Mornington Players began in 1994 when Pastor Marvin Kline started dinner theaters as a fundraiser for Dundalk United Methodist Church. Church members cooked meals and a group of actors—including Kline, known to be a bit of a ham—performed onstage for one or two weekends each year.
Kline has since retired, and the congregation has shrunk. But the theater group, named for the road where the church is located, continues to grow.
A lifelong Dundalk resident (minus a three-year stint in New York City), Ken Ewing helped with the 2009 production of While the Lights Were Out at the church and took over as artistic director shortly thereafter. That fall, Ewing produced two shows on his own: a children’s show, The Frog Prince, and the musical Nunsense.
Beginning Friday, Mornington Players will perform Godspell.
They're no longer a dinner theater, but they're beefing up concession offerings, Ewing said, a step toward having dinner theater again in the future. They no longer give proceeds to the church, either; instead, money raised goes toward their next production.
Their community spirit is much the same.
They aim to produce two adult shows and two children’s shows each year, though the adult shows are family-friendly, “because we’re in a church, of course,” Ewing said.
Casts, too, are often a mix of ages.
"We want kids to have the opportunity to sing and dance and act," Ewing said. "We have a few adults come onstage to ground the action."
The stage is fairly small—about 17 by 23 feet—"but we can have pretty costumes," Ewing said. "We put on the best show we can."
The group also gets involved with Dundalk parades, driving a car through the procession and handing out fliers (they have something planned for the Fourth of July parade but Ewing wanted to keep it a surprise).
Ewing's wife is also from Dundalk (they dated in high school), and both are members of Dundalk United Methodist. They're the only church members, however, in a theater committee that's more than a dozen strong.
Ewing earned a BFA in music theater from Shenandoah University and returned to Dundalk to work with community theater troupes.
“I tend to gravitate toward musical theater,” he said. Most of Mornington Players' productions have been musicals.
Knowing several people in the local theater community, Ewing found various actors, directors, choreographers, technicians, etc. to join the committee and/or help put on plays. The group involved has been growing ever since.
Kristen Cooley is the director and choreographer for Godspell. Like Ewing, Cooley was a musical theater major in college, graduating from Towson University (musicals are fun, she said—there's more glitter). She began working with Mornington Players after being involved in the Baltimore theater scene for a few decades.
"Godspell is a favorite show for so many reasons," Ewing said. "It can literally be done dozens of different ways."
Cooley has seen Godspell productions that take place on a playground; another was set on a farm.
"It's a universal story," she said. "You can make the stories modern."
In the Mornington Players version, they tell Law and Order and Star Wars parables, among others.
They examine technology in today's culture—how it connects people in some ways but disconnects them, too. References to Facebook and Twitter, cell phones and PDAs fill the performance. Ultimately, they ask the audience what it would be like to get back to a grassroots way of life.
Cooley said she had a lot of help from her cast, who range in age from about 21 to 75.
"It's a collaboration," she said. "It's about community.... And I don't think there's a night I go home after (rehearsal) that my stomach isn't hurting from laughing."
Where: Fellowship Hall Little Theatre of Dundalk United Methodist Church. 6903 Mornington Road, Baltimore. Tickets: www.morningtonplayers.com. $10 in advance or $12 at the door. Godspell dates: 8 p.m. April 8, 9, 15, 16; 2 p.m. April 10.