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Promising Playwright Contest Winner! The Colonial Players, Inc. of Annapolis, MD is pleased to announce the winner of their biennial Promising Playwright Contest!

TUESDAY, APRIL 1, 2014

OffBook: What Lies Ahead

by Jeff Sprague

Hello, readers...

I hope you didn’t miss me too much. First off, I’d like to apologize for a lack of an article in February. I wrote one, but through some administrative glitches, it got a little bit lost in translation. Probably a good thing, because I found myself less and less impressed with my submission as the time wore on. It was a bit too negative, and with winter apparently lasting 10 months this year, who really wants to add to his or her depression? So, it’s probably good that it didn’t see the light of day, and we hopefully move to more cheerful subjects.

A big thanks to Karen Grim for stepping in as guest blogger last month. I know you all missed hearing from our previous pontificator, so I asked her to give us an update and let us know how things are with her. Also, a big congrats to her and the rest of the Colonial Players’ winners at the recent WATCH awards. Once again, the theatre shows it’s one of the very best in the MD/DC/VA region!

2014 04 01 1As far as our current production goes, Bat Boy has opened, and if you haven’t yet gotten a chance to see it, I highly encourage you to make haste and book your tickets. For the adults, this is a charming and exceptionally well-done musical. The technical aspects blew me away. Strobe lights, smog machines, film projections, full-body makeup and prosthetics: it’s incredible. Not to mention, the energy and physicality the actors bring to the telling of this quirky tale is a true delight. This is not your typical Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and it’s not even akin to some of the more contemporary conventions in the genre. However, the fact that it’s unique and a bit of a risk as a musical choice are huge reasons why it is so appealing. Get out and see it!

While there are two shows remaining after Bat Boy closes, the theatre has officially released the slate of shows for 2014-2015. Time really flies when you’re having fun! I encourage everyone to take a look at the next season’s offerings and see if a season subscription is of interest. As usual, Colonial Players has picked a slate that is a mix of the familiar and the novel, and we have plenty of challenging roles onstage and backstage for those interested in taking part in a production. Of significant note is that our perennial favorite, A Christmas Carol, will be offered as a main-stage production in the next season. That is, it will be considered as part of the season subscription package and will run for three weeks as opposed to the traditional two. With as much feedback as I got from my December entry and the alternate year offerings of the Dickens classic, I know this is bound to make many of you happy.

The other shows in the season include Rocket Man, A Few Good Men, The Liar, Earnest in Love, Watch on the Rhine, and Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them.

Before that, however, the theatre will be offering our One-Act Festival this summer. This is a great opportunity for those of you who have never tried acting before to get some experience, and it’s also a place for new directors to get their feet wet. I directed a show in the 2010 One-Act Festival, and because of it, was eligible to submit to direct a main-stage production. Hopefully, our One-Act directors this year will use the experience to give them enough courage to try for a show in an upcoming season. While it took me four years, I finally took the plunge. Indeed, I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be jumping into the directing pool next year with A Few Good Men. Scary and exciting all at the same time. I’ll post more as it gets closer.

While I’m using this month’s entry to generate some excitement about what lies ahead, let us not forget that there is still plenty of this season left. These Shining Lives and Dead Man’s Cell Phone are either in rehearsals or soon to audition. I’m sure the 2013-2014 slate will go out with a bang.

Until next month-

~Jeff

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SUNDAY, MARCH 2, 2014

OffBook: Baby Take a Bow

by Karen Grim

Hello Dear Readers!!

Here we are, one year after my final blog, meeting up again. You knew I couldn’t stay away too long. So let’s see, what have you missed?! A March to March 2013-2014 timeline:

March 2013 – finished Trying, went to NY, saw The Phantom of the Opera for the first time in my life (cried profusely), went to NY again, saw Kinky Boots laughed and cried (it totally deserved that Tony), saw 1776 laughed some more. FYI – that’s a whole lot of shows in one month.

