It's a big weekend for two organizations devoted to bringing more people into the local theater community.
Performance Workshop Theatre, a nonprofit company and theater arts training school, just moved from its Federal Hill location to new digs in Hamilton. The first production there, devoted to stories written by great playwrights, opens Friday.
Artists' Initiative, which aims to provide opportunities for young directors and designers, as well as actors, debuts Friday with an updated staging of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" in Olney.
"We bought into a 1928 Provident Bank building," said Performance Workshop co-founder Marlyn G. Robinson. "It's a remarkable space. They're looking to revitalize the area, and we want to be a part of that."
The company presents workshops for aspiring actors and playwrights throughout the year.
"It's like a teaching hospital," Robinson said. "Our approach is: Study with us, act with us. We have cast our shows many times with young people."
Performance Workshop's former location had room for less than 30 seats at performances; the Hamilton venue can fit about 50.
The inaugural production, "[Un]told Stories," is a one-man show featuring Marc Horwitz, co-founder of Performance Workshop Theatre, and directed by Robinson.
Over the next several weeks, Horwitz will rotate readings of a rich assortment of stories, from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and Oscar Wilde's "The Canterville Ghost" to Tennessee Williams' "Portrait of a Girl in Glass" and Luigi Pirandello's "In Silence."
Meanwhile, the Artists' Initiative will be focusing on "Romeo and Juliet," re-set in 1943 Verona, with Fascism and anti-Semitism providing a fresh background for the fatal family feud in this iconic tragedy. If all goes well, the new company will continue to develop outlets for talent in the Baltimore and Washington areas.
"Actors have an audition process," said artistic director Michael R. Burgtorf, who co-founded the Artists' Initiative with managing director Tricia Fegley. "Essentially our goal is to provide that sort of process for young producing artists — directors, set and costume designers, lighting designers. We want to give those people a space and a chance."
That first space is the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at the high-profile Olney Theatre Center, where Burgtorf used to work in the box office. "They gave us a special rental contract, which is a huge plus," he said.
Burgtorf, who is directing "Romeo and Juliet," said that word about the new company went out through e-mail, social media and older grapevines and generated a turnout of more than three dozen for the first audition. Actors aren't being paid for the inaugural production, but generating the funding for a more professional arrangement is among the Initiative's goals.
"We're what you could call early professional, gateway, or entry theater," Burgtorf said. "We've got theater professionals acting as mentors and email buddies for our young producing artists. We're a theater that's striving for community. I think the theater community has a real energy, a real bond of friendship, but it hasn't been completely cultivated in the area. That's what we're hoping to do."
If you go
"[Un]told Stories will be presented through March 27th at Performance Workshop Theatre, 5426 Harford Road. $7.50-$20. Call 410-659-7830 or go to performanceworkshoptheatre.org.
Artists' Initiative presents "Romeo and Juliet" through March 13 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road. $20. Call 202-681-2787 or go to artistsinitiative.org.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun