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The Sound of Community

Generations at work in Potomac Theatre Company’s fall production of The Sound of Music.

For most of us, four seasons a year are enough; but Maureen McMurphy, Nan Muntzing and Marilyn Shockey need more.

They have succeeded in layering their lives with another dimension: the seasonal excitement of theatrical production, a passion that has defined their lives as long as they have been friends.

These long-time Potomac residents are singers, actors and writers who have kept their voices honed and their acting sharp through their association with the Potomac Theatre Company (PTC), which has staged more than 28 productions since 1989. “I am bowled over by the fact that it is thriving and still fun,” said Muntzing, who with Patti Warner, founded PTC fifteen years ago.

On Nov. 21, McMurphy, Muntzing and Shockey, all board members, will test their abilities again in Potomac Theatre Company’s fall production of “The Sound of Music “at the Blair Family Center for the Arts at The Bullis School.

They and their co-workers have become experts at the art of intermingling daily lives and the myriad duties of both acting in and producing plays and musicals. As a result, PTC and its volunteers have given the area a cultural identity that ranges far beyond the crossroads.

For five days a week now, if you see one of these women at rehearsals, the other two are not far away. On Saturday afternoons, when the sun shines and football games take over, McMurphy can be found pacing the hall as producer, before stepping in with her strong soprano voice to sing one of those memorable songs in the role of Mother Abbess. Sitting at the piano, Muntzing beats out the notes, then jumps into her habit as Sister Berthe, while Shockey, on the sidelines, sews a last bit of lace to a costume before taking her turn to rehearse as Sister Sophia. Shockey, an accomplished seamstress is also an accomplished writer and recently sold her children’s play What’s a Wolf to Do? to Dramatic publishing.

“We have to be able to do it all,” said McMurphy. “But, we have been together for so long that we now operate on instinct.”

It takes many hands to build a production from the ground up, which is what PTC does each time they stage a play, usually three to four times a year. There are set designers, builders and painters as well as lighting experts and sound men. There are costumes to be made, dance steps to work out, lines to be learned and songs heard before the play begins to take shape. All the while, life goes on. Carpools line, grocery lines, dinner and the dog to walk, all vie for their share in the limelight.

Often, community theater emerges as a family affair with husbands and children pitching in such as McMurphy’s son Patrick, now 19, who grew up in the shadow of the stage lights. He soon took to the stage. In this production, father and son perform together:

Ethan Langsdorf-Willoughby plays Kurt and his father Jon Willoughby, of Potomac, plays Baron Elberfeld, while Ed Eaton as Capt. von Trapp has his daughter, Raina Silver, play his daughter Gretl in the play

The lure for children is universal and this production of Sound of Music will feature 8 young people of various ages and experiences who were chosen from the 80 who showed up on audition day. These young actors who range in age from 6 to 16 learn what it is like to be a “stage brat” with homework hovering over their rehearsal times and long waiting periods testing the patience of the youngest.

“My friends tell me to shut up and stop singing,” said Potomac’s Matt Sartucci, 8, of Hoover Middle School who plays Friedrich. Sartucci said he likes doing musicals and would like to study theater in college. For his age, he has acquired some seasoning at school by performing in the Gilbert & Sullivan productions staged by their drama and musical theater teacher Pam Bilik.

When McMurphy, who is co-producer of “The Sound of Music” with Shockey, needed a “Friedrich” she remembered that her son, Patrick, had also performed in the G&S musicals for Bilik. She called the teacher who recommended Matt.

“That is the beauty of community theatre,” said McMurphy. “The connections run for generations.”

Bullis’s own Jordan Sullivan, 8, will play Marta and comes to the production with credentials that include singing in the chorus at the Washington Opera.

While some children aspire to see their name in lights, others perform for the pleasure of it. Amy Lessons, 17 who plays Louisa, has performed in seven shows in high school and hopes to attend the University of Michigan to study, not theater, but psychology. She finds auditioning stressful.

“There are so many good people out there and it is so difficult dealing with rejection, that I would not want it as a career,” said Lessons. She sees herself as a social worker or teacher and community theatre as a sideline.

“I want to do what Maureen is doing,” she said. “Maybe I can come back to take over her job.”

McMurphy’s answer: It is that generational thing again.