Over the past decade or so, Baltimore has experienced a boom in small theater companies founded by young college grads dedicated to producing adventurous, contemporary plays. The boom continues.
Making its debut this week is the Interrobang Theatre Company, formed by recent alumni of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, all of them in their early 20s.
"I graduated from UMBC in 2012 with a theater degree," says Katie Hileman, Interrobang's artistic director. "I was sitting at home realizing that all my talented friends were sitting at home, too. We hadn't found theater work that offered pay in Baltimore. I thought, let's see if we can make Baltimore a place where actors can stay and make money."
Not that the money will be forthcoming right away. But the company has had enough luck with private fundraising to set a $7,000 budget for its inaugural production, Sheila Callaghan's "Scab."
This 2002 play is about a friendship between two young women, complicated by their interest in the same man, not to mention by the presence of a rather strange plastic Virgin Mary statue. Along the way, sexual orientation boundaries are a little blurry.
"Friendships don't get as much attention in plays as romantic relationships, and friendships can mean so much more to people our age," Hileman says. "'Scab' deals with how very difficult friendships can be to navigate, repair or end."
Callaghan's work fits neatly into Interrobang's mission.
"Everyman [Theatre] and Center Stage take care of the — I know this sounds terrible — older audience," Hileman says. "It's difficult to get people our age to go see a play. So I want to pick stuff that really targets issues and challenges that people in their 20s and 30s go through, contemporary and new plays that they would wish to go see."
To help put "Scab" on the stage, Interrobang is renting space at St. Mark's Lutheran Church from an intrepid troupe based there, the Acme Corporation. Interrobang, which has just begun scouting out a possible permanent home, hired an Acme associate, cutting-edge playwright and director Lola Pierson, to direct the production.
"I'm completely thrilled," Pierson says. "It's really cool working with people 10 years younger than me. They've got a really advanced sense of how to use video and multimedia in productions. I'm constantly impressed by their wizardry."
Pierson is also an admirer of Callaghan's work.
"She takes a lot of structural risks in this play, which I love," the director says. "And I like the way she treats sexual orientation. Sexuality can exist in a story without becoming the point of the story. 'Scab' has two women kissing, but that doesn't have to be the entire story."
Hileman, who is performing in "Scab," says that Pierson "has been fantastic. She has taken this piece so far beyond anything I expected."
Speaking of expectations, Interrobang's managing director, Kiirstn Pagan, anticipates that ticket sales to "Scab" will cover the production budget and get enough Interrobang for the buck to keep the company going until its next production, slated for the Charm City Fringe Festival in November.
"We've all had pretty great training from UMBC," says Pagan, who earned a degree in stage management there. "And I think what we will have to offer is a little bit different. Our aim is step the game up, to be as professional as possible. We aim high."
If you go
The Interrobang Theatre Company's production of "Scab" runs through April 5 at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 1900 Saint Paul St. Tickets are $7 to $12. Go to interrobangbaltimore.org.