Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Drama Alums in Zero Hour Theatre Troupe Stage Spotswood's Dark Comedy in D.C. July 16-25

Molly Weeks Crumbley ’07 knew she would miss her drama family, the tight-knit group of Washington College theater majors and professors she spent all those hours with in Tawes Theatre building sets, rehearsing, critiquing. “The department fostered a real sense of community,” she says. “We all did a little bit of everything while we were there. And upon graduating, we realized very quickly that there just wasn’t a place like that in the real world.”

So Crumbley and several drama friends forged their own WAC crew, creating a new theater troupe that would bring like-minded people together to stage new works or reinterpret older plays. She and Tess Pohlhaus ’03 would share the role of artistic director, and Sophie Kerr prize winner Liam Daley ’07 would script their first production. The Board would include technical director Mike Meagher ’04, marketing director Kevin Brotzman ’04 and business director Michael Ridgaway ’05. They would all keep their day jobs and fit theater into evenings, weekends and summer vacations.

Three years later, Zero Hour Theatre is producing its third play for the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, DC, and the connections to Washington College couldn’t be stronger. Stephen Spotswood ’99 wrote 7 Lessons on Suicide, the dark comedy that opens Friday at Goethe Institut-Gallery in Chinatown. The playwright and Zero Hour members held a workshop reading of the play in April on the Chestertown campus, where they encouraged their former professors and other audience members to critique and improve it for the next draft.

The play is directed by Pohlhaus, and six of the seven actors on stage are Washington College alumni: Crumbley, Brotzman and Meagher are joined by Rachel Loose ’07, Aileen Brenner ’09 and former student Andrew Yanek. Maggie Brevig, a Boston College grad and Molly’s good friend, takes the seventh part. There’s a Wellesley grad serving as dramaturg, but she’s engaged to ZHT business director Ridgaway. It’s not really deliberate, all this Washington College-ness, says Pohlhaus. “Last year, only three of seven actors were Washington College alums.”

Crumbley describes 7 Lessons as “a pitch-black comedy that asks, ‘In a world where everyone is clamoring to end it all, why bother living?’” Though it bills itself as a show about suicide, it is ultimately a show about choosing life, she adds. “It’s a very, very dark comedy,” director Pohlhaus confirms. “It deals with very serious issues in a deeply comedic way and with a lot of heart. We want the audience to leave the theater with a lot to think and talk about.”

Playwright Spotswood, who earned his MFA in playwriting at Catholic University, received the first Washington College Alumni Horizons Ribbon last fall in recognition of his early career accomplishments. He says working with the Zero Hour crew on 7 Lessons allowed him to get down to business faster. “When working with any theater company, there's this feeling-out period that takes place, coming to an understanding about how the process will work and how each side sees their role,’’ he explains. “Basically, we’re learning how to work with and communicate with each other. With Zero Hour, not only do we know how to communicate and work with each other already, we've all had the same theater training. We all come from a background that emphasizes collaboration and role-sharing instead of compartmentalization.”

The cast and crew have been rehearsing in homes and won’t be able to set up even the first light or prop until the afternoon of opening day. That’s the nature of the Capital Fringe Festival, where dozens of productions happen simultaneously in creative venues all over the city. Pohlhaus, who teaches drama at Rising Sun High School in Cecil County, says the Washington College theater curriculum prepared her and her colleagues well for such rigors. “We are all so used to working in all facets of the theater, from script writing to set design and acting, that we really understand the process and can adapt pretty fast. For thesis productions, we were staging a show a week,” she continues. “We couldn’t build the set until Sunday, and we had our first rehearsal in front of faculty on Monday. That gave us a few days to make improvements and react to their suggestions, then we staged the plays Friday night and Saturday.”

Zero Hour Theatre will stage Stephen Spotswood’s 7 Lessons on Suicide at the Goethe Institut-Gallery, 812 7th Street NW,
Washington, DC 20001 on the following dates and times: Friday, July 16, 9 p.m.;
Saturday, July 17, 4:30 p.m.;
Sunday, July 18, 7 p.m.;
Tuesday, July 20, 8:30 p.m.;
Wednesday, July 21, 10 p.m.;
Saturday, July 24, 10 p.m., and 
Sunday, July 25, 3:30 p.m. For more information about Zero Hour Theatre and the current production, visit the website (designed, of course, by a Washington College alumnus, Kate Amann ’06):

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