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Backstage at Bay Theatre Company

The curtain rises four times a year, but the drama never stops

For 10 years, Janet Luby has been bringing plays to life at Bay Theatre Company.

Janet Luby, the woman behind Bay Theatre Company, is a little surprised to see her brainchild reach double digits. It’s not as if she expected her effort to bring professional theatre to Annapolis to fail.
    “The idea of its not working out didn’t even factor in,” she says. “Anything is possible.”
    In Bay Theatre Company’s 10 years, most anything that could happen, did.

I Do! I Do!

    The first eight years were a piece of cake.
    Luby figured she’d seen it all in her years acting in San Francisco and New York. “Compared to attempting to be a star, starting a theater company is nothing,” she says.
    With a partner, Lucinda Merry-Browne, as enthusiastic as she, “Why not go to the moon?” she says.
    For those first eight years, all the founders had to do was —
    Find the money to rent Bay Theatre Company’s space at 275 West Street … furnish an office space as a theater … find a way to pay actors … enlist a board of directors to bring in the money … lure an audience to a new company … keep 88 seats filled 100 nights a year … endure the stings and arrows of reviewers …
    Then, eight years in, in what Luby calls “a totally unexpected turn of events,” the partnership broke.
    Fate thrives on crisis, and to heighten the drama, Bay Theatre’s whole board resigned — then reconsidered.
    Luby, as a reviewer would write, lived up to the part fate cast for her.
    “You turn a different corner and see if it leads you to the same place or somewhere else,” Luby says.

The Time of Our Lives

    Turning that corner alone has given Luby the time of her life.
    “There’s a lot of fun attached to this whole endeavor,” she says. “I came to it as an actress, always looking for the roles I thought interesting.”
    She still loves acting. Just as much, she loves her other roles. Thanks to Bay Theatre Company, she lives in the land of drama.
    “I read plays constantly. I hear about them, see them, listen to what people tell me about plays they know, remember plays from college,” she says.
    Each year, four of those plays — plus readings and summer children’s theater — come to life at Bay Theatre Company.
    “I made up this rhyme,” Luby says, to explain how she makes her season. “It’s called a season for a reason: Fall, winter, spring and summer, you want an array, something that’s going to move you, something socially relevant, something that’s going to touch places that make it artistically worthwhile,” she says. “And of course you want to yuck it up.”
    The plays she loves most, and the ones that test the company to its limits, are often the ones audiences like least.
    She’s planning an Arthur Miller, The Price, that “makes you want to kill yourself.” Plays of that sort earn critical acclaim and Helen Hayes Award nominations, making us respected among our peers,” she says. The company got just that this week, with Rena Cherry Brown’s Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress for her role as a dying scholar in Wit.
    Acclaim is swell, but money pays the actors.
    When you’re a small company, small casts make paying the bills easier. “We typically keep casting under 12, with four our medium and some smaller,” Luby says. “This year we had nine actors, then seven in Becky’s New Car, then two in Love Letters and now one in Belle of Amherst.”
    Once Luby puts out the casting call on the electronic bulletin boards — followed by actors from New York to Washington — it’s Katie bar the door.
    “As many as 100,” Luby says. “Mauritius, which we did in 2010, is a new play and the director has a ton of friends and is well-respected. Everybody and his son came out.”
    Luby needs a check-off sheet to keep track of the actors. But, she says, you know talent when you see it, and you don’t have to be an expert to see it.
    What is it?
    “A finely tuned instrument that happens to be human, that surprises you with something unexpected that completely makes sense.
    “We call one guy the Ferrari,” she says. “He blows everybody out of the water.”
    “Anything is possible,” Luby repeats, and 10 years in she’s still willing to be surprised.
    When the curtain falls on Belle of Amherst May 6, Luby will be writing the casting call for the first play in Bay Theatre Company’s 11th season, Master Harold and the Boys.