One challenge for a theater company that produces work for and about a specific geographical region is making sure that its pool of inspiration doesn’t go dry. Active Cultures Theatre, the self- styled “vernacular theater of Maryland,” frequently commissions plays drawing from local stories and legends. With the Diving Board Festival, now in its third year, the company aims to get acquainted with the concerns of area-based artists instead. The series, which begins this Friday, features readings of new works by playwrights who are either entirely new to Active Cultures and its audience, or expanding the manner in which they collaborate with the company.
Active Cultures Mary Resing says that because the company is so small, “the group of artists that were feeding our artistic and intellectual life was getting really small.” But Diving Board isn’t intended to develop new plays so much as it hopes to acquaint the company with new playwrights. “We’re not trying to find plays to do later on, ” Resing says. “We’re just trying to find out: What’s this person like to work with?…What do they bring to the rehearsal room? How do audiences relate to the work? Some new play festival readings talk about test-driving the scripts. We’re a little bit about test-driving the artist.”
First in the lineup is Christin Siems, who says she made it onto Resing’s radar through her work in Rorschach Theatre’s 2010 Klecksography series. Her plays have also been showcased at Source and Inkwell Theatre. Resing will direct the reading of Siem’s Morbid Poetry, a comedy that includes “a little more than 60” poems Siems started writing when she was 19. The poems are “all based on true events in my life that I’d feel in angst about and I’d write a poem…and it’d be a funny, absurd kind of thing that would make me laugh and would make others laugh…none of this is terribly heavy stuff. It’s just angst.”
Of Bob Bartlett, whose play Falwell will be read on Saturday, Resing says: “Bob has worked with us a lot, never as a writer, mostly as a director, but he’s really excited about playwriting right now…and so we wanted to support him.” Bartlett’s inspiration came from, as he explains it, “my desire to explore a character who locked himself away—-who hasn’t left his apartment in a little over eight years, and what that does to a person. The spark for the play—-was this man killing his dog, sending him into a darkly comic spiral.”
Evan Crump will present Shock/Trauma, also on Saturday. D.C. audiences may know Crump through his company Unstrung Harpist Productions and its successes at the Capital Fringe Festival. Crump’s play Genesis won Best Drama at Fringe in 2010 and his follow-up, Flyboy, was well- received in 2011. With Active Cultures, Crump acted in The Resurrectionist King and has written 10-minute shorts for the company’s Sporticulture series, but this is his first time working with them on a full-length piece. Shock/ Trauma “is actually based on a real event that happened to me and my girlfriend back in 2007, says Crump. “We were on our way to rehearsal in Frederick and hit some black ice at six in the morning on a freezing cold day. The car flipped five times, and she was badly hurt—-she broke her spine and her scull. I was more or less OK.” Fortunately, Julie Roundtree survived the accident and will play the character she inspired, opposite Crump, when the show goes to Fringe this summer and then to 1stStage in August. The central idea of the play is “not just the physical trauma but the emotional and psychological trauma that can result,” from an accident of this kind, says Crump. “The strain it puts on relationships, the imbalance of power that it can bring to relationships- that’s all something we’ve had some first hand experience with and I try to bring that to the script.” Yet Crump is quick to add that “there are some significant differences between the play’s story and our story. I had to give it an ending, first of all.”
This weekend’s schedule
Friday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m.: Morbid Poetry by Christin Siems, directed by Mary Resing
Saturday, March 24 at 5 p.m.: Shock/Trauma by Evan Crump, directed by Tom Prewitt
Saturday, March 24 at 7:30 p.m.: Falwell by Bob Bartlett, directed by Ali Miller
The performances take place at the Old Parish House, 4711 Knox Road, College Park, Md. Free.