love must often make up for money. Ninety percent of the companys spending money comes in at the box office. Over the season, the artistic board executive director, artistic director, music director and choreographer each receive a stipend. The show director, cast, staff and orchestra receive token honoraria that, Wingard says, probably doesnt even cover their cost of doing the show.
But 2nd Star is also the vocation of professionals. Wingard and artistic director Lynne Wilson are professional scenic designers with long resumes of events and installations, including the Million Mom March, DCs millennium celebration, the casinos at Charlestown Race Track and at Harrington, Delaware, and the Annapolis Opera. Music director Donald Smith was the music specialist for Prince Georges County after many years at High Point High School and taking his award-winning musicians to the Kennedy Center and on tours of Europe.
|Annie, in laundry cart and played by Jenny Cook, and the other orphans in 2nd Star Productions performance of the ever popular musical.
Those specialties account for some of the strengths theater-goers and reviewers enjoy at 2nd Star Productions: imaginative sets that give each play a place to be and the power of a live orchestra as large as 20 pieces.
This season, professional dancer Vicki Smith joins the company as choreographer. The daughter of the late Bobbi Smith of The Talent Machine, the young peoples company with which shes still affiliated, Smith also runs Stageworkz Studio, teaching tap, ballet, jazz, voice and musical theater.
Smiths presence should lead to some new treats for audiences as well as support for another 2nd Star mission: teaching. The best way to have good actors and dancers is to train them yourself, says Wingard, so we try to feature young actors at least once a year. This year Annie is that opportunity.
If you know your theater, youll remember that 2nd Star takes its name from a guidepost on the way to Peter Pans Never-Never Land. Thats where this company is headed. We have found a team at 2nd Star that shares the vision and strives to make it a reality, says Wingard. This environment gives us the energy to create and not settle for less than we know we are capable of.
Chesapeake Music Hall
First and foremost, its a business the business of show.
Theres never an off-season for Chesapeake Music Hall. Chicago plays through September 13. A week later, Camelot takes the stage.
First and foremost, its a business the business of show, says Sherry Kay Anderson, the one-woman powerhouse at the center of the eight-year-old
Chesapeake Music Hall.
Fare here is dinner and, as the name suggests, musical theater. Musicals are chosen for their appeal to the 40-to-60 age group, with family-friendly shows most of the year and one show with less kid-appeal, like Chicago, scheduled for late summer.
We put our heads together every week, says Anderson of how she and her collaborators Jami Adkins, Tere Fulmer and StayC Smith sustain the show without missing a beat or a week. We talk about hot topics and read every comment card from the audience, whether its about the food or the musical. As soon as its January 2004, well talk about what to do in 2005.
Not that what they want they can always get. It took us four years to get the rights to Chicago, Anderson explains. It was a coincidence that it was the year that the movie came out.
Thats because rights to do a show are bought under contract. Shows playing on Broadway or at another theater within 50 miles are off limits.
|Locked up in Chicago are Chesapeake Music Halls Sherry Kay Anderson as Velma Kelly, Elizabeth Alexander as Hunyak, Renae Toney as June, Jodi Adkins as Liz, Anne DeMichele as Annie, and Jennifer Klem as Mona.
Once a show is set, auditions are called. Anderson pre-cast herself as Dolly and Mame because those suit my on-stage persona. Otherwise auditions are open. Chicago drew 78 actors for 20 roles. Anderson and music director Anita OConner select the cast. Its not a rule, but Alan Hoffman, whos valued for his talent and versatility, is a favorite to play lead or second lead.
Auditions give way to six to eight weeks of rehearsal before each show opens for an 11-week run. If theres heavy dancing, all choreographed by Anderson, rehearsals run several more weeks.
I choreograph in levels, Anderson explains. I take what people can do and change the moves to meet their ability. If someone works beyond their ability, there can be injuries. In fact, there can be injuries any time. Last summer the lead actor in Copacabana came in on crutches after a jump split that landed badly. The understudy took over.
Music is recorded if the Music Hall has permission. Otherwise, they hire a pair of live musicians, usually on keyboard and synthesizer.
Like the musicians, everyone with the exception of a few enthusiastic volunteers gets paid at Chesapeake Music Hall, which is a professional rather than amateur or community company. Box-office sales pay the bills. Sometimes, Anderson tacks kitchen manager onto her job description. No matter what, the business of show goes on.
Our biggest challenge is that we have to dance around the Bay Bridge traffic, says Anderson of the companys location off Rt. 50. Thats the only force outside the control of this illusionist.
