Dale Jones, wrote and co-directed the short plays being performed at the Maryland Historical Society, founded the Maryland-based Making History Connections to help promote museum theater.

"It has a reputation for being expensive," he says, "but it doesn't have to be. Script production can cost from $500 to $10,000, for example. You can do a six-month run of performances on weekends for about $5,000."

Jones produced numerous programs for the Baltimore City Life Museums and has written scripts and directed productions for such places as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts.

Last year, he created a museum theater piece for Fort Delaware, where Confederate prisoners were held during the Civil War. "Audiences stayed for 45 and 50 minutes afterward to ask questions," Jones says. "There's a fair amount of research showing that museum theater is a great way to get emotions across to people, making connections to the history."

The International Museum Theatre Alliance, founded in 1990, and other associations keep tabs on such research. Museums typically report exceptionally positive responses to theatrical presentations from visitor surveys.

"The professionalism of museum theater has increased over the past 20 years," Wilson says. "There is more training in it, more workshops. And there is much more thinking about its value."

Adds Jones: "There has to be an advocate at a museum who wants it to happen and thinks it's valuable for the institution."

That person at the 167-year-old Maryland Historical Society is its president, Burt Kummerow. He has a long association with museum theater,

"As a kid, I got interested in Civil War re-enactments," he says. "Some people look at that as a joke, but there is so much you can learn from something like that."

Having a major Civil War exhibit at the Maryland Historical Society provided Kummerow with an opportunity to present museum theater, which has been offered there only intermittently over the years.

"One of the problems museums have is the same in the retail world," he says. "At a shopping mall, you see people walking with blank looks. There are too many choices. When people have too many things to look at, they go into neutral, and we lose them."

Kummerow wants to hold on to visitors by giving them more than a lot of text to read.

"For me, it's always about telling stories," he says. "One way is to have docents, and many are superb. But actors can interpret the information. They're perfect for museums. Having them as tour guides, as well as performing, is a great thing."

The idea of combining actor and docent roles came from Jones.

"I have never done that before," he says. "I have worked with actors who, when you take away a script, will walk into a wall. But I've learned to look for actors who can also interact with people."

Anderson, an actress whose day job is elementary program coordinator for Washington's Folger Shakespeare Library, finds her dual role as Harriet Tubman and tour guide invigorating.

"It helps your improvisational skills," she says. "It can get very interactive after your performance."

Britt Olsen-Ecker, a Peabody Institute alum who works as a photographer when she isn't acting in local community theater, portrays a young lady caught up in the Pratt Street Riot. "Giving a tour is a performance in itself," she says. "I became a Civil War nerd doing this. Every single day I learn something new."

Jonathan Scott Fuqua, a teacher of writing and illustration at Maryland Institute College of Art and the author of books for young adults, shared writing duties with Jones for this project.

Norah Worthington, who worked for Everyman Theatre, Rep Stage and many other ensembles, designed the finely detailed costumes for the actors. "I love putting on a dress with a corset and coming down the stairs, seeing people's reaction," says Olsen-Ecker.

Another play, about Clara Barton, is in rehearsals. As for the long-range future of theatrical presentations at the Maryland Historical Society, "there is no guarantee it will continue," Kummerow says. "We need to find a sponsor or raise more money to make it a regular part of the budget."

Meanwhile, the four current museum theater pieces, each lasting 10 to 15 minutes, appear to be successful.

"When you get someone moved to tears in 15 minutes, which I've seen here," Lynn says, "you know you're doing something right."

tim.smith@baltsun.com



If you go



Performances and actor-guided tours for "Divided Voices: "Maryland in the Civil War" are offered Saturdays and Sundays at the Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St. Admission is $4 to $6. Call 410-685-3750 or go to mdhs.org.

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