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    Posted October 17, 2009

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A Commitment to Excellence;
A Commitment to Equity Talent

By Gregory Gorton The Washington DC theatre community is an exciting and thriving place. Part of that excitement comes from the continuous growth and creation of new theatres and theatre companies and the commitment to excellence in works performed on their stages and the use of Equity actors in their productions. Located just half an hour or so from both Washington DC and Baltimore, Rep Stage, in Columbia, Maryland, is celebrating its 17th season. Rep Stage performs in the black box theatre within the Horowitz Center as well as the 400- seat Smith Center, located in the heart of the campus of Howard Community College. It has recently been upgraded from an SPT6 to an SPT8 theatre---a leap of two tiers. Audiences come not only from Washington and the Baltimore area, but its subscriber list also includes Virginia and Pennsylvania patrons as well.

Rep Stage's growth in artistic accomplishments is evidenced by its 38 Helen Hayes Award nominations and seven wins. Bruce Nelson, a long time favorite of Washington audiences, was the recipient of two of those Helen Hayes Awards for his work at Rep Stage.

In 2005, Michael Stebbins became Rep Stage's Producing Artistic Director. Stebbins, an Equity actor himself, has a firm commitment to using Equity performers.

"One of the reasons Rep Stage exists as a theatre," says Stebbins, "is because we want to employ top regional talent. And much of the top talent in the world of regional theatre are members of AEA." Mr. Stebbins is very clear concerning what he is looking for in the actors he works with. "I am looking for the 'best fit'---actors who are aware of, and in control of, their instrument (i.e. technique) and actors who, in an audition, connect with the material. Actors who are members of Equity, or are on their way to becoming a member of AEA (Rep Stage participates in the EMC program), have made the choice to pursue the path of the professional actor. That shows a level of commitment on their part that I don't think should be taken lightly."

As a working actor himself, Mr. Stebbins is well aware of the economic difficulties facing artists today. "It is very difficult in the DC/Baltimore region for actors to survive solely on AEA contracts. With the challenges facing the arts community, I wanted to step up where I could."

REP STAGE 's production of Wittenberg by David Davalos. Directed by AEA member Tony Tsendeas and was the 2009-10 season opener. Pictured L to R: AEA member Seth Reichgott (Dr. Faust), EMC Michael Feldsher (Hamlet), AEA member and producing artistic director Michael Stebbins (Martin Luther)
Photo by Stan Barouh

With the entire country facing economic uncertainty and the arts feeling the pinch more so than usual, it is refreshing and inspiring to know the depth of Mr. Stebbins' commitment. "Rep Stage certainly faces the same challenges as other professional theaters, but I made a very conscious decision to not allow the quality of our productions to suffer on any front if I could help it."

A veteran of Rep Stage and long time associate of Michael Stebbins, Yvonne Erickson is an Equity actress who is taking a somewhat different path in her work with Rep Stage. Happy to participate and even direct staged readings, she was instrumental in forming a company of actors who will be doing staged readings on a regular basis. Ms. Erickson says, "Rep in Context is the name of the company. I recently read the role of Queen Isabella in DAEDALUS by David Davalos. It was a pleasure meeting the playwright, who also authored our season opener, WITTENBERG." Ms. Erickson is quite proud of Rep's move from SPT6 to SPT8. "An accomplishment, I think, and a commitment to keep hiring the best AEA actors in this time of economic stress."

REP STAGE 's production of Hysteria by Terry Johnson. Directed by AEA member Steven Carpenter (October/November 2009). Pictured L to R: AEA member Jeff Baker as Sigmund Freud and AEA member Bruce Nelson as Salvador Dali
Photo by Stan Barouh

Currently performing the role of Sigmund Freud in Terry Johnson's play, HYSTERIA, Jeff Baker is a DC favorite and has high praise for Rep Stage and for Michael Stebbins. Says Baker, "I have found him (Stebbins) to be a bright, creative and very supportive Artistic Director. He always shows genuine concern not only for the production as a whole, but also for the welfare of his actors in particular." On the subject of the theatre itself, Baker continues, "Rep is a solid Equity house with a growing, and well deserved, positive reputation."

Rep Stage winds up its season with A DICKENS OF A CAROL by Kimberly Lynne, THE GLASS MENAGERIE by Tennessee Williams, ON THE VERGE OR THE GEOGRAPHY OF LEARNING by Eric Overmyer, and THE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA by Edward Albee.

Traveling further north and slightly east on Route 50, in the capital of "The Free State," Annapolis, you will find the Bay Theatre. The Bay Theatre is the only professional Equity theatre on Maryland's eastern shore.

Founded in 2002-2003 by Janet Luby and Lucinda Merry-Brown, their first production, BEYOND THERAPY by Christopher Durang, was performed on a volley ball court. By the fall of 2003, Bay Theatre had found a more solid home at West Garrett Place. The growing pains did, at times, prove difficult, but the enthusiasm and the spirit of the artists and the community have brought them now to the level of an SPT2 Equity house.

For Janet Luby, the process of founding a new theatre was an enlightening experience. "I think the most interesting thing about founding a theatre, as an actress, is being on 'the other side,'" states Ms. Luby. "There are so many things to consider when it's your theatre. The biggest one is survival." Indeed, with the added stress of performance and financial concerns, it seems to be a double edged sword of not only the quantity of people in the house but also the quality of the actors on stage.

The Bay Theatre, too, is showing a growing commitment to hiring Equity actors. Ms. Luby goes on to say, "Equity actors generally are better actors. Other (actors) can't wait to get their cards because of the status that comes with it. (But) general, Equity actors deliver the goods better."

Our Equity Liaison Committee co-chair, Carl Randolph, appeared at Bay Theatre in their production of Shaw's CANDIDA, playing the role of the Reverend James Morell. Carl, too, was impressed by their commitment to the use of AEA actors. Washington Equity actors David Elias and Peter Boyer also performed at The Bay Theatre in A.R. Gurney's, SYLVIA.

The remainder of The Bay Theatre's season is, HARVEY by Mary Chase, MAURITIUS by Theresa Rebeck, and RETURN TO BLUE FIN by D.L Coburn. The Bay Theatre has been given the high honor of presenting the world premier of this play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Coburn.

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