Pasadena Theatre Company
The acting is the most important thing, but we like to do it all.
Pasadena Theatre Company celebrates its first quarter-century reprising an earlier success, An Evening with the Honeymooners, which opens September 26.
People want musicals, and they want to laugh, says board member and producer Sharon Steele. Meeting those requirements is uppermost in the minds of the companys 12-member board which includes eight directors in choosing its three-play season. Costs and set complexity also shape their decisions. Once the play is chosen, the artistic director, producer, musical director and choreographer cast the roles.
Directors must be very dependable and very talented. Only a handful of people qualify to direct because we were burned by people who let us down, says Steele. We want people who are very good.
Directors and others on the production staff are paid small stipends if theres enough money to go around after rent and materials. Box office sales and ads in their programs support the company.
|Chuck Dick played the irascible Ralph Kramden and Tom Delaney plays his bumbling buddy, Ed Norton, in Pasadena Theatre Companys An Evening with the Honeymooners.
Making ends meet remains a challange. Were still struggling, says Steele. Chesapeake Arts Center, where they played last season, proved too expensive, so once again the company is looking for a permanent home. Theyre opening Honeymooners at Anne Arundel Community College on the Humanities stage. But, says Steele, we cant get in there to rehearse until evenings, 9:45pm, and we have to rip sets down every night after a performance.
So the company rehearses at its office and prop room in Millersville.
In contrast to the usual musical formula, this years A Christmas Carol is the non-musical version. But sing-along caroling will close each performance. After one performance at the college, the homeless company will take its show on the road.
Pasadena Theatre Company has a good reputation, says Steele, whos helped sustain that reputation for 24 years. Were known for our beautiful sets and great costumes. The acting is the most important thing, but we like to do it all. Were stubborn, old people, and were not giving up.
Do or Die Mystery Theater
Were after repeat business.
With 10 or 12 murders a year, the flow never stops at Chesapeake Cultural Arts Center in Brooklyn Park, where Do or Die Mystery Theater is one of a handful of resident dance and theater companies. C.J. Crowe runs the center and the mayhem. As director of northern Anne Arundel Countys arts center, she oversees (and sometimes teaches) arts classes and books two stages, dance studios and other spaces. A 904-seat main stage hosts musical productions and concerts. The studio theater, which can accommodate 75 to 145 seats, caters to smaller productions like the murder mysteries.
Come September 27, An Award Winning Murder opens the 2003 season for the busy Crowe, who does 90 percent of the all-original writing, 90 percent of the directing and playing a role in every show of the for-profit Do or Die Productions.
|Jose Delamar, left, and Karen Robuck are caught by C.J. Crowe, wearing hat, and Starr Lucas in a Do or Die performance.
Judging that her audience does not want the grisliness of real murder, Crowe plays heavier on comedy. Since her murders are committed not only at the arts center but also on the road in buses, parks and restaurants, including Rod n Reel, Crowe stresses props your blood, your guns, your poison over scenery.
For this seasons murders, Crowe is casting about for new blood. Over several years, most of her core group of actors have gone on to other opportunities. Shes making the transition to a new core cast of about 12, hoping to match the earlier groups symbiosis, almost telepathy she says, for improvising in response to one another and the audience. Shes also training people who will direct the merry murders.
Audience is at the center of her plot. Were after repeat business, says Crowe. And she gets it.
Its freaky, she says. In addition to Halloween, the other favorite murder mystery times are Christmas and Mothers Day. I think families like to spend time together when they can laugh but not have to talk to each other.
Valentines Day is also popular. Its the women who love my shows and drag their husbands. As they go out the door, the husbands say, When can we come back?
That response keeps Crowe doing rather than dying. Like everyone else who books the busy Chesapeake Arts Center, Crowe pays to rent the theater and technical assistance, and she pays everyone, even the actors.
Bowie Community Theatre
All the elements add up to a step out of reality.
Life is so challenging, yet I can escape with the audience, says Joanne Bauer of Bowie Community Theatre. Ive been in 65 productions, and worked and managed for 30 years. Every time, its like a new baby.
On October 10, Bowie Community Theatre will deliver The Heiress.
The escapes of this companys three-play season are chosen each year by a committee, which factors into its decision audience, cost, balance of male and female roles, complexity of sets and number of scene and costume changes. Bowie is a bedroom community, explains Bauer. Its a family community so we tend to be conservative, not avant garde.
The company typically stays away from musicals, leaning to drama, comedy and mystery. This year, The Heiress is the drama, and the mystery is Rehearsal for Murder, playing in February. In May, the comedy The Seven Year Itch closes the season.
