[ Home ] [ About Us ] [ Contact Us ] [ Subscribe ] [ Renew ] [ Archive ]
Bright Lights, Little Cities
Story by Danita Boonchaisri
From Prince Frederick and La Plata to Lexington Park and Chesapeake Beach,
performing arts troupes are putting on shows season after season. There
are orchestra members, ballerinas, actors and showmen of every age, size
and skill level. They are your neighbors, co-workers and friends, and
they will belt out a show tune, cry on cue or guffaw so infectiously
that an audience simply can't help but join in. But what makes them do
this - all without pay?
Since the ancient days in Athens, Greece, actors, musicians, singers and comedians have been performing before adoring crowds eager to be entertained. With elaborate sets, costumes and scenic elements, these early performances proved very popular and attracted hundreds of participants and thousands of audience members.
Fast forward to today and not much has changed - thespians and musicians still flock to theaters for a creative outlet and the public still attends performances to be amused, enthralled or moved. And, while there are mighty palaces like the Kennedy Center, Warner Theater and Wolf Trap in which to hold such performances, it is in small, local theaters, school auditoriums and outdoor pavilions that true magic occurs. Here, fledgling actors, directors, musicians, set and costume designers, and dancers hone their crafts, test their performance wings and put on shows that inspire and delight.
The Newtowne Players
Bill Scarafia is one such enthusiast who recently came back to the theater world after a decades-long hiatus. With a little acting under his belt from his high school days in New York, Scarafia's real love was directing plays for competition. After moving to Southern Maryland, he became interested in the works of The Newtowne Players in Lexington Park and, when they invited him to direct his own production, he leapt at the opportunity.
As the director of two shows with The Newtowne Players, including his most recent from last summer, "Shakespeare in Hollywood," Scarafia admits that directing is hard work, but his reason for doing it is simple: he loves it. "I really enjoy theater," he said. "It brings a whole new layer of opportunity for the community - providing entertainment for the people who watch and an outlet for people who are performing as artists. It adds to the quality of life in this community and is an outlet for people of every persuasion, from those who enjoy sewing and making costumes, to the retired guy who wants to build a set, to the high school kid who just wants to see what acting is like. It's an opportunity for the average person who, during the normal course of their work and home life, doesn't get a chance to really pursue an activity that adds a whole new dimension to their livelihood."
Nearly all local performing arts troupes are managed and performed by volunteers. Everything from acting, costume design, show production and lighting, to raising money and working the box office are usually tasks performed exclusively by volunteers.
One such volunteer is Dave Hoffman of the Patuxent Playhouse, a traveling theater troupe based in Calvert County. In Hoffman's day job he is a computer scientist, but on show night, he fills in where he is needed. "I'm usually either back stage or in the tech booth," he said.
While he doesn't get the out-front accolades from the audience's applause that an actor does, he still enjoys the weeks of work that go into putting on a show. "The camaraderie of the actors and the crew is a lot of fun," he said. And the work is rewarding. "At least one of our annual productions has a lot of children in it and every dollar we make goes back into the community. Part of our mission is to help other nonprofits and three of our weekend performances each year are used to fundraise for other organizations." There is a lot of satisfaction in that for Hoffman.
Port Tobacco Players
Managed like a successful business, the Port Tobacco Players have been entertaining crowds for decades, and Richard Reckeweg, business manager and president of the Board of Directors, has been with the group for at least 20 of those years. He spends between 40 and 50 hours a week ordering materials and scripts, purchasing supplies, stocking the theater with essentials, taking reservations, and working on advertising and public relations. He admits it's a lot of work, but said it gives him something worthwhile to do. "It's rewarding in the sense of seeing the shows and seeing people enjoying them - both the people on stage and in the audience," he said. "Plus it keeps me out of my wife's way."
While he's never been an actor and admits that many have tried to coax him on stage, his work, like that of his colleagues, is all done without pay. "This is an all-volunteer operation," he said. "All the actors, set builders, painters and costume designers do whatever is necessary to keep the theater up and running. Without them, we couldn't put on a show."
