Volume 16, Issue 25 - June 19 - June 25, 2008

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Quite a Week of Theater

Locally made from start to finish, two plays in one night test the power of theater to raise consciousness — and money

by Jane Elkin

This Saturday, June 21, brings a rare night for Chesapeake Country theater. The first day of summer is the one and only chance to see two special performances, each created by local artists, and each to benefit local non-profit organizations that aspire to improve their communities. But because of their scheduling coincidence, you’ll have to choose between them.

Amelia’s Journey: the Creation of a Reluctant Celebrity — an original two-act musical created by Doug Schenker — plays at Severna Park High School accompanied by a live jazz combo and orchestra.

Alice Yeager’s original A Capital Idea — part of a multi-faceted peace program — plays at St. John’s College’s Key Auditorium.

Why raise funds with theater when so many other products are tried and true — and perhaps easier to sell: cookies, candles or a car wash?

Theater touches our sense of the aesthetic in ways that consumer goods never will. We seldom wax rhapsodic over candy, and when we do the rhapsody is quickly forgotten. But theater offers both entertainment and opportunity to affect people. That’s what motivated the organizers of these two events when they began hatching their plans a year ago.

It takes a special person to mount such ambitious projects, and Pat Troy and Alice Yeager are nothing if not ambitious. Troy wants to beautify the world, and Yeager aims to heal it. Because both women have been profoundly moved by the arts, they chose an art to affect others.

ASPIRING with Amelia Earhart

A life-changing event

Pat Troy, the founder of Chesapeake Academy and ASPIRE (the Association for Severna Park Improvement, Renewal and Enhancement, begun in 1994) chose to present this encore performance of Amelia’s Journey as a fundraiser because Schenker’s play so captivated her when she saw it four years ago at the Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park. It was the first show to sell out at the Center.

The story of Amelia Earhart is interesting because she had such a diverse career before becoming Lady Lindy, the female counterpart to Charles Lindbergh, the reigning darling of the American public and press. Flying was Earhart’s love, but she made ends meet by working as a nurse’s aid, truck driver and social worker. Until her husband and promoter, George Putnam engineered her success as a motivational speaker. In 1936 Earhart became the first woman to speak to the Brigade of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, commanding a $500 speaker’s fee. When she flew to Annapolis for the occasion, she landed in a field at Pleasant Plains.

Troy praises the show as a life-changing event “better than some productions I have seen on Broadway.” Bay Weekly theater critic Dick Wilson really liked it back then, too. With subsequent revisions, it’s likely to make an even bigger impact.

The most noticeable change is the addition of a 21-piece orchestra from the Londontowne Symphony. Troy’s offer to recruit the musicians convinced Schenker that the time was right to stage a revival. Rewriting the orchestration was no small task, yet his musical collaborator, John E. Starr, managed it in about two months. Starr, a winner of the Anne Arundel Arts Council Annie Award, will be playing electric bass for this performance.

From start to finish, the production relies on local talent. Schenker has been writing songs since he was a kid, yet he earns his living as an attorney in Annapolis. When he became fascinated by the personal and business relationship between Earhart and Putnam, he recruited local playwright and children’s rights activist Linda Page (who died in November, 2007) to write the script.

Former cast members return to this production of Amelia, with three of the four leading roles played by veteran troupers. Thus the characters have grown over time. Amelia has become lighter hearted, and George has had to learn to do without his favorite prop … a cigar.

Money raised by this production will support ASPIRE’s Centennial Mural Project, which decorates buildings along the B&A Trail with scenes from Severna Park’s history. The first mural in a series of four, depicting the train that brought settlers to the riverside village of Severna Park, was painted on the Carr Building by local artist Cindy Fletcher Holden. Murals on the drawing board include five artistic renderings of vintage photographs, an array of animals in local scenery and the interior of the old Winkelmeyer Hardware Store in the 1940s. To encourage ticket sales, Troy has turned Amelia into a fund-raiser within a fund-raiser, offering other non-profit groups $5 for each ticket they sell.

7:30pm Sat. June 21 at Severna Park High School Auditorium, 45 McKinsey Rd., Severna Park. $25 and $60 (with VIP seating and a party with the performers following the show): 410-647-2525; pat@nextwavegroup.com; www.severnaparkaspire.org.

Hear excerpts from the show or a CD of the music at www.ameliasjourney.com.

Alice Yeager’s Capital Idea

Peace is contagious

Alice Yeager founded the American Healing Arts Alliance in 1996 as a non-profit educational public charity to spread the global message of hope, peace and healing. The Peace Nouvella Players is a new branch of the Alliance, which offers a comprehensive program of the creative, healing and intuitive arts. The Players’ first endeavor is inspirational in two senses: Yeager aims to inspire her audience with a play she feels was inspired and co-created for her by a higher power.

