Teacher's plays give lessons to audience Professor writes books, shows, leads acting troupe

November 07, 1995|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

For most people, having one career is quite enough. Annette Barnes has three -- but at least they are related.

Mrs. Barnes is an assistant professor of English at Catonsville Community College, an author and a playwright who produces her own plays.

"I remember writing my first 'novel' in eighth grade," said Mrs. Barnes, who lives in Frederick with her husband and their three children. "My mother eventually threw the bundle of papers away, not realizing how valuable they were."

Born in Dayton, Ohio, she graduated from the University of Southern California in the late 1970s and moved to Maryland with her first husband. Her writing career was launched in 1983 after a play she had written, "The Baby Grand," won a WMAR-TV drama competition, and was filmed and aired on Channel 2.

"I still run into people who remember that play," Mrs. Barnes said. "Baltimore has been very good to me."

The play, inspired by an incident in Mrs. Barnes' family in which her older brother purchased a piano without parental approval, was the basis for her illustrated children's book, "The Baby Grand, The Moon in July and Me," published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 1994.

A sequel, "Promise Me The Moon," is planned for publication next year, she said.

In 1992, Mrs. Barnes founded "AgitProv," a multiethnic acting troupe comprised of students from Catonsville, Towson and Morgan state universities and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Her plays focus on social issues such as AIDS, sexual harassment and racism. "AgitProv" stands for agitation and provocation -- two states Mrs. Barnes hopes audiences are moved to after seeing her works.

"The first play we did was in 1992 and was about racism," she said. "Ironically, the first performance fell a week after the L.A. riots. It really got people talking."

The group recently performed a new play, "The Making of 'The Mixx,' " a hip-hop musical written by Mrs. Barnes and the troupe.

Jennifer Miller, a UMBC graduate and stage manager for "AgitProv," said the plays are more than just fun for the audience.

"Most plays are geared toward entertainment only, but this play provides that and there's a message behind it," Ms. Miller said.

Mrs. Barnes said she tries to write plays that encourage audience participation. The productions also are a way to bring onto the stage students who may not otherwise feel connected to the college, Mrs. Barnes said.

"I started the group at a time when minority enrollment was growing," she said. "I wanted to provide roles that weren't just black students playing them, but were created for them."

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