Thanks to the energetic and visionary direction of Ryan Nicotra, BOOM Theatre Company is quickly becoming Harford County’s premier spot for quality theater that is cerebral yet accessible. Ryan and company are delivering culture as well as infusing it into the community by providing free workshops to encouraging teachers and students to become part of the theater world.
Teresa: BOOM is relatively young. When was the theatre founded and what is your mission?
Ryan: Like so many theatre artists in Harford County, I didn’t quite feel like I had any opportunities to develop or grow unless I ventured outside of the county lines. While I was in college, I studied the demographics of Harford, made a lot of phone calls to business and community leaders, and spent the better part of four months developing a comprehensive business plan for a new theatre company that could keep Harford’s actors, directors, and technicians close to home. I was able to meet with groups like the Center for the Arts and the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, both of whom were incredibly supportive. I returned to Flagler College to complete my degree, and two weeks after graduation, we were having auditions for a world premiere of a new play by Lorraine Portman. For the last year-and-a-half, we’ve built a strong ensemble and produced other works by Aeschylus, Wilde, Shakespeare, and Chekhov. This year, we’ll have eight productions total, including our five world premieres at the Brave New Works Theatre Festival this summer. Our goal is to be the center for live theatre in Harford County, and to bring a mature conversation back to this area. We rehearse and develop our work in Tudor Hall, the former home of Edwin Booth and his family. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that his presence certainly adds to our excitement!
Part of your mission is to give back to the Harford County cultural community. What are some of the ways you’ve made a difference?
BOOM is working closely with the Harford County Cultural Arts Board and the Center for the Arts to create a lasting opportunity for artists to come. A “boom” can also mean a period of prosperity or growth – which is part of the reason we decided on our name. We want our young people to have the ability to become a professional artist, if they are eager, disciplined, and brave enough to do so. We’ve supported local scholarships for students in the arts, and we provide stipends for some of our artists, as well. I believe that if an arts organization is to be taken seriously, it must belong to the people. How does it treat the people who are a part of their organization? What does it do for the people in their community? In our first year, we provided free workshops to over six hundred students in local schools, some of whom went on to join our ensemble. We are on track to beat those numbers as our second year draws to a close.
You are currently directing Steel Magnolias, opening in March. It’s a play many are familiar with. What’s your vision for this production, and how will you make it your own?
Steel Magnolias is such an iconic play and it seems like everyone and their mother has seen the movie. That’s our challenge: to create a production that offers a new perspective on a relatively established work. I’m spending a lot of time studying the life of Robert Harling (the playwright) and his influences. This play was written in memory of his sister. I want to know who this woman was, and make sure her memory is reflected in our production. Music is always a big influence for me as a director so I’ve been listening to a lot of Loretta Lynn, older Dolly Parton, and Tammy Wynette records. These women embodied the “steel magnolia”- they were beautiful, graceful ladies who could pack a punch. I cast six extraordinary women for this production, and throughout the rehearsal process, we’ll be using a lot of workshops and discussions to really define what it means to be a woman, a mother, a daughter, a wife, a widow. I want audiences to trust that this won’t be just another ‘canned production’ of Steel Magnolias and that this one will be special.
-Boom’s Brave New Works Festival offers five original plays, including a ballet based on To Kill a Mockingbird. Tell us a little about the each.
-The Brave New Works Theatre Festival is a pressure cooker for new ideas. I reached out to the BOOM ensemble and offered a production of their work. I only had a few stipulations. One: It has to be legal. Two: It has to fit into a twenty minute time slot. Three: It has to be produced under a $20 budget. The idea is to push our artists to create the most developed work under limited resources. They have no choice but to be resourceful and absolutely clear as to what they want to accomplish. It’s a great exercise of ingenuity. I pushed each director to pursue their most ambitious work, and I think this model is perfect for developing artists: there is absolutely no room for ambiguity or indecisiveness. There will be five pieces in the Festival.
Mayella is an original ballet choreographed by Kayleigh Daniels that will explore the character of Mayella from the Harper Lee novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. We want to find out more about this young woman with unspeakable secrets – it is not a coincidence that we are pursuing an ‘unspoken’ form of expression, ballet. Likewise is a new play by Judy Klass, directed by Erin Curran. It’s a hilarious short play that examines the end of a relationship – I won’t spoil it with too many details, but it is definitely worth seeing.
Joshua Fletcher will direct his own new play, Trust, about a group of survivors after a catastrophe who must share a room together. Dustin Horsman will direct a play that I wrote, Damned Poets. In this piece, we’ll be taking a closer look at the lives and madness of Allen Ginsberg, Isadora Duncan, and Sylvia Plath. The final piece, directed by Lisa Davidson, is an untitled project that will feature the submitted stories of 20-somethings in regards to their current standings in life. The piece will revolve around trying to make a college degree applicable, the desire to appear successful to others, and the confusion most 20-somethings feel in their life.
I’m tremendously excited about this entire Festival. Producing five world premieres in one summer will be a challenge, but one that I think this team will rise to meet. I look forward to seeing their work develop, and we will be posting regular updates on our website.
Steel Magnolias plays on March 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30, 2013 at 7 PM at The BOOM Theatre Company at The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County – 2515 Churchville Road, in Churchville MD. For tickets, purchase them online.