For many actors who want to break into stardom, it's off to New York. But Adrienne Newberg, Prudence Barry and Barbara Brickman happen tolike it here. The three actresses, who refer to the Big Apple as a place to obtain "ZIP code credibility," say they are tired of doing the Beltway Shuffle, driving to and from Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York for auditions.

"We want to work where we live," said Newberg, of Ellicott City.

So four years ago the trio began New Stages Inc., a non-profit theater group in Howard County.

The group, comprised of seven performers who are residents of Howard County, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., began when the women decided to present "The Watch," a play written by Barry.

It had originally been performed at a Washington, D.C. new play festival, with Newberg in the lead role. When a member of the cast later was inspired to write music for the production, longtime colleagues Newberg and Barry decided to rework the script into a musical.

"One day, we looked at each other and said, 'Why isn't it possible to do professional quality theater here?' " said Newberg. "It was daring of us. We had no money and no place to perform."

Their idea blossomed and they talked it over with another friend and colleague, Brickman.

"We all had ideas and suggestions," said Brickman, who lives in Columbia. Ultimately, their ideas became a reality when they incorporated and got an $1,800 grant from the Columbia Foundation.

The first production was at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre. Since then, New Stages has presented nine more shows, at HCC, Slayton House, the Little Theater on the Corner and the Howard County Center for the Arts, in Columbia.

"We want to give people a chance to be more experimental, to work in a process instead of we-have-a-product-and-four-weeks-to-get-it-out," Barry said. "We want to do challenging theater."

Consider "Christopher Columbus," a play written by Belgian playwright Michel de Ghelderode that New Stages produced last year at Slayton House. With actors performing high on stilts and the audience seated low on mats, the play was far from conventional.

"We are trying to be very much like an off-Broadway company," Newberg said. "We do things that are not on TV or on videos."

Newberg's credits include appearances in the Baltimore-made film "Tin Men," and in a pilot film for WJZ-TV. She also has performed lead roles in several regional theater group productions.

Barry's acting credits include a small role in an upcoming NBC-TV movie, "Cobb's Law," starring Walter Matthau. She also appeared as a bag lady in the film "Suspect," starring Dennis Quaid. As a member of the Washington, D.C.-based Source theater company, Barry acted in and directed several productions. She also is a founding member of the Howard County Poetry and Literary Society, through which she recently performed the lead in "The Belle of Amherst," based on the life of Emily Dickinson, at the Miller branch of The Howard County Library.

Brickman, who teaches public speaking and humanities at Howard Community College, is producer of the group's most recent show, "Children of the Shadows." Her main focus, however, is overseeing the 25 to 30 plays submitted to the group each year by local and out-of-state playwrights.

"We are always looking for the play that will make us famous," she said.

Brickman has performed in several theater groups, including the Vagabondsin Baltimore, the Studio in Washington, D.C., and Petrucci's Dinner theater in Laurel.

Members of the group chip in their talents in writing, directing, costuming, designing sets, and whatever else is needed.

"It's not unusual to have the entire cast painting and hammering," said Newberg.

Because New Stage has had no permanent home, Newberg's basement is cluttered with lumber that belongs to the group. "My home is full of sets and props, and until recently, we were rehearsing in my basement," Newberg said.

For "Children of the Shadows," the group rented space for six weeks of rehearsals at the Learning Center in Elkridge, and also rehearsed at Slayton House and Smith Theatre, where the play was performed. Despite such nomadic experiences, not to mention the long hours and low wages, New Stages' members have not lost their enthusiasm.

"I could live and die theater, 24 hours a day. You wind up doing what you have to do," Newberg said. "Webelieve in paying everybody, even if it isn't much. But when there'sa limited budget, things can get difficult."

"We are always beating the bushes for money," Barry said.

A typical production costs about $5,000, and the group is grateful for grants they have received from the Maryland State Arts Council, the Howard County Arts Council and the Columbia Foundation. Grants have paid for about two-thirds oftheir costs, said Barry.

"We have a responsibility to try to carry out our mission because the grant organizations have faith in us," she said. "We want to begin to build an audience. That will happen more easily after the group acquires a permanent home this coming fall at Slayton House." Contributions from small corporations and private foundations, and money from ticket sales or ads in the theater program provide the remaining one-third.

One goal of the group is to nurture new playwrights. Every year writers are encouraged to send in their plays. "We try to have a forum for people in the county and in the Baltimore, Washington areas," Barry said.

Auditions, which they advertise in area newspapers, are open to anyone in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. The group also hopes to find a volunteer administrator to free them from the mountain of paperwork involved in running the company, and also would like to organize a director's workshop. Other goals are to produce a film, and they are currently planning a traveling show for their most recent production, "because it has such apowerful message."

"Children of the Shadows," written by Israeli playwright Ben-Zion Tomer, reflects the ambitious undertakings of NewStages.

Early this year, Newberg called the Institute For The Translation of Hebrew Literature in Tel Aviv to request some works by Israeli playwrights. The group received three scripts and ultimately selected "Children of The Shadows." The play, directed by Newberg, centers around the children of the Holocaust who, in the early 1950s, were searching for an identity. Looking toward the future in helping to form a new state, they cannot forget the past.

"Through plays suchas this, we have the opportunity to understand about other people's experience that we would never have known," said Barry.

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