Directors are invited to apply. Once chosen, they have final say on casting, but a board member will sit in and may comment on previous experience with actors.
Actors who have problems with attendance or memory are just one of the challenges Bowie Community Theatre must escape. Despite being a runner-up for a Ruby Griffith Award with last seasons Dial M for Murder, its 150 seats at Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park are rarely full.
|Bowie Community Theatres performance last year of Dial M for Murder earned the company runner-up for the prestigious Ruby Griffith Award.
The audience of real theater-goers is getting older, says Bauer. Many youngsters and even their parents have never been to a live performance. We struggle to fill our seats.
Bauer fears that their playhouse, which is owned by the city of Bowie, may be part of the problem. Though beautiful, the building is out of sight in the woods off Rt. 3, and even longtime Bowie residents can be unaware of its existence. Others think that because its earlier name was Theater in the Woods, its an open-air venue.
Inside, Bauer explains, the playhouse has an excellent fly space that is, enough vertical room to raise and lower hanging scenes but little wing space space to the sides of the stage. Bowie Community Theatre also earns high praise for the technical expertise of city employee Garrett Hyde, who assists with set design and construction, lighting, sound and the mechanics of flying backdrops.
The Playhouse also hosts 2nd Star Productions, and the two companies alternate play dates. Each company gets onto the stage two weeks before showtime. For earlier rehearsals, this community theater is on the move.
With one night here and another there, laments Bauer, the actors have to re-imagine the scene in each new space, 10-by-20-feet one night, 15-by-30 another.
Bowie Community Theatre dreams of a home of its own. It dreams of finding and keeping good technical people who will build sets show after show. It dreams of directors who want challenging work with a supportive staff. It dreams of a full house.
Dreaming dreams and rising to challenges, the show goes on.
This season, Bauer hopes The Heiress a beautiful Victorian production with huge, gorgeous costumes, underpinned by corsets and all handmade by seamstress Suzie Reams will attract a crowd.
Swell the crowd and you wont be disappointed, she promises. All the little elements add up to a step out of reality. We escape from a humdrum, harried life for that two hours.
Twin Beach Players
Twin Beach Players is a fun group, and theres no ego.
Twin Beach Players opens its seventh season with Neil Simons Fools. After five or six readings, recent auditions for that play gave the bland space of Chesapeake Beach Town Hall the flavor of the Russian village of dunces where the comedy is set.
|Twin Beach Players got into business with A Christmas Carol.
Opening night, November 7, will take the cast of 10 to nearby Holland Point Civic Center, where theyve seemingly settled, after trying firehalls, small businesses and the North Beach boardwalk. The Players made their debut in several restaurants, staging the ever-popular A Christmas Carol as dinner theater.
Fools challenge will be in fitting both a regular entry and a balcony into the community centers one-story building. Director Sid Curl, a pro in the business, plans a balcony that will require the actors to walk on their knees. Curl promises it will add to the general hilarity of the show.
Hilarity is a feature at Twin Beach Players, as are ambition and sentiment. Theyve typically mounted a feel-good Christmas show, A Christmas Carol or last years Little Women. And they love to transform a classic, Molieres Tartuffe or Shakespeares Twelfth Night, into a local romp. Directors Curl and Jeff Larsen choose the plays, subject to board approval.
The strongest asset is community support. Vics Italia by the Bay lets us rehearse in their upstairs room, and we have a handful of sponsors, says Curl of the can-do group. A production of Steel Magnolias borrowed props from a local beauty shop.
To date, these Players survive as a labor of love. Theres no money yet, says Curl. I keep hoping for a little envelope, but not yet.
The Players are a fun group, and theres no ego, Curl concludes. Do yourself a favor and come see them.
Grassroots theater is the strongest segment of the performing arts.
Moonlight Troupers has not only a home but also a great home at Anne Arundel Community College. With a full-fly stage, a pit for a live orchestra and state-of-the-art computerized lighting, the 400-seat Pascal Center for the Performing Arts and the 100-seat Humanities Recital Hall serve as training grounds for performing arts students.
After 25 years at the college, Barbara Marder has taken over as performing arts chair from Robert Kauffman, who retired last season. Marder is enthusiastic about her new role. I never fail to enjoy the variety that students bring. We have 17-year-olds who might be concurrently in high school. We have some who stay three or four years because they work or have other responsibilities. Others come for the enrichment of working on a show.
Moonlight Troupers directors have more freedom than most, including choosing plays. In that decision, four criteria guide them. Each play must have value for students in both the performing cast and the technical crew; each must be pleasing and useful to the audience; the plays must be financially successful; and all choices must be within the capacity of the cast to perform well.
