In the true spirit of a collaborative, community stage, Our Town Theatre (OTT) in the Arts & Entertainment District of Oakland is engaged in an innovative program that aids, supports, and promotes local playwrights. In a “play to stage” process, OTT members have worked with writer Barry Weinberg for more than a year to fine-tune a play script. Now the theatre is readying to produce the play, titled Flash Drive, and perfrom it onMarch 3 to 6.
Weinberg, a resident of Swanton, is the first to take part in OTT’s workshopping program. He is a seasoned writer, having won several playwriting competitions over the years, and seeing his work staged. His play Bar None was produced by ZoomPlayers in 2021, and It’s Your Funeral (A Loving Parody) was produced by the Potomac Playmakers in Hagerstown in 2016, after being among the winners of both the Frostburg One Act Play Competition and the Old Opera House Theatre’s New Voice Play Festival, Charles Town, W.Va. His script End Papers won the American Association of Community Theatre’s NewPlayFest in 2013 and was produced by the Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg in 2014. This is not a complete list of his writing achievements.
Emily Elmlinger, president of the OTT Board of Directors, said the goal is to help foster playwrights who have not yet had their work performed on stage, or more experienced writers like Weinberg who have a particular script that the writer feels would benefit from input by others involved in the art of theatre.
“The play is written by a local writer, then we stage a reading of it in late summer,” Emily said. “We spend the fall workshopping the play, tweaking it, suggesting and making rewrites. The play is read one final time by the artistic director and/or members of the workshop committee. The next phase is producing it as a main stage piece at Our Town Theatre.”
OTT, which is a long-time annual grant recipient of the Garrett County Arts Council, has produced a local playwright’s script before, written by A.J. DeLauder, a few years ago. That show was complete, however, with no workshopping. Weinberg’s show is a first for the community stage, although the process is in line with founder Jane Avery’s original vision. The late artistic director wished to present “Garrett County on Stage” at the brick playhouse she purchased in the 1990s. That dream has been pursued and achieved over and over since.
“Part of Our Town Theatre’s mission is to make the dramatic arts available to all members of our community,” Emily said. “We want this to be a place where local stories are told along with the more well-known pieces we produce. We are lucky to have the ability and resources to foster a play from its inception to production. It is our hope to do one production a year this way.”
Mikey Virts, artistic director at OTT, reached out to Weinberg to suggest the collaboration and has since reached out to the next writer whose play is now in the initial workshopping stage with production planned for next year.
“We are hopeful that seeing this play in March and the one we will produce next year will encourage more aspiring writers to submit works,” Virts said. “We are ready to help with the entire process! It’s been very rewarding for us to see Flash Drive evolve from where it started to what it has become. We’d like to give lots of people that chance with their work.”
Weinberg said he has enjoyed the process and has found it to be beneficial.
“It has been a great experience,” Barry said. “It’s an ongoing thing – write it, hear it read, go back, make revisions, hear it read, go back – on and on. It really is a terrific way to get a play right where you want it. Hearing it aloud lets me see where the road gets rough and where I need to smooth it out.”
In his former career, Barry worked 35 years as a civil rights lawyer, supervisor, and administrator in the U.S. Justice Department. Barry also has been an international election observer and lectured in Africa, countries of the former Soviet Union, and in the U.S. on election dispute adjudication. Throughout his life, he has always thought in terms of dialogue. His job indeed required an excellent handle on dialogue, chiefly in court. He has carried it with him into his writing life. “Even just walking down the street, I’m usually thinking in terms of dialogue,” the writer said.
Barry said an unexpected benefit of the play workshopping program is the fact that some people he knows have come to the readings who have never seen a show at OTT before.
“What I’m really hoping is that the same thing will happen with this production — people who will come experience theatre maybe for the first time, and they will see all it has to offer,” he said. “That’s a really nice byproduct.”
In other civic work, Barry is a member of the Board of Directors of the Garrett Lakes Arts Festival and has served on the boards of the Deep Creek Watershed Foundation, Garrett Trails, and the Deep Creek Lake Property Owners Association, and as a member of the Deep Creek Lake Policy and Review Board. He is a first-line reviewer of plays submitted to the Baltimore Playwrights Festival and the Frostburg One-Act Play Competition, he is a member of Playwrights Forum and the Dramatists Guild of America. He lives in Swanton with his wife, Lyn Utrecht.
Tickets for Flash Drive will become available as the March run approaches. Persons may go to ourtowntheatre.org for all details. Persons may also visit garrettarts.org to learn more about the Garrett County Arts Council and to obtain membership to the nonprofit organization that helps to foster, support, and promote the arts across the county.
By Mary McEwen of The Garrett County Arts Council