Spotlight on the Laurel Mill PlayhouseBy Laura & Mike Clark • Mar 4th, 2007 • Category: Interviews
Listen to our chat with Larry Simmons, of the Laurel Mill Playhouse [MP3 9:48 2.8MB].
ShowBizRadio: Hi this is Mike Clark with ShowBizRadio and I am talking with Larry Simmons, Member at Large on the Board of Directors with the Laurel Mill Playhouse in Laurel Maryland. Thanks for talking with me, Larry.
Larry Simmons, for Larel Mill Playhouse: Thank you for having me on here.
SBR: So tell us a little bit about the history of Laurel Mill Playhouse. LMP has just joined the Washington Area Theater Community Honors, WATCH. What has gone on in the past at Laurel Mill Playhouse?
LMP: Laurel Mill Playhouse originally began around 1967 as the Burtonsville Players which was basically an off shoot of the Burtonsville Elementary School Parent Teachers Association. They started primarily to raise money for the PTA and the things at the school. Eventually they moved out of the school and did different venues in different places. Some schools, basically wherever they could find some place to perform. Probably in the late 70′s they moved out and did some store front stuff. In the 80′s they moved over to a storefront in Burtonsville.
I would guess sometime in the early 1990′s they moved over to another storefront in Laurel. They were basically getting the place for free. All we had to do was pay for the utilities. That ended when the owners decided to demolish the shopping center to put a big hardware store in there. Off we went in search of our own location. We found this 100 year old place that had originally been this hardware store/general store. We got together and decided to buy it.
We decided that since we were going to be in Laurel permanently we decided to actually become the Laurel Mill Playhouse. Our corporate name is still the Burtonsville Players Incorporated, but primarily now we are known as the Laurel Mill Playhouse. That brings us up to the present day I think.
SBR: That building you’re in is definitely an old building. It’s also pretty narrow. Has that been kind of challenging for some of the shows you do?
LMP: Some of the shows it is. For instance, Arsenic and Old Lace that we’re doing right now. The living room is fairly small. I performed in this show one before and they had a lot more room to play with, but it gets the job done. Most of the time it works pretty well for us.
SBR: Does Laurel Mill Playhouse still have an educational component since you were starting out working with the school system?
LMP: Must be close to nine or ten years now, we started something called “The Summer Youth Theatre.” My daughter was one of the people who helped originate that. Every Summer we do a thing with kids. They basically do a show done primarily with kids. In fact, all with kids. Originally we had some young directors. Again my daughter was involved with that. That’s hard to find lots of times so we finally have a regular director. The past couple years we’ve been doing musicals with the kids. We still have a Summer Youth Theater every year.
SBR: We saw Annie last year. It was pretty good.
LMP: There’s nothing like a young actor. If you could bottle some of the energy and some of the enthusiasm these kids put out on some of their shows and give it to the older actors. I’m telling you they’d be unbeatable all throughout the art world I swear.
SBR: So what show is playing right now. Arsenic and Old Lace?
LMP: Arsenic and Old Lace is playing through March 16th. It does end on a Friday because our lead has to go to Tennessee to have his daughter baptized. We figured we’d get what we can get and go on from there. The show following that will be Into the Woods. It begins at the end of April and runs through all of May I believe. It runs six weekends.
SBR: Wow. That’s a long run for a community theater.
LMP: It is. Last year we did Pippin with the same director. We had such a response to it that we decided to take a shot at it and see what we can do. The actors seem to be be big into it. We’re talking a cople of shows a day on some on the weekends. Reason I don’t do musicals, too much work for me.
SBR: Is it a challenge owning your own property? A lot of theaters dream of doing that. Is it a really good thing or is it an awkward thing?
LMP: Yeah, you have your ups and downs. You have all the things you expect to happen with a hundred year old building. We’ve had some leaks, but mostly it’s been a pretty good experience, I think. I really don’t think we’ve had problems. We’ve managed to make enough money every month to pay the mortgage so we seem to be doing Ok there.
SBR: This is something I’ve always wondered. Do you do rehearsals for the next show while the current show is going on? I know your shows usually run pretty close together.
LMP: Yes we do. We do some rehearsing upstairs and the current show is generally rehearsing downstairs. Most of the time they alternate days so you’re not interfering with each other. Usually the tech week is the week after the other show closes. So there’s no interference betwen the shows with rehearsals and all that. It works out pretty well most of the time. We borrow some space from some other places. There’s a bar up the street, Oliver’s Tavern. They have a little room downstairs that they allow us to use from time to time. People take pity on us and let us use space when we need it most of the time.
SBR: Have you applied to membership in WATCH before or was this your first attempt to become members?
LMP: This was our first attempt, I believe. I’ve been involved with this theater group for close to ten years. We finally decided when we got our own place, we’re off on our own. We decided to take a big step forward into the larger community. We’ve always done the Maryland One Act Festival and have been involved with that. We decided to kind of reach out further and become more of a part of the big theater community.
SBR: Do you tend to get the same actors from your area or do you have a lot of overlap from actors in other groups?
LMP: We get some overlap, but not as much as I would think. We actually get people from all over depending on the show. You’ll get people who come from great distances for some of the musicals. Primarily the musicals you get people who come from a distance. Yeah, I guess not being a musical person myself. I guess some musical people are just dying to do. I’ve seen people from all over creation. You don’t tend to get a lot of overlap. I know myself, I do shows with a lot of different groups myself. Prince George’s Little Theatre. I’ve done stuff with Greenbelt. A lot of different places as well.
SBR: I’m thinking with becoming a member of WATCH you’ll probably get a bit more exposure. So you’ll probably get a bit more people coming in for your auditions.
LMP: That’s great. The more the merrier I always say. They bring a lot of experience. I’ve only adjudicated two shows with WATCH so far. But boy, that’s one thing I liked about joining. I’m forced to get off my butt and go to these other theaters that I’ve only thought about going. You say, “Oh, it would be great to see that show.” It’s a reward for me, too, as well as the theater group. I think it’s open to everybody’s eyes as to what else is out there and what more we could probably do as a theater group.
SBR: Are you more of an onstage person or a backstage person?
LMP: I am more of an onstage person. I’m the only person in my family that doesn’t like to do tech.
SBR: What would your role be that you would just kill to be?
LMP: Actually I’ve been thinking about that recently. I think one of the roles I would really like to do. I know I like to do comedy. A role I would probably like to do is Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. I don’t know why, but it just seems to just call to me for some reason. You see somebody like Gregory Peck do it on screen and manage to pullup all kinds of emotions. I like to do comedies, but I think if I were going to pick a role there’s no comedy role that grabs you as much as a big dramatic role like that.
SBR: Ok, is there anything else you’d like to share about Laurel Mill Playhouse?
LMP: I’d just like to say we’re an open community. We welcome anybody. All ages, sexes, colors, creeds, whatever. We just like to have a good time and want people to join us.
SBR: Give your web address and mailing addresss and phone number. That type information.
LMP: Our web address is www.laurelmillplayhouse.org. Our theater address is 508 Main Laurel Maryland 20707. Our mailing address is P.O. Box 423 Laurel Maryland 20725. Our phone number for reservations is 301-617-9906.
SBR: Well thank you very much for talking with me today, Larry.
LMP: Thank you. We do appreciate your website as well, for somebody who’s supporting all of our causes. A lot of people look down on community theater, but most of the peope that do, have never seen a community theater production.
SBR: Yep, community theater is pretty exciting we think.
LMP: Yes it does. Thank you again for your time.
SBR: You’re welcome. Thanks a lot. Have a good day.
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Laura & Mike Clark started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.