Two to share Rep Stage’s artistic director job


Director and Playwright Suzanne Beal. (Harriet Wise/HARRIET WISE)
July 16, 2013

Rep Stage, the professional Equity theater in residence at Howard Community College, is filling the vacant artistic director position with two people: Suzanne E. Beal and Joseph W. Ritsch.

Beal is the board chair of the Maryland Ensemble Theatre in Frederick. Ritsch is a co-founder of Iron Crow Theatre Company in Baltimore, which focuses on work related to the LGBT community. They’ll each work part time and hold the titles of co-producing artistic directors.

Valerie Lash, the founding and acting artistic director of Rep Stage who chaired the nine-person search committee, said she oversaw a nationwide search and received close to 100 applicants.

“I did not go into this thinking that I was looking for two co-artistic directors,” Lash said. “I went into it looking for the best person.”

Neither Beal nor Ritsch was expecting the call that the job would be going to two people instead of one and that their partner would be someone they had yet to meet. “It’s like a blind date,” Beal said. “There’s a little anxiety about it, and yet excitement at the same time.”

Head shot of Joseph Ritsch. (Steven Duarte )

Turning the full-time job into two part-time positions made things “a little more expensive,” Lash said. But she’s excited about the opportunities the job sharing can open up for Rep Stage and for Beal and Ritsch, who will be able to continue working elsewhere.

Rep Stage is entering its 21st season. Michael Stebbins, who guided the theater for 7 1 / 2 years, stepped down in April. He and Lash are the only two artistic directors Rep Stage has ever had, and both worked full time.

When Stebbins spoke with Backstage in April about his decision to leave Rep Stage, he said: “Because I’m first and foremost an actor and a director, I thought it time to continue on my — not to sound selfish — but my artistic journey again. . . . It was time to step into more of the artistic waters than the artistic and administrative. [Doing] the administrative [work], at times, you get tired.”

Lash called the artistic director gig “a big burnout job.” She held the position for 12 years. “It was killing me. It’s a drainer.”

It’s a gamble to pair up Beal and Ritsch who, at press time, had yet to meet (a lunch is scheduled Wednesday). “As Suzanne said to me [by phone] this morning, it’s going to be an adventure together,” Ritsch said. “There’ll be things we figure out together as we go.”

Beal and Ritsch will be inheriting a season planned by Stebbins, who is sticking around to direct “A Young Lady of Property,” the season opener, and is likely to be involved in other productions as well.

Both declined to speak specifically about their plans for Rep Stage’s future. “I don’t come to Rep Stage with a vision to superimpose on it,” Beal said. But they spoke generally about their hopes to capitalize on Rep Stage’s unique placement as part of the Howard Community College environment to cultivate a younger generation of audience members.

“Theater is, by nature, a collaborative art,” Beal said. “No one does anything by themselves.”

High drag at ‘Rocky Horror’

Collin Ranney remembers his initial reaction to the film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was something like this: “What did I just watch?”

Ranney, the costume designer for Studio Theatre’s production of the cult classic (which drops the “Picture” from its title), has never seen a live production of the show, save for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C., performance last year. And his recollection of the movie, essentially, is that it made no sense.

“The narrative, or lack of narrative, it’s so loose,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to follow. It’s just odd. . . . I was maybe 12 or 13, and was just like, ‘What is this?’ ”

Though Ranney says Studio’s take contains “little nods” to the film — “It’s hard to do the show without fishnets, so of course, those are there” — for the most part, what’s on stage at Studio is an entity unto itself. “We didn’t want to put the movie on stage.”

“In our version,” Ranney said. “It’s very much like all these characters have come to Frank N. Furter’s mansion for a sex party.”

“The directors and I talked about it from the very beginning as being something sort of slick, sleek and sexy,” Ranney said. “And into that research came a little glam, a little punk and a little fetish influences.”

Hopefully, the National Security Agency isn’t looking at Ranney’s browsing history. “I looked at all kinds of things,” he said. “From club kids to fetish wear to couture. I even, this is horrible, I even downloaded an actual film called the ‘Rocky Whore Picture Show.’ . . . So basically I watched porn, for research of the show!”

And? “It was quite the eye-opening experience.”

Ranney took the textures from his racy recon and brought them in as the literal fabric of the show: vinyl, leather, chains, studs, fishnets, feathers (“My personal favorite”), netting and “eccentric head wear. Frank N. Furter has a sort of feather mohawk for a good portion of the show.”

“The hardest part is trying to create characters that are relatable but somehow otherworldly, because these characters, most of them are not of this planet.” Frank N. Furter is in what Ranney calls “high drag,” wearing makeup, a female corset and heels but not shaving his facial or chest hair.

“As humans, we’re constantly holding something back, just like Brad and Janet,” the straight-laced engaged couple, Ranney said. “We’re constantly repressing something deep down inside. . . . I think the thing people like about this show is, they always find a little part of themselves that they are holding deep down inside, and ‘Rocky Horror’ allows people to let that out.”

Through Aug. 4, 1501 14th St. NW, www.studiotheatre.org, 202-332-3300

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