April 2013 – did my first pull-up – I know this isn’t theatre related but I mentioned it in my New Year’s resolutions blog and thought you’d all be interested to know that I succeeded in one of my goals.

May 2013 – Auditioned for The Everyman Theatre season (so far no callbacks) But…I got engaged!!! Yes, you read that right, I’m getting married!. Prepping for the biggest show of my life (I hope I remember my lines!!)

Summer 2013 – Did summer type stuff

August 2013 – Colonial Players 64th Season Celebration - what a fabulous time!! I loved hanging out with everyone and reminiscing about this past season and all the great successes we had. I also went to my first drive-in movie. It was a marathon so we saw three shows. One of the coolest things I’ve ever done and I highly recommend it. I also auditioned for and got a part in a show at The Mobtown Players in Baltimore. Don’t worry, I’m not leaving you guys, but I wanted to spread my wings a bit, especially at a theatre a little closer to home.

September/ October 2013 – I overuse the term “I can’t, I have rehearsal” I Somehow managed to see Communicating Doors (laughed so hard I cried!) and was pleased to see some new faces and enjoy new talent on the CP stage. Also, got a promotion at work!!

November 2013 – My show opened. We got great reviews, had a lot of fun every night and I enjoyed working with new people at a new theatre.

December 2013– Turned another year older, celebrated the holidays

January/ February 2014 - started the New Year with great friends and very few goals (other than fitting into that wedding dress). Auditioned for The Voice - crazy/ fun experience but I did not make it to Hollywood. Learned I was nominated for Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Play for Sarah Schorr in Trying by MD Theatre Guide Reader's Choice Awards and subsequently won 1st place! And nominated for my first WATCH Award!!! Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play as “Sarah Schorr”. I won’t find out if I win that until March 9th so I’ll update you all after the ceremony.

2014 02 02 1And then sadly, on February 10th Shirley Temple Black passed away. I know in the grand scheme of things that happened in the world this past year, this is a small thing, but to me it was a big deal. She was my idol. She gave me that first small spark of inspiration that I needed to say “Hey, I want to do that.” She was the motivation behind my very first blog entry and I couldn’t create the timeline without putting her death in there, because without her, that timeline could look very very different. I may never have put on that first tap shoe nor had the courage to go to my first improv class. And you may never have seen me on stage let alone read one of my blogs. Without Shirley Temple, I wouldn’t be me. Death, I think, always puts life into perspective. How do you want to live your life? Who do you want to inspire? What do you want to achieve? When you look back on your timeline a year from now, what do you want to see? This past year has been full of wonderful things that wouldn’t seem so grand if we didn’t have awful things like the death of an icon to compare them to. I think when we recognize our own mortality every once in a while we reaffirm our will to live life to its fullest. I’m so grateful and proud to have been nominated for a WATCH Award and to have won the MD Theatre Guides Reader’s Choice Award. It’s nice to have people recognize how hard I worked to accomplish something. For them to be able to see that even though maybe I thought I’d been good in the past, or really liked a role I played, this time I really nailed it. I think too by not being nominated in the past, when I was, it made it that much sweeter. And I’m not alone, not by a long shot. Colonial Players and its members were nominated for multiple awards in both the MD Theatre Guides Reader’s Choice Awards and the WATCH Awards. Every single person worked so hard and put blood, sweat, and tears into every aspect of the shows that were nominated. They didn’t all get recognized for their hard work individually but to know they were a part of a nominated show is enough, enough for them to be able to look back at their timelines and think, “Wow that was a really awesome day / month / year”. And who knows, maybe this season they’ll be a part of a show and lucky enough to get a nomination? And if I’m lucky enough to win, you better believe I’m thanking Shirley Temple, my Mom first of course, because without her I really wouldn’t be here; but Shirley Temple too, for giving a little girl a reason to dream big.

~Karen Grim
(still not famous :), but I’m working on it)

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SATURDAY, JANUARY 11, 2014

OffBook: Coyote on a Fence

by Jeff Sprague

Happy New Year, readers!

