The Colonial Players is one of the region’s oldest continually operating non-professional theatre companies, marking its 70th anniversary this year. The very first production, “The Male Animal,” was mounted in 1949, with more than 400 following since that time.
As time has passed, so has CP’s scope. An old auto repair shop in Annapolis, purchased in 1955, is today the 180-seat arena theater where the company performs in the round. Each season consists of six shows including a musical, as well as a special holiday production outside of the regular season schedule.
Each season is selected from as many as 100 scripts read by a selection committee, with an eye toward a mix of classics and modern shows, as well as those that are most likely to attract a crowd. According to Artistic Director Beth Terranova, CP has a loyal and steady base of subscribers, many of whom have attended shows for decades. But CP is always trying to reach a broader audience.
This is especially important in a region with many community theatres. CP has a “sister theatre” in Annapolis Summer Garden Theater, which is active during CP’s “semi-dark” season. The two share props, equipment, volunteers, and talent.
While there are “many folks that return often to come and play with us,” Terranova said, CP does not have a core company and never pre-casts any roles. But such a long-standing company will have some regulars, including Edd Miller, an actor, director, and set designer for more than 30 years, and actor/director Ron Giddings, starring in the current production of “A New Brain.” Both are WATCH Award winners.
Terranova, who has been involved with the Colonial Players since 2003, lists 2008’s “Hauptmann,” 2012’s “Going to St. Ives,” and 2016’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe” as some of CP’s most successful shows. All three won the WATCH Award for Outstanding Production of a Play. CP’s last two musicals, 2017’s “Nine” and 2018’s “Lucky Stiff,” were CP’s first to be nominated for WATCH Awards for Outstanding Production of a Musical.
Like many other non-professional companies, CP’s biggest challenge is in finding production staff. “With six productions and a holiday show in each main season — not to mention various special summer productions — there is plenty of work behind the scenes and our ‘regulars’ get stretched pretty thin,” Terranova said. Many of those who do take on these roles return again and again, but schedules are busy and turnover is inevitable.
CP’s theatre-in-the-round format, which is somewhat rare in this region’s community theatre scene, can also be a challenge, particularly for actors who are not used to it. “Not only is our space an arena configuration, but it is also intimate, with the closest audience members just 30 inches from the playing space and on the same level,” Terranova said.
This combination of strengths and challenges works to the company’s advantage, according to Terranova. “As community theatres go, CP is the best-run operation I have ever been involved with,” she said.
The current season will close with the Agatha Christie mystery “Towards Zero,” opening May 31; the 71st season begins September 13 with “Arsenic and Old Lace.” The next season will also include Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children” and the musical “Freaky Friday.”
For more information on the Colonial Players, visit TheColonialPlayers.org.