Community theater explores darker edges of the stage
Silver Spring group takes on controversial topics in 41st year
Your neighbor could be on a communist witch hunt. Your grocer, a stern boarding school matron. Your accountant, the next Dylan Klebold.
But only on the weekends.
Silver Spring Stage will kick off its 41st theatrical season this month, bringing a diverse run of plays to the area that will explore everything from McCarthyism to school shootings to relationships, and bring local thespians and theater enthusiasts together to put them on.
Bridget Muehlburger, this year's play selector, said it is the goal of Silver Spring Stage to bring productions that might attract nontraditional community theater audiences, even if they also attract a little controversy.
"What makes us different from most other community theaters is that we have seven full-run shows," Muehlburger said. "The opportunity that affords us is to try to find contemporary plays, plays that draw a different demographic, as well as being able to do the old tried-and-true Agatha Christies."
Under this year's theme, "Find Yourself," falls the Christie classic "The Mousetrap," as well as a holiday production of "A Little Princess," and a one-act festival that will start the season Aug. 15. But Silver Spring Stage is mostly putting on darker, wry, adult productions such as the Muehlburger-directed "Columbinus," which will examine the pressures on high school students through the lens of the Columbine High School shooting, and will run in April, the month of the tragedy's 11th anniversary.
"In every one of these plays, you're trying to find out who you are and what you believe and what draws you to your beliefs," Muehlburger said.
Muehlburger said the goal of the play is to get people to think about issues such as school shootings.
"I would say it's maybe more empathetic than sympathetic," she said of "Columbinus." "It tries to help you see them from a different perspective, but certainly not to defend or glorify the situation."
The first full-run play following the one-act festival will be "Dinner with Friends," a drama about the crumbling of one couple's marriage and the effect it has on the marriage of their old friends.
"I've been waiting for someone to do this close to my house for years," said Andrea Spitz, who has 25 year's experience in community theater and turned out to audition for the production on a recent weekend, reading for both female parts.
None of the players, directors or stage crew is paid in anything but applause, but Spitz said the hobby is its own reward.
"It's the community part [of community theater] that I like," Spitz said. "I find that the folks that are involved are incredibly dedicated and the environment is warm and supportive, which is not necessarily the case in professional theater."
Even the building itself is playing a new role. The Silver Spring Stage recently underwent significant remodeling thanks to two grants of $25,000 and $18,000 issued by the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, according to Board of Directors Chairman Richard Ley. After matching the grants through fundraising efforts, the theater was repainted, retiled and refurbished.
The recasting was the first significant one for the building since it was converted from a bowling alley in 1968. The result is an unconventional diamond-angled stage constructed of the original lane wood, neither proscenium nor theater in the round, which leads to unusual stage blocking.
"The stage layout itself is unique. The whole theater's unique," Muehlburger said.
"There's so much theater in the D.C. Metro Area both professional and community, and we're all fighting for the same audience," Muehlburger said. "So you have to try to set yourself apart."
For more information about scheduling and tickets, visit www.ssstage.org.