2014 is upon us, and at the moment, I am preparing to enter tech week for our next production. Coyote on a Fence is, as I alluded last month, most definitely an adult show that deals with the issue of capital punishment in the United States. Certainly, this is the most controversial issue currently part of our criminal justice system. Most of us probably have an opinion on the death penalty. I would, however, venture to say that our opinions are rather abstract and esoteric. That is to say, we base our assessments on whether the state should be allowed to kill its most heinous offenders based on a philosophical assessment of crime and punishment. The usual suspects come up. Is it an effective deterrent? Is the cost justified? Why should the state not exact the ultimate punishment for someone who has taken a life? Conversely, should the state be in the retribution business to the extent where it is as guilty of taking a life as the offender?

I’m not going to give you my opinion, but I’ve posted these questions because they are the ones that arise, from both sides, whenever the subject is discussed. Have any of us really thought about what capital punishment means to those directly involved with it, though? To that end, I don’t just mean the experiences of the condemned. What about the families of the victims? What about the families of the soon-to-be executed? What about the correctional officers who, in having a steady government job with a nice pension, are forced to carry out the state’s final act of punishment? What is it like on death row?

2014 01 11 1Coyote on a Fence takes us to death row at an unnamed penitentiary of an unnamed Southern State. It introduces us to people who live in that world. We see John Brennan, a man determined to avoid execution by all means possible, who nonetheless cannot admit to being responsible for a criminal act. We see Shawna DuChamps, a prison guard with decades of experience who, initially, comes off as emotionally numb. As we get to know her, though, we know that beneath that “1,000 yard stare,” there is a human being fighting with the emotional impact of her uniquely terrible workplace. We meet Bobby Reyburn, a man who, though vulnerable, youthful, and strangely likable, is a remorseless monster responsible for a horrific act of violence. Then there is Sam. Sam is an outsider who writes for the New York Times. He wants to tell the stories of these people, and is unsure of how to present them.

Why should anyone want to visit with these folks? It’s a fair question. The Marketing Director asked me to discuss why Colonial Players is presenting this show, and more broadly, why our “Arc” shows are done in the first place. To answer that, I’m going to quote the Director of “Coyote on a Fence,” Edd Miller.

2014 01 11 2Edd asks in his Director’s notes: “What is an ARC?” His answer: “An opportunity for you, the audience, to gain perspective and insight on a life situation not familiar to you. An opportunity to be moved or stimulated or provoked on a subject of significance. An opportunity to share a heightened awareness or a mind-expanding experience. “ He concludes by stating that the production of an ARC show is to highlight plays "of more than ordinary significance.”

Colonial Players has the luxury to produce numerous types of theatre. We have done Annie and other family-friendly fare, but as a theatre dedicated to the art, we must also offer pieces that are engaging and, let’s face it, sometimes controversial. Maybe that isn’t what all of our audience wants, but there is a segment of the audience that craves and expects the catharsis that can come with exploring different areas of humanity in challenging and serious shows. Coyote on a Fence, Frozen, Going to St. Ives, and Two Rooms, just to name a few, are some examples of our commitment to that exploration.

I hope that you will consider coming to Coyote on a Fence. Yes, you will hear strong language. Yes, you will hear racial epithets and violent threats that will make you uncomfortable. Yes, you will leave the theatre with, hopefully, a new perspective on capital punishment. You may not change your mind, and the play doesn’t seek to do that; however, you will be thinking about it, and that’s what our ARC offerings are meant to do.

Until next month,

~Jeff


[Webmaster's Note: We are experimenting with a new comment component on our website for the Blog. If you wish, you may leave your comments directly on this site to be viewed by other OffBook readers simply by clicking the link "Write Comment" below. All comments are subject to review prior to appearing on our website.]

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WEDNESDAY, DECBEMBER 4, 2013

OffBook: Holiday Productions

by Jeff Sprague

Hello dear readers, and Happy Holidays...

