By Katie Davidson
It began as the product of a cancelled high school show, but now The Flying Muskrat Theatre Company is an up-and-coming member of the Falls Church arts community. Two and a half years since its creation, the company has put on a variety of shows and hosts an annual playwright contest for student writers. The FMTC will open its sixth production, “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” this week.
In the spring of 2012, Falls Church High School theater students were excited to put on a one-act festival of student-written plays, but it was abruptly cancelled, causing disappointment throughout the theater department.
“We basically said ‘the show must go on,’” said Brennan Jones, the artistic director of the FMTC.
Jones and fellow theater students came together to perform the show that summer. The production was performed at The James Lee Community Center Theatre, and featured some student-written pieces as well as other short sketches. Since then, the group has expanded to include theater students and amateur thespians from across the Washington, D.C. area.
That summer, after the initial one-act festival, the group performed an original one-act piece called “The Doorman Cometh” by Jones, who said, “Looking back, it wasn’t the best piece of writing; but it was funny.” The following year, the Flying Muskrats took on their first full-length production, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged” by Lauren Katz. Since then, they have put on more performances including “Love Letters” by A.R. Gurney, and a compilation Shakespeare piece titled “She Speaks!”
The FMTC’s second season also brought the inception of its student playwright contest. Winning pieces of the contest were presented alongside another piece in a one-act festival called “Becoming Human.” Now in its third season, the FMTC hopes to continue its tradition of hosting a playwright contest just for students.
The contest accepts any scripts from nine to 99 pages, and “the only stipulation is you’ve got to be a student,” Jones said, “whether you be in sixth grade, or post-grad; you have to be going to school somewhere, for something.” The past year’s contest received over 30 entries from Mexico, Canada, and the United States.
“We had two full-lengths and three one-acts win this year, so it’s really expanding,” Jones said.
Though the company is continuously growing in membership and number of productions performed, they face challenges inherent to starting a new theater company.
“Right now it is kind of tough for us; we were able to do a lot this semester because a lot of us were still in the area,” Jones said.
In its early days, the majority of the company resided and studied in the area, making planning and performing productions easier. Though many members are going to school to study theater, they are not looking at the FMTC as a constant company throughout the next few years. The shows, which are financed through early donations during the start-up period and ticket sales from previous shows, are a way for the actors to gain expertise and expand their craft while building strong relationships for the future.
“It’s a little different from normal community theater in that we can find that blend between loving what we’re doing and working till 4 a.m. to do it,” Jones said.
Soon, many members of the company will return to college, and Leanne O’Neill, who directs shows for the FMTC and serves on the board of directors, is taking a new teaching position in Maryland.
“We’d really like to do a full-length, but no promises there right now,” Jones said.
The search for space continues to be a major roadblock for the FMTC. For their last show, the company rehearsed in Olney, Maryland, a one-and-a-half hour drive in rush-hour traffic. The Flying Muskrats have learned to get creative in their quest for performance space, putting on that production of “She Speaks!” outside at Mason District Park. For their upcoming show, the FMTC is helping for five weeks at a summer camp at The James Lee Community Center to pay for the cost of the space.
As for right now, all of the FMTC’s energy is focused on preparing for the upcoming production of “Gruesome Playground Injuries.”
“It is a very funny show, about a very serious subject,” Jones said.
The show, structured as a series of out-of-order memories, is about why people choose to hurt themselves. With a cast of two actors, it follows Doug (played by Ben Peter) and Kayleen (played by Caity Brown) from ages 8 to 38, in eight scenes.
“It’s a very good memory play, in the sense that it is how you actually remember things,” Jones said. “It’s not black and white, it’s not in order, it’s very true to life.”
The actors have been rehearsing for the show since late May, about four days a week.
“One thing we wanted to do with this show is rehearse it in chronological order,” Jones said, “rather than how the scenes are laid out in order to let the actors get their aging right.”
The full-length play was written by Pulitzer Prize nominee Rajiv Joseph. The show will run without an intermission, and will be about 90 minutes long.
“Gruesome Playground Injuries” runs July 10 – 12 and 17 – 19 at 8 p.m. at The James Lee Community Center Theatre. Tickets are $10 – $15 online and $16 at the door. For more information, visit flyingmuskrats.org.