When 200 actors auditioned for the latest production by Howard Community College's Student-Alumni Arts group, they faced an unusual challenge: The show had not been written.
It was up to the people who were chosen to create the play, under the direction of Susan G. Kramer, using a method called rehearsed improvisation.
"It's a very different process," said Kramer, artistic director for Student-Alumni Arts. Over three months, 13 ensemble members improvised dozens of scenes. Then the group chose those that worked best and rehearsed them to create the basic outline.
The dialogue is not scripted, so it is very natural, Kramer said. But the events in any given scene are set, so the production has an overall structure.
The final result, Beyond Dick and Jane, is a series of vignettes examining issues of sexual identity from childhood through advanced age.
Performances will be held Dec. 5, 6, 12 and 13 at HCC.
The production will be part of a Student Fine Arts Celebration running through Dec. 13 at the college that includes dance and music recitals, jazz and chamber concerts, and an improvisation showcase.
Kramer said it is unusual for the cast to be so heavily involved in the writing process.
"I don't think you can get a more fully realized experience in theater," said Kramer, who has directed three other shows using rehearsed improvisation at HCC.
She praises the way the process encourages creativity through movement, music and storytelling based on truth.
In one scene the group rehearsed last week, actors Shawn Douglas and Leah Sarah Bassett portrayed young children playing house who are left alone by a parent for the first time.
Another section revolves around an adolescent sleepover and a game of truth-or-dare.
Later scenes take on more mature themes, Kramer said, offering a look at positive and negative experiences that are part of human relationships.
"Not only is it our play because we made it up," said KeiLyn Jones of Randallstown, "it's our play because it came out of our experiences, our lives."
"The whole audience can relate to at least part of it," said Jones, 18, a full-time student in HCC's theater program.
Like a traditional play, Beyond Dick and Jane uses simple sets, costumes, lighting and props created by cast members and a four-member design team.
It will incorporate live original music, poetry and dance.
Choosing the best
As the group worked, the members ended up with many more stories than they could use and had to decide which scenes contributed best to the overall theme.
"I do the final call," Kramer said, "but they give input. We've debated on a few."
"It think it's more interesting [than a traditional play] because you have more of a say in the development process," said cast member Mary Beth Wood, 19, of Glen Burnie.
She said she liked playing a lot of characters, particularly children in this show.
"It's fun to ... pretend you don't have to worry about real-life things," she said.
Cast members also found the show to be a bonding experience.
"It's really neat, because we're all an ensemble," said Caitlyn James, a part-time HCC student from Eldersburg. "We're a big family."
"It's the best kind of production I've ever been in," said James, 19. "It is so creative and everyone here is so talented in so many areas."
Performances of "Beyond Dick and Jane" will be held at 8 p.m. in HCC Theatre Outback on the HCC campus at 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Tickets are $8 for students, senior citizens and groups, and $10 for others.
Because of mature subject matter, the show is recommended for those ages 13 and older. Information: 410-772- 4900 or www.howardcc.edu /studentarts.