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Behind-the-scenes changes at Rep Stage

Colleges and UniversitiesHoward Community CollegeEveryman TheatreIron Crow Theatre Company

When Rep Stage opens its season this weekend with a production of Horton Foote's "A Young Lady of Property," a nostalgic piece by the author of "The Trip to Bountiful," it may seem like business as usual.

The cast features some company regulars, such as Christine Demuth. And the play's director is Michael Stebbins, who ran Rep Stage for the past eight years. He'll be back again next month to star as the East German transvestite in Doug Wright's "I Am My Own Wife."

But if that makes the onstage offerings look familiar at the two-decade-old professional theater company based at Howard Community College, there's been quite a change offstage.

Two new people, Suzanne Beal and Joseph Ritsch, have taken the helm as co-producing artistic directors. They succeed Stebbins, who stepped down at the close of last season to refocus his energies on acting and directing.

"We were both a little surprised that they decided to hire two people, but there are a few other companies that do this," said Ritsch. "A lot of people don't realize how much administrative stuff goes with the job. It's nice to split that up. And Suzanne and I bring different things to the table."

Ritsch, who has recently worked as associate director and choreographer for Everyman Theatre, is co-founder of Baltimore's Iron Crow Theatre Company. He will still have ties to that ensemble as guest artist; he will perform with the company in his own play about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer later this season.

Beal is also a playwright and director — she directed several Rep Stage productions over the years. She has served as associate artist, resident director and board chair of the Maryland Ensemble Theatre in Frederick, as well as an English professor at Frederick Community College.

"I still live in Frederick and have connections there I want to maintain," Beal said. "So I was excited when [Rep Stage] asked if I would be interested in sharing the job with Joseph. I didn't know anything about him before. Our backgrounds are different, our experiences of theater are different, but we're very compatible."

The newly installed co-directors are working out details of how they will split up the assignment. They are also in the earliest stages of planning future seasons.

Meanwhile, the 2013-2014 lineup, set in place by Stebbins before he relinquished the reins, includes the classic Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt musical "The Fantasticks," and a potent Julia Cho play from 2007, "The Piano Teacher."

"Michael gave us the gift of time when he planned this season," Beal said. "Joseph and I have time to re-think the vision, the mission of Rep Stage. We would not be able to do that if we were hiring directors and overseeing productions."

Although a professional company that, like Center Stage and Everyman Theatre, hires Equity actors, Rep Stage has battled a perception that it's a student-level operation, because of its location.

"One of the things that will be my focus is how we can re-market the theater," Ritsch said. "A professional company housed at a college is not a college theater."

Beal, a Rep Stage subscriber for several years in addition to occasional stage director, sees the school location as a plus.

"We can embrace the place we're in," she said. "Rep Stage makes an important contribution to the community in which it lives. I think we're in for a very exciting time, and I feel very privileged to be a part of it."

tim.smith@baltsun. com

If you go

"A Young Lady of Property" runs through Sept. 29 at Rep Stage, Howard Community College Horowitz Center, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Tickets are $15 to $40. Call 443-518-1500 or go to repstage.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Colleges and UniversitiesHoward Community CollegeEveryman TheatreIron Crow Theatre Company
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