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Port Tobacco Players has a reputation in the community theater world. Audiences going to see a PTP show are going to be awed by the sets.
The theater has developed a presence for its technical prowess, said John Kirby, a member of the company since 2004.
“We have outstanding sets,” he said. “They expect it.”
PTP is being recognized for the tradition with several Washington Area Theatre Community Honors nominations, for set design, costume design, makeup design, set construction, set decoration, set painting, sound design and light design, as well as outstanding musical for “The Sound of Music.” Amy Dolan is nominated for featured actress in a musical as Mother Abbess in “The Sound of Music.”
The nominations are for the productions of “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Sound of Music” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Founded in 2000, WATCH is an annual awards program that recognizes artistic and technical excellence in community theater in the Washington, D.C.-metropolitan area and promotes the growth and image of community theater. Currently, 35 theaters are part of WATCH. Port Tobacco Players was one of the nine charter members, said Kirby, PTP’s WATCH coordinator.
Ronna Johnson of Welcome, nominated for outstanding set decoration and set painting in a musical for “The Wizard of Oz” and outstanding set painting in a musical for “The Sound of Music” along with Jill Hanger and Betsy Stevens, has been painting since she was able to hold a paint brush.
She saw “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” and was hooked.
“I asked what I could do to help,” she said. “They said ‘Come on back. We’ll put you to work.’”
The first thing she did was art work for “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” and went on to pitch in wherever she could.
“I’ve done set decorating, painting, gathered props, acting here and there,” said Johnson, a retired Prince George’s County police officer and former hair dresser.
Her skills landed her a WATCH award in 2010 for hair design in a musical for “The Producers.” But in community theater, you learn by doing, Johnson said.
“That’s the neat thing about community theater,” Johnson said. “You don’t have to have a background in anything. You just have to want to be part of the group.”
It might sound cliché, but it is an honor just to be nominated, said Kirby, who won a WATCH award in 2010 for set design for “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
“Just being nominated is very much an honor,” he said. “The award is nice.” But the nomination is a validation of the hard work set forth by a group of volunteers who know the show must go on and want it go on well.
The awards are “icing on the cake.”
Heather Bauer had no idea what the WATCH awards were before 2010, when she was nominated for and awarded the outstanding costume design in a play for “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
“It’s nice to be acknowledged for your work,” said Bauer, who along with daughter, Kaitelyn, was nominated this year for outstanding makeup design for a musical for “The Wizard of Oz.”
There was a team of about 10 working with the Bauers on makeup to bring director Joe Stine’s vision of Oz to life on stage. Kaitelyn designed the looks for the iconic characters — the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Wicked Witch and others — and helped transform the actors quickly.
In between scenes, “we’re ripping off clothes, everyone has baby wipes, going at [the actors’] faces. We say there is a whole other show going on backstage,” Heather Bauer said.
Bauer has been involved in community theater since she was a kid growing up in Missouri. She attended a performing arts high school and was accepted to the Juilliard School in New York City. She didn’t wind up going but continued to be involved in community theater, with Kaitelyn joining her (Bauer’s son, James, is a musician).
Bauer is still blown away by the level of talent on display at Port Tobacco Players theater.
The lighting design for “Sound of Music” (for which Tommy Scott is nominated) transformed the stage, she said.
“The lighting designs lit up the nuns in the abbey. ... It looked like an abbey, and they’re on a stage in Port Tobacco Theater,” Bauer said.
There is still something magical about live theater.
“You can go to a theater and disappear,” Bauer said. “Who wants to come back from Oz? You might have to go back to Kansas, but [watching the play] you’re not in La Plata anymore.”