By Phil Ferrara                

  It was the autumn of 1599 and the curtain in London’s newly acclaimed Globe Theatre closed as the  merry laughter of the audience shook its walls.  William Shakespeare rose to acknowledge the applause for his new comedy.  A smile creased his face as he reflected upon the great success of theater on the London stage during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

At that precise moment 3,000 miles to William’s west lay a dark, unexplored wilderness.  A lightly clad native hunter stood silently behind a giant oak on a hillside high above a wide body of water, his prey feeding nearby in a laurel thicket.  The hunter turned and expertly drew his bowstring taut.  The arrow flew straight, and the large-antlered animal fell softly to the ground!  As the man unsheathed his knife, he realized that his family would have ample food and new clothing for the coming winter.  His village was just below this hill, beside the river that met the wide waters of the Chesepiooc.

Two centuries passed, and that same hillside erupted with merriment on Jan. 14, 1784.  The Continental Congress had just ratified the Treaty of Paris while assembled in the Maryland capitol building.  The Revolutionary War was over, and the people looked forward to independence and great opportunities for their new nation.    

The sounds of merriment again engulfed that same Annapolis hillside on a June evening in 2009.  Two young actresses, CeCe McGee and Laura Gayvert, thrilled their audience at the Colonial Players theatre.  The walls shook from the roar of laughter as they both floated in a barrel over Niagara Falls in a rendition of the play, Wonder of the World.

In the words of William Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage…”  The spirit and excitement of Broadway has fully embraced the central Chesapeake Bay region, and countless opportunities exist to enjoy theater locally on both sides of the Bay.  Among the many performing arts organizations are Colonial Players of Annapolis, Church Hill Theatre in Church Hill, The Bay Theatre Company of Annapolis, Tred Avon Players of Oxford and Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.

Carol Youmans, president of the board of directors at Colonial Players, recalled Shakespeare and passionately described the value of theater to me recently as “holding a mirror to society so that we learn about ourselves.”  Theater reflects our lives and teaches us lessons in our quest for enjoyment and meaning in life.  She noted that because theatre is ‘alive and real,’ it brings out feelings like no other medium. Carol further emphasized that for those who enjoy acting and working in theatre, it allows them to tap into their creativity and gives them great fun and excitement.

Many of us often wonder what makes a great stage play.  Steven Arnold, executive producing director of Church Hill Theatre, explained that “a performing arts theater must push the envelope of things we creatively present.  It is not good enough to keep doing the same thing.”   Some in the audience may be seeking entertainment, perhaps in a comedy or musical that exhilarates and energizes a person or that elicits laughter.  Others may prefer a serious drama provoking deep thoughts or sadness.  Such plays evoke real-life sentiments, whether they are the triumph of good over evil or tragedies that reach our very core.

An important key to success in theater is the actor.  But where do actors come from?  Lucinda Merry-Browne, artistic director of The Bay Theatre Company, explained that the Chesapeake Bay region is “blessed with an exceptionally high quality of community performing arts,” supporting both professional and amateur theaters.  She noted that amateur community theaters audition volunteer actors who are attracted by their “love of art.”  The Bay Theatre Company, a professional theater, selects its actors from the Actors’ Equity Association, the union representing American actors and stage managers.  These actors not only possess the love of art, but the stage is also their primary employment.  Carol Youmans of Colonial Players further added that “if we do interesting plays, the actors will come” for the auditions.

Theater patrons often wonder “how do the actors remember all their lines?”  Steven Arnold of Church Hill Theatre explained that sheer repetition and individual rehearsal is the key to success.  He added that physical location on the stage often prompts the word and line memory for the actor.

Do you have the thespian interest to act or work behind the curtains?  Youmans encourages us to just show up and volunteer at local theaters.  Watch for ads or check Web sites for audition calls.  To learn even more about the theater as well as its opportunities, Lucinda Merry-Browne recommends attending the post-show discussions with the actors and directors that are offered occasionally at theaters during their season.

And, finally, before the curtain can even rise, it is essential for all who value performing arts to know that financial support is essential to the success of local stage theaters.  Ticket sales represent only 20 to 50 percent of revenue.  Fundraising, grants and advertising are the vital primary sources of funding.  Consequently, one important mission of each theater is community outreach through educational workshops to develop the acting talent of the future and to encourage funding support.  Steven Arnold noted that “community enrichment is a key to Church Hill Theatre’s future.”  Lucinda Merry-Browne was confident that presenting superb quality productions at Bay Theatre will help attract the essential funding for the future.

The lights are dimming, the curtain is about to rise.  Take your seat.  It’s show time!

The author, Phil Ferrara, can be reached at [email protected] for added information.  Gratitude is extended to Carol Youmans, Lucinda Merry-Browne and Steven Arnold for their time and for their passion and excitement for the theater.

A sampling of theaters of the central Chesapeake Bay region and upcoming schedule and ticket information:

1.) Bay Theatre Company,   410-268-1333

2.) Church Hill Theatre,  410-758-1331

3.) Colonial Players, Inc.,   410-268-7373

4.) Tred Avon Players, Inc.,  410-226-0061

5.) Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre,  410-268-9212

6.) Dignity Players,  410-266-8044, x127

7.) Standing ‘O’ Productions,    410-647-8412



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