An unusual alliance between a local synagogue and defunct theater company is yielding new benefits for the unconventional congregation, the county's young theatrical community, and the Baltimore school system.
Onstage Productions and the Columbia Jewish Congregation are co-sponsoring the community production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in May at the Oakland Mills Meeting House.
The 18-year-old production company, which operated at the Little Theater on the Corner in Ellicott City for the last eight years, boasted an enrollment of 450 for Kids Onstage, Teens Onstage and the Frustrated Actors' Association. But because of financial problems, the theater closed Aug. 22.
"The economy hit everybody and hit us, too,"said Betty May, Onstage's founder and executive director.
Soon after, Rabbi Martin Siegel, of the Columbia Jewish Congregation, contacted May when congregation members, whose children performed in Onstage Productions, approached him about sponsoring productions.
"It seemed like a nice marriage," Siegel said. "The parents and I felt thatthis is in keeping with the spirit of the congregation. We do creative services, we use music and dance. The congregation has a certain style and this fits in to what we've been doing.
"They also wanted to include Betty's energy and activities in ours. We see it not as a show, but as an ongoing relationship.
"The shows create a worthwhile teen activity and a community for teens, teaching positive values in a creative and exciting way. Teens learn more from doing than sitting and they learn how to relate to each other."
May and Siegel selected "Joseph" after much deliberation. "He didn't want something too small, and I didn't want to do a non-royalty show," May said. "They're not very good. He also wanted something that the congregation would relate to. So I said ' 'Joseph' would be perfect.' "
May will tend to the artistic side of the show, while the synagogue handles theproduction end, including financing and publicity.
A budget of $10,000 has been set by the congregation, excluding rental fee costs.
"Between tickets and tuition, we hope to also make a profit," May said. "The synagogue is taking the financial risk. But hopefully, the show will be a fund-raiser."
The synagogue will charge $6.50 for adults, $6 for children and $5 for seniors. Performers pay a tuition fee of $175, about the same fee at Little Theater. Scholarships also are available.
May will apply her salary as director toward her expenses for a new project she and her husband Jerry, a psychiatrist andauthor, are implementing: bringing theater to children in Baltimore.
After trying unsuccessfully on her own to bring Onstage Productions into the city school system, May contacted Teen Outreach, which ispart of the Junior League of Baltimore, to help her break in. She now works at three middle and one elementary schools.
Neither the school system nor students pay to be part of the production company. "The Junior League is putting out about $3,000 for expenses, and we'll charge tickets for the shows," May said.
The children will performtwo musicals created by May at their own schools and in nursing homes, libraries and other city schools.
May still keeps in touch withmany of her former Onstage students who plan on auditioning for "Joseph" on Jan. 14 and 15 at the Meeting House.
"We're still together," she said. "We love each other a lot, and we'll always be together.They'll be coming out for the show and they worked on the (publicity) mailings. We're very much a family."
The students also miss May.
"She keeps up with what we
do," said Karina Ferry, 14, of Columbia, who joined Onstage 18 months ago. "Most of my friends from KidsOnstage are going to try out.
"The theater is not really opening,but CJC is helping her go get back into business. So we wanted to gowith her."
Sue Waller, CJC program coordinator, said that phone calls
about next week's open auditions are "flooding in" and attributes the response to May. "We did expect this kind of reaction because of the work Betty has done, because young people had such an enriching experience with her. She's committed to excellence and to people."
May is noncommittal about the future of Onstage Productions in Howard County and its current affiliation with the synagogue. "I don'tknow whether it's a permanent arrangement," she said.
"I'd like to see it, it sounds like fun. It might be an ongoing theater group for the community. But I don't want to close myself to anything. Something is going to happen that's really exciting, but I don't know what."