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Behind the Scenes at the Greenbelt Arts Center

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Avenue Q at the Greenbelt Arts CenterIt was seeing the fabulous production of “Avenue Q” last month at the Greenbelt Arts Center that got me wondering – how do they bb2get such a talented cast?  And that just led to more questions about the place so I gave general manager Betsy Marks Delaney a poke and she obliged me with a sit-down in her office to oblige my nosiness.  Betsy’s the only paid staffer at GAC, and she’s just part-time.  She came to the position with a background in the technical aspects of theater (in design) and with extensive experience in theater administration at these local theaters – Harlequin, Arena Stage, and the Washington Revels.  In addition to managing the Center, she’s a full-time student, working toward a degree in web and graphic design.  Why not pursue a degree in theater, I naively asked?  Because theater jobs ware seasonal, and they’re just not where the money is.  Betsy IS finding good use for her graphic skills at GAC – supplying all of its graphic needs, including the terrific post cards we see at the Co-op and elsewhere, among other graphic projects.

How it Works

What happens at GAC are both resident and guest productions of plays, dance, and music, plus special events like the Greenbelt Museum fund-raisers and lately, New Year’s Eve celebrations.   For guest productions, GAC receives either half the box-office take (with a minimum), or an hourly rental rate, and in turn, provides not just the space but also the cost of royalties and some other expenses, like costumes. Overall guidance and support are provided by the GAC Board, composed of both residents and nonresidents from all walks of life, but theater nuts all.

Like all community theaters, this one attracts its performers based on other factors besides pay, since beyond the occasional stipend for musicians in musical, performers are not paid.  So what attracts them to perform here?  It’s the material, Betsy says.

Entrance to Greenbelt Arts CenterChoosing Plays

Plays are selected to meet several goals, including attracting the performers who regularly audition here, and attracting a larger and younger audience (something definitely accomplished by Avenue  Q, I noticed).  The choices are made by a play-reading committee, and they’re still accepting proposals for the next season (2013-2015).  For the current season (September 2013 to August 2014) GAC will produce four resident and nine or ten guest productions.


GAC attracts actors to audition for its productions by posting announcements throughout the Metro DC region via such media as Audition Notes, Facebook, Green Room DC, the Actors Center, Showbiz Radio, and GAC’s own large email list.  It’s in competition with more community theaters than Betsy could count, when I tried to pin her down on a number.

Unlike many professional theaters like the Arena, the Center has no resident company, so auditions are held for every play.  They’re all open auditions, with no roles reserved for particular actors.  People with all levels of experience are welcome and often selected.  Men especially are needed, as sometimes there aren’t enough to fill all the roles, resulting in women playing parts written for men.

I asked if students in the acclaimed theater department at the University of Maryland ever perform here and learned that they do NOT – because professional theater students want to avoid the stigma of (unpaid) community theater.  Got it!


Money, Money, Money

Beyond Betsy’s salary and the occasional payment to musicians, GAC’s other expenses are rent (to the Co-op landlord), utilities, royalties, consumables (if the show includes eating), costume rental, supplies and construction materials.

On the income side, sources include the box office, rent for guest productions, a yearly grant from the city, members, who pay from $20 to $1,000 yearly, and various grants and gifts for specific purposes.

History and Renovations

I’ve noticed the spiffy new bathrooms at the Center and learned that renovations to produce them and to make the entrance ADA-complaint required closing the theater for just a month, and cost about $50,000.  (The admirable speed and thriftiness of the project are frequently mentioned in contrast to plans for the Old Greenbelt Theatre – more to come on that front soon!)  The next upgrade to GAC’s space will include improvements to the AC, a scene shop, a new carpet, and upgrades to the technical system.  Any excess income over expenses at the end of each season goes directly into these improvements.

I’d read that GAC was once housed in the Old Greenbelt Theatre and to learn more, I asked Councilman Konrad Herling for the story.  It’s coming soon!

What’s New, and Call for Volunteers

Betsy’s happy to report that GAC is finally ready to accept credit cards in the box office, and will be doing so by the new year.  “This is a huge improvement for us, in the ability to process payments in advance of the show.”

She adds that they’re always on the look-out for volunteers!  There’s info about volunteering here on GAC’s website.

Cast photos via the GAC Facebook page.

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com.

2 Responses

  1. Jim Link
    | Reply

    Greenbelt is very, very lucky indeed to have Betsy Marks Delaney at the helm at GAC!

  2. Betsy Marks Delaney
    | Reply

    Hi, Susan!

    Thanks for the great article! Just to clarify: I already hold a BA in Theatre (Technical/Scenic Design emphasis) from SUNY New Paltz, ’85. I’m working now toward a second degree (BS in Graphic/Web Design and Communications). So sorry for any confusion! Thanks again. -Betsy

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