Theater

March 23, 2003

Toby's Dinner Theatre

5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia. Information: 410-730-8311 or 1-800-88TOBYS, or www.tobysdinner theatre.com

Much like the characters in many of the musicals she directs, Toby Orenstein has made her dream come true. "Jim Rouse [Columbia's founder] said to me that when you wish for something, you should take all your desires and keep working toward that," Orenstein said. "He's my visionary."

For more than three decades, Orenstein has combined her theatrical and education training to create a string of theatrical organizations in Columbia that entertain as well as educate. She is the founder of Toby's Dinner Theatre, the nonprofit Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, the Young Columbians and the Labels Project.

Every year since Toby's has been eligible, the theater has been nominated for the prestigious Helen Hayes Awards based in Washington -- amassing 22 nominations. Last year, Orenstein was inducted into the Howard County Women's Hall of Fame and honored as one of 16 women who changed the face of theater in the Baltimore area.

Toby's Dinner Theatre has 5,600 subscribers, with patrons from across the United States who have attended Toby's as members of tourist groups. The dinner theater's regular customer base is from Maryland, Washington, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Toby's performances are: Fiddler on the Roof, through June 15; Footloose, June 18 to Aug. 31; Ragtime, Sept. 5 to Nov. 23; and Meet Me in St. Louis, Nov. 27 to Feb. 15.

Performances are Sunday through Thursday evenings, with matinees Wednesday and Sunday. Doors open at 6 p.m. for evening shows, at 5 p.m. Sunday and at 10:30 a.m. for matinees. Tickets range from $36 to $41. Group rates and subscriptions are available.

Orenstein, who attended New York's High School of the Performing Arts, graduated from Columbia University with a degree in theater and minor in education.

In 1970, she founded the Columbia Center of Theatrical Arts, a nonprofit children's acting school and summer camp that boasts movie actor Edward Norton as an alumnus. The school now is called the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts.

Theatrical Arts Productions, an arm of the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, produces shows for school field trips presented at various theatrical venues. Participating schools are from Baltimore City and Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's, Frederick, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.

Productions include Ben Carson, M.D., an autobiography of the Johns Hopkins Hospital pediatric neurosurgeon; The Velveteen Rabbit; Bridge to Terabithia; and Number the Stars.

"Because we base our shows on literary works that are in the school curriculum, so many teachers build their lessons based on their students reading the books and seeing the play," said Toba Barth, educational director for Theatrical Arts Productions.

After each production, actors return to the stage for a forum with the student audience on lessons learned and to discuss elements of the book that could be presented onstage.

Rep Stage

Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Box office: 410-772-4900. Information: 410-772-4900 or www.howardcc.edu/ repstage.com

In just a decade, Rep Stage has evolved into an award-winning professional theater company in residence at Howard Community College, performing familiar and obscure works.

The company was founded in 1993 by Valerie Lash, artistic director and producer, Kasi Campbell, Rep Stage manager, and Robert Marietta, production manager.

In its short history, Rep Stage has received more than a dozen Helen Hayes Award nominations and has drawn audience members from Baltimore, Washington and Virginia.

"At first, we weren't sure where [Rep Stage] would go, but it took on a life of its own," Lash said. "We are sought out by good directors and good actors, and we're pursuing new works. We solicit new works and hope to do first readings with actors in a public setting. It's a first step for a playwright."

Rep Stage also has been invited twice to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington to choose a new play and read it during the Labor Day weekend.

This season, Rep Stage presented The Italian Lesson and Anna Lucasta, which featured an all-African-American cast. The last show of the season is The Return to Morality (A Political Fable) that will run through March 30.

Plays for the coming season, which typically runs from September through March, have not been selected.

"Our audience base is getting bigger and bigger," Lash said. "We did a minimum of 16 plays. Now we're doing 18 and hope to do 20. Ultimately, we help to create an audience. We tended to do the work we like to do and find an audience."

The company's unconventional production choices haven't affected ticket sales. "Most of our audience has not heard of these plays," Lash said. "But they trust us, and they have come and enjoyed them."

Tickets are $10 to $22 general admission, with a $2 discount for seniors. Student tickets are $10.

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