"To get out of work at 5 o'clock, I will do anything."
That's what Karen Stokes, executive director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp., was thinking in 2009, when she got involved in Fluid Movement. Her initial exposure to the performance art troupe, known for its offbeat summer water ballets and spring roller skating shows, was as an audience member.
Her first thought was, "Oh, my God, they're having so much fun."
Her second thought was, "Oh, I can't do this."
Five years later, Stokes, 57, of Oakenshawe, wore a militia man uniform — including a black helmet with a yellow feather and white tights over her blue bathing suit — and used a compact mirror to pat glitter on her face during a rehearsal July 24 at Druid Hill Park Pool for Fluid Movement's new tongue-in-cheek opus, "Star-Spangled Swimmer: A War of 1812 Water Ballet."
The show started last week at the Druid Hill Park Pool and will switch to the Patterson Park Pool on Aug. 1. The cast of about 80 is heavy with north Baltimoreans, from teacher Natasha LaVoie, 36, of Hampden, wearing a mustache, to Mona Herzos, 23, an au pair in Roland Park, visiting from Germany.
It's Stokes' fifth show in as many years, and her husband, Ed, is making his first appearance, as a member of the Dan Meyer Chorus, based in Charles Village.
Stokes calls Fluid Movement "summer camp for adults," and you can take that two ways. The show is high camp, with chorus members wearing flag costumes, swimmers with star-studded bathing caps and red umbrellas, and cheeky stage sets of the White House in flames, and a bevy of "Dolly Parton Madisons," including Herzos, who looked a little like Elly May Clampett in "The Beverly Hillbillies" and augmented their cleavages with water balloons.
What exactly is Star-Spangled Swimmer? In the loosest sense, it's a history lesson about Baltimore's role in the War of 1812.
"Ever wonder what makes Federal Hill so Federal?" a press release teases. "Or why the flag at Fort McHenry has 15 stripes? Or what 80 people in the same pool swimming to the 1812 Overture looks like? Good! Because Fluid Movement wants to take you to summer school ... Using our patented immersive technique, we will transport you back to a time when the colonies were newborns, Baltimore had dozens of independent newspapers, and it rained militiamen."
"If you're looking for character-driven family drama, don't come," said stage director Valerie Perez-Schere, 41, of Roland Park, a stay at home mom and founding member of the troupe in 1999. "Well-written and rehearsed dialogue does not work at a public pool. I guarantee you the ice cream truck is going to drive by."
The show draws inspiration from historical one-liners like, "I don't care if it rains militiamen," by British Major General Robert Ross. He ordered the burning of Washington and was later killed in the Battle of North Point, after exclaiming prophetically, "Tonight, I dine in Baltimore or I dine in Hell."
The show includes the musical number, "'It's Raining Militiamen,'" a variation on The Weather Girls 1983 hit, "It's Raining Men."
Another scene, in which militia men sign up to fight for America so as not to be drafted into the British Army, is set to the Frank Zappa 1980 song, "I Don't Wanna Get Drafted."
In one sense, the show is like an inside joke. Then again, Perez-Schere said, "There's not much to get."
'Seamster' in the show
No ice cream truck was seen or heard at the rehearsal, but a helicopter flew overhead. None of the cast members seemed to notice.
Teacher Jonathan Willis, 46, of Mount Washington, was busy sewing a turban. He was playing the role of a seamstress in the show, or to coin a phrase, "a seamster," he said.
"It's a great way to feel part of something creative," said Willis, who was doing his sixth Fluid Movement show. "And you get to play in the water like a kid."
"It's instant networking. It's spending a summer making new friends," said Rick Wilson, 56, of Remington, an Amtrak employee, a part-time zookeeper at the Baltimore Zoo in Maryland, and co-director of the swimming seamstresses scene, one of the longer swimming scenes in the show.
Teacher April Pink, 37, of Hampden, played Mary Pickersgill, maker of the Star-Spangled Flag banner that flew over Fort McHenry. She wore a doily on her head and a billowing dress.
"I'd guess it's an old Snow White costume," she said. "Close enough. It's cool."
Proud parents Linda and Jeff Dunn, of Philadelphia, sat in folding chairs at poolside, each with cellphones at the ready to record the scenes in which their daughter, Kate Dunn, 30, of Mount Washington, was appearing,
"It's the craziest thing I ever heard of," Linda Dunn said.
"But they're all having so much fun," said her husband.