That some actors or stage personnel end up abandoning ship isn't surprising. "Life happens," Zemarel said. On the flip side, "I now find a lot of directors will work around your schedule conflicts," said Jeffrey Burch, who just finished performing in the cast of "Twelve Angry Men" at Dundalk Community Theatre.

Burch, a fundraiser for a nonprofit foundation, started performing in 1976 when he was 18. "In those years," he said, "it wouldn't be unusual to have 500 people turn out for auditions. I use to see a lot more volunteerism backstage, too. Now theaters are scrounging to find people to run a show."

Zemarel also has noticed smaller turnouts at open audition calls. "So it's easier for someone who's good to get a part," he said.

Auditioning for community theater requires some basic preparation.

To try out for a musical, be prepared to sing 16 bars of a ballad, another 16 of an up-tempo number.

"For a play audition, the standard is always to be able to walk in with a one-minute dramatic monologue and a one-minute comedic monologue," said Zemarel, who works in the University of Baltimore's human resources department when he isn't acting in or directing a show. "If you want to be real professional, have two classical, two modern monologues."

Instead of, or in addition to, monologues, directors may ask you to read a few pages from a play with another actor.

Several community theaters — and some professional ones, such as Everyman Theatre — offer acting workshops and classes throughout the year. The Baltimore Playwrights Festival, held each summer, provides "a lot of good openings for less-experienced actors," Goldklang said.

A lack of experience doesn't necessarily mean a lack of ambition.

"A lot of young aspiring performers today seem to feel that if they don't get a part, they're not interested," said Burch. "Maybe it's the influence of reality TV, the idea that everyone's a star. Don't think being a member of the chorus or the ensemble is a bad thing. You know the old cliche: There are no small parts, only small actors."

It's worth noting that performers in Baltimore's community theater arena have been known to reach the big time. Spotlighters alumni include Academy Award nominee Howard Rollins Jr., for example, and among those on the Vagabonds' boards in the 1970s was a University of Maryland, Baltimore County student named Kathleen Turner.

And the number of non-Equity companies in the area keeps growing, thanks to the recent arrivals of such theaters as Single Carrot, Glass Mind and Iron Crow, which focus on new, often experimental works. "I definitely think we are headed toward a renaissance period for community theater," Zemarel said.

Added Fuzz Roark, managing director of Spotlighters: "We're always open to anyone coming down the pike. If you're in Baltimore and want to get into theater, there's a doorway for you."

tim.smith@baltsun.com

Here's a sampling of 15 Baltimore community theater groups

Actors Initiative

202-681-2787, artistsinitiative.org.

A newly formed collaborative venture for actors and directors in the Baltimore/D.C. area

Arena Players Inc.

801 McCulloh St., 410 728 6500, info@arenaplayersinc.com