Scottfield Theatre off to ambitious start in Havre de Grace

For Harford Magazine

When the curtains went up at the Havre de Grace Opera House last year, Harford County arts lovers got not just their first glimpse of the community theater debut of “Tuck Everlasting,” but of the launch of a new local theater company with big ambitions.

Scottfield Theatre Company is the brainchild of Becky Titelman, a Harford County native who founded the company along with two of her colleagues: director, producer and actor Allan Herlinger and Chuck Bowden, who handles technical aspects of productions.

Owning a theater company had been a goal of Titelman’s since she was young. After graduating from John Carroll High School, she founded and ran a children’s theater company, though it “fizzled out” after she left for her freshman year at Elon University.

After school, she lived in New York and performed professionally, but she never shook the urge to run her own company. A few years ago, after moving back to Maryland, she realized the time was right.

She reached out to Herlinger and Bowden, two of her longtime contacts in the industry, to see if they would be interested in helping her found the company. They jumped at the chance.

Herlinger has decades of experience in the local theater community as a director, including directing Titelman as Mame in “Mame.” Bowden heads the drama program at Bel Air High School and is a behind-the-scenes tech expert, building sets and working with lighting.

The combination of Herlinger and Bowden’s experience, plus Titelman’s expertise in choreography and artistic direction, provides the base for Scottfield’s performances.

“A set designer, choreographer and director coming together — we all have our strengths. It’s a neat collaboration,” says Titelman. The team filled the board with local performers and professionals with other important skills, from grant writing to publicity and marketing to financial management.

Though the company itself is new, together its leadership trio has over 85 years of experience putting on shows. The founders are seasoned, but they’re not stuck in their ways. In fact, one of their key goals for the company was to “do something different.”

“When I came back to Maryland, I was auditioning for a lot of shows and there needed to be something different. A lot of theaters do the same shows over and over,” says Titelman. “We wanted to start our first production off with a bang.”

One of Titelman’s college friends, Chris Miller, is one half of the musical theater songwriting duo Miller & Tysen. The pair developed the score for the hit Broadway production of “Tuck Everlasting,” based on the children’s novel by Natalie Babbitt.

After shows complete their run on Broadway, they typically first become available to professional companies, then to community theaters. But because Titelman was friends with one of the songwriting team, Scottfield was granted rights to put on the show before any other community theater in the nation.

“It was a national premiere,” Titelman says. “Our very first show.”

“Tuck Everlasting” ran during the fall of 2017. Scottfield followed that up with a production of “Titanic” in the spring of 2018 and, this October, the company is performing “Mamma Mia!” the hit musical (and movie) featuring the music of the Swedish pop group ABBA.

“Our goal has been to not do the same shows everyone else is doing. We were so fortunate to get ‘Tuck Everlasting.’ It was a huge honor,” says Herlinger. “Our cast really enjoyed themselves and audiences flocked to see the show.”

Around the time Scottfield was founded, the Havre de Grace Opera House was under renovation. The timing was ideal.

“Knowing the Opera House was reopening after being renovated and that it was going to be a rental space and a house for the arts, it looked like a great venue for us to use,” says Titelman.

Because the Opera House is a space shared by numerous arts groups, Scottfield rehearses offsite. But when they walk in the doors for rehearsals in the week before opening night, it’s like “coming home,” she says. “It’s a neat space for people to use. I feel like they’ve created a home for us there. There’s nothing else like it.”

The size of the Opera House does present some logistical challenges, but handling those are part of the fun for the team. During the production of “Tuck Everlasting,” they grappled with where to put the orchestra.

“At first we were thinking we might have one wing for the orchestra. Then we realized we couldn’t put it there, so we moved it into the hallway,” recalls Herlinger. “Then the fire marshal came through and said no, you can’t do that — two days before opening.”

The Opera House staff and the Scottfield team scrambled to find a spot for the orchestra, eventually settling on a space that didn’t block any fire exits.

The people who work with Scottfield credit the experience developed over the course of the founders’ careers for the company’s success so far.

Katie Gordon, a Havre de Grace resident playing the role of Donna in “Mamma Mia!,” cites Herlinger’s skill as a director and likability as a person for some of Scottfield’s success.

“Al is one of the more organized and respectful directors I’ve ever worked with,” she says. “He allows you to do what feels right and shares his vision with you and you collaborate. He’s an amazing mentor and guide.”

Gordon met Herlinger as a child, when he directed her in a local production. Now in her 40s, Gordon is performing in “Mamma Mia!” and has been involved in the past performances through her 19-year-old son Jesse, who has performed in all three Scottfield shows to date.

The Gordons aren’t the only multigenerational Scottfield family. Bel Air resident Brian Ruff and his 17-year old daughter Katie both performed in “Titanic.”

According to Ruff, a John Carroll alum who had performed under Herlinger in high school, the company as a whole feels like a family.

“People sometimes talk about having a certain amount of drama backstage. There was none of that,” he says. “This was the most positive production. People came together and acted like a family for several months, and we stay in touch with each other.”

What can local theater fans expect from Scottfield in the future? A steady stream of fresh productions and, hopefully, even more shows.

“We’re keeping our ear real close to all the houses to see what’s going to be coming off fresh from Broadway and down the road,” says Herlinger.

Titelman noted that the Scottfield team has already received many enthusiastic suggestions for shows and requests for audition information. They’re hoping for more.

“We have a forum on our website including a part where you can fill out a show suggestion,” says Titelman. “We would love for as many people to get involved as possible. Keep reaching out, auditioning, coming to shows. We’re just enjoying it right now. Positivity has surrounded us. It’s been a great experience.”

For more information about Scottfield Theatre Company, including a schedule of performances for “Mamma Mia!” and tickets, visit scottfieldtheatrecompany.org.

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