Arts Collective and HoCoPoLitSo present three mystery readings. including “The Real Inspector Hound” with Mayumi B. Griffie and Chip Mortimer on Jan. 27.
Arts Collective and HoCoPoLitSo present three mystery readings. including “The Real Inspector Hound” with Mayumi B. Griffie and Chip Mortimer on Jan. 27. (Courtesy photo/Bruce F Press)

Last year, Arts Collective, a part of Howard Community College’s drama department along with the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, presented a reading series of three productions with the theme of revolution.

It was a new venture that involved little stage direction, minimal props and few rehearsals as the actors read from scripts on the stage. It was also a surprise success both in interest and attendance.

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“We had a big turnout, close to 50 people,” said Sue Kramer, Arts Collective artistic director, of auditions. “Performers in the area really love a low commitment project. We decided to do it again. Same format. Same footprint,”

This year, the theme for the readings is mystery. The three productions, “Classic,” “ Clue” and “The Real Inspector Hound,” will be produced on Jan. 25, 26 and 27 at Howard Community College.

“We love being involved with it,” said Tara Hart, co-chair of HoCoPoLitSo board of directors and department chair of Humanities at Howard Community College. “HoCoPoLitSo does not have as many opportunities to work in the genre of drama. We look for these to reach more people.”

Founded in 1974, HoCoPoLitSo produces three or four major events related to poetry or literature every year, Hart said, including the popular Irish Evening of Music and Poetry event, which will celebrate its 41st year this February.

“We pride ourselves on bringing the best writers to Howard County,” Hart said. “Our mission is to cultivate appreciation … for the written word.”

Besides the reading series, HoCoPoLitSo and Arts Collective have partnered for other productions including a past production of the “Chronicles of Narnia.”

“Afterward, they had an author answer questions about the book,” Kramer said. “It is a nice partnership. We keep perfecting it each time.”

For the reading series, HoCoPoLitSo invited a film professor to discuss the differences between the play and 1985 movie version of “Clue.”

Hart is also directing the reading of “The Real Inspector Hound” by Tom Stoppard.

“Last year was my first opportunity to direct and it was a learning experience,” said Hart, who directed “The Penelopiad,” based on the novella by Margaret Atwood, in the Revolution reading series. “I found I really enjoyed it.”

She selected the play “The Real Inspector Hound” because she had been involved with it in college. She even invited a former cast mate to audition, and to her surprise, he did.

“He aged out of his original role,” Hart laughed. “It’s been a nostalgic ride for me.”

Performers come from all over the area, Kramer said, and have a variety of experience.

“You see folks who are veterans and others where it’s their first time in a show. It’s really neat.”

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While it may seem that a reading is an easy way to ease into theater with no memorization and little staging, it can be misleading.

“We very much approach it like all other shows,” Kramer said. “I think people who are brand new think ‘I didn’t know it involved all this stuff.’”

“It is the challenge of helping the audience imagine what is happening,” Hart said. “You rely on the actors’ various expressions and gestures.”

While there is one actor in two readings, the productions each feature a different cast. All three of the readings will have a narrator who will provide descriptions and stage directions.

A post-show discussion with refreshments will follow each production.

Each of the readings, while mysteries, are different.

“Classic,” an original play by Daniel Johnston, was written with young people in mind, according to Hart. It also has a character who plays guitar, so it will feature some music.

“Clue” features the largest cast and is directed by Kramer.

“The Real Inspector Hound” is a mid-20th century parody of Agatha Christie’s “Mousetrap.”

“All are very different,” Hart said. “They make a nice set.”

“Reading are very accessible, low cost things people can do,” Hart said. “Post-show discussion allow audiences to.. . talk about the process of creating.”

The Mystery Reading Series :

“Classic” will be performed Jan. 25, at 7:30 p.m.

“Clue” will be performed Jan. 26, at 7:30 p.m.

“The Real Inspector Hound” will be performed on Jan. 27 at 2 p.m.

All shows will be performed at Howard Community College’s Monteabaro Recital Hall in the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy, Columbia. Tickets are $10 per show; $25 for all three. Go to howardcc.edu or call 443-518-1500.

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