In addition to the satisfaction theater-goers receive from enjoying the variety of musicals, dramas and even children's productions that the Port Tobacco Players puts on through their Encore Kids program, the theater also provides a boost to the local economy. From the purchase of supplies and equipment, to the injection of energy from an opening night performance, the little theater brings a positive vibe to the La Plata landscape. "The town of La Plata has been very supportive of our theater over the years," said Reckeweg. "When we do weekend shows it brings people into the community and into the local restaurants and shops."
Black Box Theatre
Season Price, executive director of the Black Box Theatre in Indian Head, also believes the performing arts are important to the community because they give many different people a chance to participate in a variety of ways. "Local theater gives children and adults the ability to stretch their creative muscles and get away from everyday reality," she said. "Kids love it when they are encouraged to use their imaginations and I believe they are much more successful in life when they are allowed that ability."
For the Love of the Theater
But in a world where most people are more afraid of public speaking than flying, spiders or even death, what makes performers enjoy appearing on stage in front of strangers? Patrick Welton and John Raley are seasoned actors from St. Mary's County who have a contagious enthusiasm for the arts. Welton feeds off the energy that flows between the actor and the audience. "A true performer thrives on the exchange of energy between the cast and crew and the audience," he said. It only takes a chuckle, a gasp or a smile from the audience to encourage him. "Even the smallest bit of feedback from an audience allows you to connect with them and the power of that connection is huge."
Raley agrees. "There's nothing like live theater," he said. "It illuminates life and is the mirror of ourselves." Having performed in Washington, D.C., New York and a number of local and regional theater productions for decades, Raley has a unique perspective and love for theater that is undeniable. His passion for the performing arts is so complete, in fact, that it is difficult to imagine him doing anything else in life.
During a recent production of The Newtowne Players in Lexington Park, Welton and Raley joined forces with a host of crew and production assistants to create another stellar performance. On show night, Valarie Green was busying herself with the tasks that go along with producing a play. Her weeks of work included keeping the production on budget, holding staff and crew to a schedule, and ensuring a smooth and timely presentation. "It's alive and vibrant and there's an exciting feeding back and forth that you don't get from television or a movie," she said. "Every night is different because of the give and take of the audience. I find that theater quite often leaves you fulfilled and pleasantly surprised."
Other Performing Arts
In addition to theater, Southern Maryland is home to a number of musically inclined performance groups, including the Light Opera Company of Southern Maryland, the Chamber Orchestra of Southern Maryland in Concert (COSMIC) and the St. Charles String Quartet. There are dance troupes for adults and children performing ballet classics, jazz and even belly dancing. There are choral groups, madrigal singers and folk music aficionados. With such diversity of performance opportunities, there truly is something for everyone to enjoy - performers and audiences alike.
Do you have what it takes to sing an aria by Puccini, deliver a heart-wrenching Shakespearean soliloquy or perform a complicated pirouette on stage? Maybe you prefer to sew, move a set, collect box office money, usher or even just greet people at the door. If so, there's room for you in the performing arts. For those who prefer to simply watch from the box seats and marvel at the joy that others get from performing, why not try something different? Skip the movie theater or Saturday night at home on the couch and take in a live performance. As Valarie Green suggests, you may just be surprised.
Performing Arts in Southern Maryland
The following is a sampling of the variety of performing arts organizations found in Southern Maryland.
Light Opera Company of Southern Maryland
3612 Avocado Road
Port Republic, MD
First and only professional opera company in Southern Maryland that brings comic opera and musical theater to life.
P.O. Box 1670, Lusby, MD 410-326-1401
firstname.lastname@example.org, Web: www.paxplays.com
A community theater group that emphasizes family friendly productions and community philanthropy.
This site contains select articles from our hardcopy
magazine from the past ten plus years.
As such, some of the information in this particular article may no longer be current.
[ Home ] [ About Us ] [ Contact Us ] [ Subscribe ] [ Renew ] [ Archive ]
|The on-line edition of Southern Maryland This is Living magazine is presented in partnership with Southern Maryland Online|