Theater audiences are typically faced with no-no's before the action starts — no recording devices of any kind, no picture-taking.
Things are a little different at performances of "Bump," a dark comedy currently receiving its premiere production at the Theatre Project.
"Flash photography will be encouraged," said playwright Robert Powers with a laugh.
Intermittent bursts from cameras or flash-equipped cellphones, which could create something like a paparazzi barrage, fit right in with "Bump." Set in L.A., it's the tale of Deena, an heiress whose party-heartiness earned her jail time and something worse — a lapse of interest from the media. The play follows her attempt to reclaim the spotlight.
There are shades of Lindsay Lohan's hedonism, Paris Hilton's more-money-than-sense situation and the Casey Anthony scandal in the celebrity Powers created.
"What Deena knows is that she wants to be famous," the playwright said. "And when people start out wanting something so bad, it can only go wonderfully or terribly for them."
The title of the three-act play comes from "baby bump," the pop expression for pregnancy. A child, in one way or another, enters Deena's life.
"This character deserves misfortune, and she gets plenty of it," Powers, 22, said. "We want to hate her, but we can't. We even feel sorry for her, the way some celebrities make us feel sorry, even though we don't really know them."
The Atlanta-born Powers started thinking about writing a play from the time he was accepted at the Johns Hopkins University four years ago. With that acceptance came a Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship, a $10,000 award that allows arts and sciences students to pursue an independent project.
"There are no caveats with the fellowship," Powers said. "They ask you to do something you care about."
Powers, who developed a keen interest in mythology in high school, majored in Classics at Hopkins, studying Greek and Latin.
"It's a pretty cool thing that celebrities today are our modern mythology," Powers said. "The ancient Greeks emulated their gods and goddesses, who never seemed to do what they were supposed to. [In 'Bump'], Deena is this goddess who shouldn't be emulated, but she is."
Combining his love of the past with contemporary culture to produce a theatrical work was a natural for Powers.
"In seventh grade, I won a writing award in the state of Georgia," he said. "I always loved storytelling, as a way to have fun and then a way to express myself. And at Hopkins, studying classic Greek drama led me to be really interested in theater. And John Astin [veteran actor and a Hopkins visiting professor] turned on all the lights for me."
Powers engaged Jim Knipple, founding director of the recently folded Run of the Mill Theater Company, to direct "Bump." For the role of Deena, Powers settled quickly on Rebecca Ellis, a longtime performer perhaps best known for her work with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in Ellicott City.
"If Hopkins is going to give me some money, I'm going to hire people who know what they're doing," Powers said.
His connection to the university did not end with his graduation.
"I decided I wanted to stay longer and earn my MFA here," he said. While pursuing a graduate degree, Powers plans to continue building a career as a playwright.
"This is a great theater town," he said.
If you go
"Bump" will be performed at Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 to $20. Call 410-752-8558 or go to theatreproject.org.