Tim Caruso traces his finger through the air above his head, following a seemingly fleeting, imaginary character with his eyes. When he writes plays, he says, the characters walk through his mind and take on voices of their own.
Caruso, a former government consultant, is part of an informal group of mostly novice playwrights called the Gang of Five. For most of the group’s members, whose ages range from late 40s to late 60s, Fringe will be their public debut.
Their show, PowerPlays, is broken into five distinct 10-minute plays that investigate the nature of truth in relationships. Each one is tied together by music composed by Mark Haag, a lawyer for the Justice Department. Each play is dramatically different, but the music continues throughout, shifting gradually to match the unique tone of each play. The same five actors perform in each play and rotate roles between the stories.
The group’s current members met at a playwriting class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, a nonprofit that offers workshops and hosts events for aspiring writers of all ages. While some of them already had a background in writing, most were searching for a unique creative outlet. They come from different backgrounds: Caruso served in the military and worked for a time consulting for the Department of Energy and Department of the Navy; Dimitri Neos does IT work; Sarah Dimont Sorkin, originally from London, worked at American University as an academic advisor; Michelle Rago works at the Library of Congress in the digital library; and Marilyn Bennett has a background in law.
But they share a love of the theater and give each other motivation and courage. “It’s way too scary to be doing this by myself,” Sorkin says.
This iteration of the Gang of Five—members have come and gone over the past three years—say they felt a connection with one another almost immediately. “We got along very well, everything went very easy,” Neos says. “Even the instructors commented on that… and as we got more comfortable with our writing and [with] each other, we said, ‘You know, why don’t we try doing something together?’”
For the Gang of Five, the journey from page to stage would not have been as smooth had they been in other cities. They say that the D.C. arts scene’s accessibility—with festivals like Fringe and the Source Festival —made it easier for them to get their work produced.
For some, it might seem kind of intimidating to dive into the world of playwriting later in life—especially after having a successful career elsewhere—but some Gang of Five members think of this late start as an advantage.
“It’s so much fun,” Sorkin says. “I’m certain that being an older writer, I don’t care as much. I’m prepared to experiment more.”
And it’s a cathartic exercise for the group. Sorkin adds that it brought out parts of her she was not used to witnessing. “It appeals to the underused extrovert in me,” she says. “I have to go home and recover afterwards from all this exposure, but I love it.”
Caruso agrees: For years he’d been itching to break into the world of fantasy—writing rich descriptions of parallel universes and other fabulous explorations—instead of writing for government work. Here, in a creative landscape, he can.
Same for Rago, who focuses a lot of her energy on her work at the Library of Congress. “I have always put a lot of effort into my job so it’s always been very separate,” she says. “It’s very rare for me to have something else that I have to think about while I’m at work besides work.”
Powerplays runs July 7, 10, 19–21. Sixth & I Synagogue. 600 I St. NW. $17.