Ryan Nicotra, Boom Theatre Co.

Hannah Jackson (Ruth), Ryan Nicotra (director/ Andy Mayo) and Dustin Horsman (Robert Mayo) perform in "Beyond the Horizon." (Courtesy of Boom Theatre Co.)

At just 24 years old, Ryan Nicotra is changing Harford County’s theater scene.

The 2007 Bel Air High School graduate is the founder and director of Boom Theatre Co., which produces plays throughout the county.

Since 2011, the Bel Air-based group has performed everything from comedy classics like “The Importance of Being Earnest” to Greek tragedies like “Prometheus Bound.” The company is also home to the Brave New Works Theatre Festival, a series of short plays and performances from emerging playwrights.

“Boom launched on a mission of bringing challenging, relevant and significant theater to Harford County, and we’re working overtime to give our community unprecedented access to every step of new play development,”
Nicotra said.

We recently asked Nicotra about his
arts background, the future of theater in Harford County and where the name “Boom” came from.

When did your interest in theater begin?

Ryan Nicotra: I’ve been involved in theater since attending Bel Air High School. It’s been a real adventure. When I was completing my undergraduate theater arts degree at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla., I typically worked on three or four shows a semester. It was an incredibly intense experience, and I learned by necessity how to thrive on a 16-hour workday. Since graduating, my work has run the gamut of new plays, classical dramas, devised work and dance. Last year, I directed “Steel Magnolias,” “The Baltimore Waltz,” “Beyond The Horizon” and wrote a play about madness in the lives of Isadora Duncan, Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg. I try to never direct the same thing twice.

How did you come up with the name “Boom”?

RN: A boom represents a period of prosperity, — what we hope to give our community — and the feeling of an unseen force — what we hope to give our audience. It’s also a piece of film equipment used to capture and magnify speech, which we hope to give our artists.

Who are the members of Boom?

RN: We’ve had performers from age 16 to 72. The artists who perform most frequently typically have a college degree in theater. Some of our artists teach at a local college or university, but we all have small jobs around Harford County. There are approximately 30 artists with varied levels of involvement, but they all join BOOM because they’re after something a bit more mature, challenging and fun. We always keep an open door to new members. Those who take their work incredibly seriously and take themselves lightly will do very well within our ranks.

What about Boom makes you proudest?

RN: I’m most proud of challenging the perception that you have to travel to Baltimore to see good art. I love seeing an audience having serious conversations in the lobby after a show, knowing that their perspectives have been challenged. I’m proud to have developed a hub for creative, smart and challenging theater for Harford County.

What’s the most challenging part of running Boom?

RN: There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that our audiences never see, and it can be a bit overwhelming to have to tackle multiple projects with unique needs at the same time. Right now, I’m writing two full-length plays that will be produced [this year]. I’m also directing two more projects this year. But I will say that the opportunities to work at this capacity are rare for artists my age.

How has the arts scene changed in Harford County in the past five years?

RN: Audiences have certainly raised their expectations of artists in the last five years, and I am so thankful for that. When the economy was in free fall, I don’t think anyone faulted a group for doing something just because they knew it would sell tickets. I think it gave false hope to some artists and organizations … that what worked 10 years ago can still sell tomorrow. What we’re seeing, however, is that it’s simply not true. I’m noticing a larger output of Harford audiences going to Baltimore City theaters to see what’s new, exciting and unique. 

What do you hope to see for the future of the arts in Harford County?

RN: I hope to see local artists challenging themselves and each other to be more involved in their communities but also to take greater pride in their work. I’d love to see audiences and patrons raise the bar on artists everywhere and support those who really speak to them, especially if they are local. Maryland is without a doubt the best state for artists in terms of public support and return on investment for taxpayers. For every $1 the state allocated for the arts, it received $3 in economic activity. But we all understand that with one election or one rough patch in the economy, we could take a huge hit.