The arts in Garrett County thrive because of artists and fans of artists who work hard to create, produce, promote, and present shows, exhibits, publications, concerts, and more. Two of those hardworking individuals are Richard and Melodee Hill, who have recently established residence in Mountain Lake Park after several years in Ocean City. Before moving to the coast, Richard and Melodee were key players in the development of Our Town Theatre, the Ginseng literary journal, and many and varied stage productions. This past summer, open arms greeted them both back to the county, specifically the arts community where their absence has been felt keenly.
Richard first stepped onstage with the Garrett County arts community in 1986 as a sailor in “HMS Pinafore,” directed by Jane Avery and Nancy Learey. He then performed in Avery’s first production of “Our Town” in 1990. That was the beginning of years of onstage work, with Richard portraying an array of well-known characters and those not as well known. His resume is long, and his face is a familiar one – and a welcome one — to local theatre fans. He returned to the OTT stage in December alongside longtime friend and co-actor/director Mikey Virts and OTT actor Phil Wotherspoon in a hilarious presentation of “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some)” by Michael Carleton, Jim Fitzgerald, and John K. Alvarez.
Richard’s contributions at OTT have not all been onstage, however, as he has served a director as well. Which does he prefer?
“Either one, acting or directing, have good and bad sides,” he said. “As an actor, the hardest and most daunting aspect is learning lines. Only after that does the fun begin. In my case, I find that long monologues are the easiest to learn. I love when I get to the point where I can run the entire play in my head. Usually I can recall lines and dialogues even after many years.”
He said directing eliminates the need to learn lines, but most of the work comes before the actors get near the stage. “You usually have to pick the play, then analyze it until you know which layers you want to emphasize and which you want to make subtle. Four or five weeks later, you hand the reins over to the stage manager, and you are finished,” Richard said.
As he gets back into the arts scene on the Mountaintop, Richard said he’d like to see more dramatic opportunities for children.
“We need to develop a community of interested actors and actresses if we want to continue. Our Town Theatre has been doing its part with Barter Camp and children-oriented plays. Our high schools are a treasure of budding performers, but the opportunities of staying here to live and earn a living are not great, unfortunately,” he said. “My own children have to work miles away from here.”
Melodee’s forte is the written word, chiefly, as a poet and writer. She has also been involved at OTT for years as a board member, volunteer, and costume designer with a wealth of knowledge about the history of clothing. She was key in helping to build up the expansive costume collection now housed at OTT’s Backstage building. She has been involved in the production of the Garrett County Arts Council’s literary journal Ginseng for 20 years and is currently serving as committee member for that project.
“I started writing and collecting poetry and transcribing my favorites as a teenager,” Melodee said. “After taking Joan Sussman’s English class at Garrett College, I realized how ignorant I was at finding deeper meanings and references in poetry. So, now I stick with fiction and don’t try to analyze it.”
As for what inspires Melodee, her answer was simply “wine and television.”
“I might be having a glass (or two) of wine once in a while and watching TV,” she said. “There will be a line of dialogue that just jumps into my brain. It either survives in whole or in part, or transforms into a line or idea that gets written on the handiest scrap of paper. Most of my writings are on scraps and bits, stashed away around the house.”
As she settles into her return to the area, Melodee is hoping to help revitalize the production of Ginseng. She values the journal as a local publication that supports local writers.
The schedule for the literary journal has been disrupted since the onset of the Covid situation and the committee is now working hard to get the work back on track. In fact, submissions are being taken now through Jan. 31. All submission information can be found online at garrettarts.org/ginseng or by calling the GCAC office at 301-334-6580. Area writers are encouraged to submit!
The Hills have witnessed the development and successes of the Garrett County Arts Council since its inception. Melodee was among the members of the first GCAC board in the early 1980s and has served many terms over the years.
“I have enjoyed watching the organization expand and prosper, especially in the promotion of youth art. The funding and oversight of GCAC is also critical to many local art endeavors and organizations,” she said.
Richard noted how GCAC was helpful in the establishment of OTT.
“The GCAC was the first organization to grant Our Town Theatre non-profit status under their umbrella. When we gained our own non-profit designation, the Council granted us enough funding to keep our lights on and our ticket prices low,” Richard said.
The couple has been honored with GCAC’s Friends of the Arts Award for their countless contributions to the area. Their return to Garrett County and the mountaintop’s arts community is welcome and celebrated!
By Mary McEwen of The Garrett County Arts Council