2013 11 annie logoAs I write this, I think I can unofficially declare that Colonial Players is in the midst of one of its most successful shows in its history. Well, at least in the history of when I've been doing stuff here. I have never seen an entire performance added to the schedule so as to accommodate the high demand for tickets. So, at least with what I'm qualified to comment about, Annie is the most successful show since November 2006. Either way, that ain't bad.

As Annie closes, there will be a stretch of December where the theatre will be dark. Indeed, we won't return again until January 10, 2014, when we will present Coyote on a Fence. Yours truly has a small role in that one, and while it's a wonderful show that takes an insightful look at capital punishment in our society, it's a 180-degree turn from Annie and is most certainly for adult audiences. There is ample usage of F-words and racial epithets, and it also includes a few phrases that make me, as a graduate of Virginia Military Institute (the naughty word capital of the United States), blush. So, just to get this out there now, the producers recommend this show only for those over 18 or for very mature teens with parental supervision.

2012 12 a christmas carol logoFor those of you who have been with us for many years, you'll no doubt note that we are not producing A Christmas Carol this year. I am not sure of the exact dates, but since the 1980s to about 2009, the production was an annual event. A few years ago, it was decided that, for the integrity of the show and for our volunteers, it would be transitioned to a production occurring every other year. Since this time, there have been three productions done in our "holiday/family show" spot to offer the same type of family-friendly experience to our patrons. This year, as noted above, the choice was Annie, and it has been a tremendous success both critically and financially for Colonial Players.

All that said, the move to alternate years for A Christmas Carol was the biggest controversy that I've witnessed while working at the theatre. There were even letters to the editor of The Capital newspaper bemoaning the change. For a little community theatre, that was really something, in my opinion. If anything, it shows that what we choose to do matters within our community of Annapolis.

little women logoSo, my question to all of you, is how is the compromise working for you now that we are a few years into it? One of the purposes of this blog for the theatre is to reach out to patrons for ideas on how to make Colonial Players better. At least, that's one of my goals. Community theatre is about being both of the community and for it, so I would encourage our readers to head over to the Facebook page and drop a line as to their opinion on the current programming offered during the holidays (see Webmaster's Note below). Do you like the change? Have you enjoyed Annie, Little Women, and The Christmas Doll? Does it make you more excited to see fresh productions of A Christmas Carol in alternating years? Let us know how we are doing.

This blog does not speak for the theatre, so I can't promise any drastic change as to what comments are received. The Marketing Team does read them, however, and good commentary is always taken to heart.

That's all I have for you this month, and so with that, we say goodbye to 2013.

We've had a great year, and I know that all of us are looking forward to an even better 2014. January marks the announcement of Washington Area Community Theatre Honors (WATCH) nominations. Those awards are presented in early March, and traditionally, Colonial Players has had great success both in the technical and artistic fields. Everyone keep your fingers crossed for our 2013 volunteers!!

Have a joyous New Year, one and all, and I'll see you in 2014.

Until next month,

~Jeff


[Webmaster's Note: We are experimenting with a new comment component on our website for the Blog. If you wish, you may leave your comments directly on this site to be viewed by other OffBook readers simply by clicking the link "Write Comment" below. All comments are subject to review prior to appearing on our website.]

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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2013

OffBook: Stuck in the middle with you...

by Jeff Sprague

It’s hard to believe that we are already into November, isn’t it? Our new season is well underway, and after a successful run of Communicating Doors, we are opening Annie this month. Come and see it as soon as you can, as there are a limited amount of “tomorrows” for this fun, family musical (showtune pun=awesome). Seriously, how can you not like Annie? A plucky kid, a bald Tim Sayles, and a bit with a dog. I’m excited.