She shares that belief with some trepidation, for while she is now a deeply spiritual and intuitive person, she wasn’t always that way. She describes herself as a happy and productive visual artist until a debilitating spinal injury interrupted her routine nearly 20 years ago. So intense was Yeager’s pain and frustration with traditional medicine that she began exploring alternative forms of healing and meditation. That exploration led her to profound physical and mental transformations.

Along the way, she developed her innate intuitive skills to the point that she now works as a subtle energy healer, speaker and life coach who feels moved to share her newfound tranquility with the world.

If a person’s life philosophy could be distilled into just three words, hers might be Peace is contagious.

The Alliance website explains that “as we cultivate peace in our thoughts, our communications, and our action, we contribute to a global revolution in the hearts and minds of people around the world. World peace will come as a result of the greater peace within.”

This conviction led her to write the Inner Peace Treaty, a document whose 10th anniversary is being celebrated at this event. The document was first ratified in Annapolis and has since gained the signatures of thousands of citizens from around the world and from different walks of life. The theme of the Inner Peace Treaty is that Peace begins within each of us as a seed thought, a lyric that is set to music in the form of a simple but beautiful round performed at the end of the play.

Dialogue is cast in verse nuggets spoken by Colonial Annapolitans mulling over the prospect of peace in the wake of the Revolutionary War.

A waitress questions: “How can we bring about a peace that will never end when we still do not see every neighbor as friend?”

Colonial Players’ 24-Hour Project

They did it in a day

Colonial Players staged its big day a week earlier, mounting an entire production, from casting call to curtain, in just one day. The feat included costumes, lights, set, props, sound and three catered meals to fuel the team of The 24 Hour Project.

It’s a concept that has swept the country since its inception in New York in 1995. Some groups even write the script that day, occasionally building a story around whichever costumed characters happen to arrive for auditions. No matter how it’s done, the challenge appeals to performers and audiences alike.

Colonial’s director du jour, Ron Giddings, chose an existing script known ahead of time only to him and two assistants. That slight advantage out of the starting gate, however, exposed his team to heightened scrutiny because the final product could be quantifiably judged for accuracy. He and his team were not only accurate but also artful. Colonial’s 24-hour production of Craig Pospisil’s comedy Months on End was a resounding success: one of the finest performances I have seen all year.

The Months felt more like minutes on end for the 10 performers and 25 production people immersed in the show, fueled by only a few hours’ sleep. As one member put it, “There just seemed to be more adrenaline than caffeine.” With only one shot at the brass ring, they had no time to fret — only to grab it.

–Jane Elkin

A politician cautions: “We become too scared to act when we see our downfall as fact.”

A soldier concurs: “It is true freedom we will find when our fears are left behind.”

And the Town Fool mocks them all: “You only know what you’re told, and you only hear what you want to.”

These characters are transformed into modern counterparts at the end of the play, and we see that over the span of three centuries, the more things change the more they stay the same. Historic Annapolis was abuzz with the rumor that General Washington himself might be present for the signing of the peace treaty. In present day Annapolis, the cast is abuzz over the prospect that a brigadier general may be present at the play to sign the Inner Peace Treaty.

The title, A Capital Idea, is a play on words. Yeager was intrigued by the discretionary use of capitalization in historical documents where big letters stood for big ideas like God, Freedom, Love, Peace and War. Local historical references abound throughout the play, which is part of the Annapolis Alive! 300th Anniversary celebration. You’ll hear mention of such famous local sites as Londontowne, Reynolds’ Tavern, City Dock and the Liberty Tree, for example.

The play is just one aspect of a two-and-a-half-hour program. Also on the program of entertainingly inspiring and educational presentations is a sneak peek at a new documentary called The Science of Peace — being produced by actor, director and producer LeVar Burton — followed by a prerecorded interview with him. This surprising documentary features biologists, physicists and philosophers on the cutting edge of a growing movement that scientifically explains the concept of a unified field of consciousness that affects the way people think and behave. More specifically, it examines the real causes of conflict and the tools for peace.

Many noted guests, including representatives from the World Peace Prayer Society, will be in attendance for a peace flag ceremony and a 10th anniversary Inner Peace Treaty ratification ceremony. Rounding out the evening is a musical selection from local jazz guitarist Rob Levit’s CD, Touch the Spirit, inspired by the popular self-study guide to universal love and peace, A Course in Miracles.

7-9:30pm @ Key Auditorium, St. John’s College, Annapolis. $20; groups, seniors & youth $10, children under 8 free: 410-956-0055; www.americanhealingarts.org

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.