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Growth bringing change to theater group

May 09, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Fans of the free summer youth theater in Doubs Woods Park will have to pay to see this summer's production of "The Wizard of Oz" in the Maryland Theatre this July, officials said.

Escapade Theatre Company's summer youth theater has outgrown the stage in Doubs Woods, so the company is preparing to relocate to the Maryland Theatre, said William Morris, the company's artistic director.

The summer performances usually have a cast of 100 adults and youths with an orchestra of 15 to 20 youths. The summer youth theater is one of several programs provided by the nonprofit theater company.

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Safety and equipment issues also are prompting the move, Morris said.

The Maryland Theatre has more stage space with sound and lighting equipment, he said. The historic South Potomac Street theater also is handicapped accessible.

Morris said there have been safety concerns performing outdoors, especially during one performance when a lightning storm struck. By moving indoors, performers also will no longer have to worry about mud, bugs and poison ivy.

Besides staging concerns, there were problems with handicap accessibility, parking and available bathrooms at Doubs Woods, he said.

Washington County parks and recreation officials also said building permits would be needed this year for stage sets, adding to the cost, he said.

Attendance at the group's summer production has shot up dramatically in recent years with about 7,000 people attending last year's production of "Peter Pan," Morris said.

While the atmosphere of the park probably contributed to the boom in attendance, it also was attributable to the free admission and quality of the performances, he said.

Morris said he doesn't expect the move to dramatically affect attendance except for the fact that the theater can only seat 1,200 people per show.

A fourth show, a Saturday matinee, will be added this year because of the indoor setting, he said. It's hard to hold a matinee in daylight.

"I'm hoping to draw a lot of children that day" who might not attend an evening performance, Morris said.

Production costs have risen to move into the theater, but Morris said he thinks company officials will have the necessary funding in hand by Monday for the production to run July 25-27.

The company's financial backer for the "Wizard of Oz" pulled out about three weeks ago, leaving Escapade in a crunch to find funding for the rights to produce the show, Morris said.

The production budget is $33,400 for the "Wizard of Oz" compared to a $25,000 budget for "Peter Pan," Morris said. The fee for the rights to produce the show increased because Escapade will be charging admission.

The rental cost for the theater is $5,000, according to the production budget.

At most, 4,800 tickets for four shows of the "Wizard of Oz" could be sold at prices of $10 for adults and $8 for senior citizens and children younger than 12 years old, Morris said.

The theater receives $1 per ticket for service fees, officials said.

Hagerstown City Council members approved $3,000 on Tuesday for Escapade. The theater company still needs $700 by Monday.

Other funding sources include the Washington County Arts Council, program advertising and sales, T-shirt sales and possible corporate sponsors, Morris said.

Auditions for "The Wizard of Oz" will be held on Sunday, May 18, at Tres School for the Arts at 7 S. Potomac St. Try outs begin at 2 p.m. for children in kindergarten through eighth-grade and at 7 p.m. for ninth-grade through adult.

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