As I told the 12 of you who read this blog, I am always looking for ideas for blog topics. Well, two or three of you are actually giving me feedback, so it’s again time to address a reader suggestion. This one comes from Colonial Players jack-of-all-trades, Beth Terranova. She has pretty much done everything here in the last several years, and is one of the hardest working people you’ll ever come across at this theatre. In last month’s entry, Beth noted that I talked about “thinking about the applause” as a way to survive tech week. She asks, “What happens when that applause is simply not enough?” That is, what happens when you find yourself in a show in which no amount of applause will bring happiness?

I had to think about this one for a bit. For one, I’m not sure that I’ve ever been in a show in which I truly despised every aspect of it. Generally, I can find something positive. That said, I’ve done a few where the experience has been more negative than positive. My absolute least favorite experience did not happen at Colonial Players, but I’ll lay out what happened so that we can all see what went wrong (and how to avoid it).

First off, I didn’t audition for the show that we shall, for purposes of this blog, call “Show X” (so as to protect the innocent and guilty alike). I was asked to do it because, as is often the case, there were not enough dudes who came out for it. I received virtually no feedback as to what the role would entail, and I had not read the script prior to accepting the offer. Well, by the time rehearsals came around, I grew to loathe the show’s idiotic “plot” and the complete lack of organization in the rehearsal process. I’ll spare the gory details, but suffice it to say, there was a lot being “phoned-in” by various parties, and there was a lot of standing around. People were on their own to figure out how things should work, there were some personality conflicts, and it was, overall, pretty frustrating. I’m not sure I’d say that the show was ready to open when it did, but we got through it, and it got a bit tighter as it progressed. I’ll also add that this was several years ago in a galaxy far, far away.

So, yeah…that got old pretty quick, and I was glad when it was done.

Where did I screw-up? For one, I should have read the script before taking any offer. I didn’t, because I was flattered to be asked to perform without an audition. My ego was swelled, so I said yes. It was a mistake.

I’ve said on this blog (a million times) that community theatre is a huge time commitment. If one reads and becomes intimately familiar with the script before auditions, there is a far lesser chance of being disappointed in the source material for the show. If you read it and hate it, it really doesn’t matter if good people will be performing with you; you are still going to have some level of a negative experience just based on the text you have to say. Talk to people about the script and the playwright first. Get a vibe. It’s important.

Liking the show is pretty key to liking the experience, but there are other factors that can ruin it which have nothing to do with the script. Personality conflicts happen from time to time, and whether it’s between actors or between an actor and a director, it can really put a damper on the show. I haven’t really had too many of these. While I’m usually pretty serious about learning my role, I like to joke around and try and be convivial when hanging out in the dressing room with everybody else. I find that this can help the tension surrounding a show opening, and it usually leads to a positive show experience (even if the on-stage production turns out to be a dog). With “Show X,” I really enjoyed the people I performed with, so it saved the show from being a real tragedy. So, while I certainly acknowledge that personality conflicts can happen in community theatre (as they can anywhere there is more than one human being in close proximity), my suggestion is to try and at least be cordial to those who, at least to you, seem difficult. If that fails, realize your duty to the show and try to coexist peacefully. You can vent with snarky comments to your buds, but do it in private (and don’t carry it with you onto the stage). This is common sense. Be a decent person, and you’ll be fine. As far as your own sanity goes, keep in mind those who are problematic, for your own future reference. Community theatre is a small world, and there is a good chance you'll run into people on more than one show. If a director or another actor is getting to be too much of a problem for you, it's something to note as you pick later projects.

All that said, what can you really do if you are facing the reality of a show you hate with people that annoy you? My answer: community shows usually run two to five weeks. You suck up the pain for, at most, a little over a month, and then you move on. You perform to your highest ability when you are onstage, because people paid money to see the show. You vent to your friends and family in private. You take constructive feedback and own up to any part you might have in causing the problem. You don't burn bridges or do anything to damage your reputation. If all else fails, you count it as a life experience, and then you tell stories about how awful it was when you are sitting in the dressing room of your next, more enjoyable show. That’s all I got.

Until next month,

~Jeff

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