Marders first choice as department chair and director, A Raisin in the Sun, was considered risky, she says, in part because Lorraine Hansberrys play excluded all but African American actors. But the response was very, very good, she says. It was one of our most successful serious plays at the college in terms of audience and diversity.
|Anne Arundel Community Colleges Moonlight Troupers is a teaching theater company. Assistant professor Rob Berry, technical director and scenic designer for the Troupers, instucts Michelle Fiveash, Sandra Bowman and Jonathon Herlehyy in the structure of spotlights.
Typically the director will choose a crowd-pleaser in the fall. 42nd Street opens this season on November 7. A more serious play then follows in March maybe a series of one-acts. Mid-April showcases a play for families with matinees for local schools.
Once a play is chosen, auditions are called. Marder says college policies require at least 50 percent credit students in a cast, following American College Theater Festival standards. Performing arts students get special class orientations as to what to expect at auditions. The rest is open casting.
Most performances follow two months of four-nights-per-week rehearsals of dance, vocals and blocking, which establishes the movement and relationships of actors.
We also do our own design, our own sets, and our own costume designs, says Marder. Full- and part-time college faculty serve as assistant director, musical director, technical director and choreographer. Musicals are accompanied by a full orchestra, part student and part community.
Compared to other companies, Moonlight Troupers is rich. Its college funding includes fees paid by community actors who must register as non-credit students if cast for a part. Box office receipts also swell the coffers.
Marders dream is to help make the college a cultural force. She wants to revive a high school drama festival and continue building workshops to increase offerings. We are interested in partnering with groups in the community, she says. Its a very rich county, and the grassroots is the strongest segment in the performing arts.
These brief hours on stage come with the prod, push, grit and tenacity of a legion of volunteers and visionaries. Take a bow. We applaud you all.
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Upcoming at Your Local Theater
Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre ~ 410/268-9212 www.summergarden.com
Look for next seasons schedule in Feb., 2004
Bowie Community Theatre ~ 301/805-0219 www.bctheatre.com
- The Heiress: Oct. 1025
- Rehearsal for Murder: Feb. 621
- The Seven Year Itch: April 30May 15
Chesapeake Arts Center ~ 410/636-6597 www.chesapeakearts.org
- Do or Die Productions
- An Award Winning Murder: Sept. 27
- Grave Matters: Oct. 24, 25, 31
- Expiration Date: Nov. 22
- Dead Ringer: Dec. 19, 20, 21
- Musical Artists Theater ~ I Do I Do: Sept. 57, 1214, 1921
- Merely Players ~ Once Upon A Mattress: Oct. 1012, 1719, 2426
- Robert Freidman Productions ~ MacHomer: Oct. 1415
Chesapeake Music Hall ~ 800/406-0306 www.chesapeakemusichall.com
- Chicago: Thru Sept. 13 Camelot: Sept. 20Nov. 15
- A Christmas Carol: Nov. 2227, Dec. 1923
- Yuletide Cheers: Nov. 28Dec. 4, 1218, 2627
- Swing New Years EveFeb. 15
- 42nd Street: February 21April 24
- Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
- West Side Story
- Kiss Me Kate
Colonial Players ~ 410/268-7373 www.cplayers.com
- Over The River and Through The Woods: Aug. 29Sept. 27
- The Piano Lesson: Oct. 17 Nov. 15
- A Christmas Carol: Dec. 414
- Sylvia: Jan. 9Feb. 7
- A Funny Thing Happened on The Way To the Forum: Feb. 27March 27
- Rebecca: April 23May 22
Moonlight Troupers at Anne Arundel Community College ~ 410/777-2457 www.aacc.cc.md.us/student life/troupers
- 42nd Street: Nov. 79, 1316
Pasadena Theatre Company ~ 410/975-0200 www.pasadenatheatrecompany.com
- An Evening with the Honeymooners: September 26Oct. 11 @ AACC Humanities Recital Hall, Arnold
- A Christmas Carol (non-musical) December 5 7, AACC Humanities Recital Hall, Arnold; December 1214, Savage Community Hall, Savage; December 19, Pallotti High School, Laurel
- Alice in Wonderland: Spring 2004
2nd Star Productions ~ 410/757-5700 www.homestead.com/2ndStarProductions
- Annie: thru Sept. 27
- Once Upon a Mattress: Nov. 7Dec. 6
- The Odd Couple: March 527
- Mame: May 28June 26
Twin Beach Players ~ www.twinbeachplayers.org
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