In regional theater, actors’ bios include recent theater credits, usually abbreviated with acronyms. And a new one started popping up a few years ago — HSP, for Har Shalom Players.
Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac put on its first show 13 years ago. This weekend, the players will perform the musical adaptation of “The Secret Garden,” which cast and director said is more challenging musically than their past productions. But the story of a young orphan sent to live with her uncle only to find a surprising family is timeless, said director Shelly Horn, a longtime member of the Conservative congregation.
“I love the fact that everyone [in the story] has something that isn’t quite right. They’re like puzzle pieces and then they find each other and it fits,” she said.
The first Har Shalom Players show was intended to be a one-off, said Stewart Remer, a congregant who has been involved for all 13 shows and is co-producing this year’s. After that first show, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” people kept asking when the next one would be.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” Remer said. “It’s something I look forward to every year. And it helps make the winter go by more quickly.”
The company has performed classics that include “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Music Man,” and newer, children-friendly fare like “Seussical” and “Shrek: The Musical.” They usually rehearse for a couple of months.
Congregants fill at least half the cast, with the rest drawn from outside. Congregant Barbara Kaplowitz, who plays a dreamer in “The Secret Garden,” has been a Har Shalom Player since that first show.
It’s become a family affair. Her son, Scott, now 22, started with the group when he was in elementary school and has performed in almost every show.
“It really becomes a family,” Barbara Kaplowitz said. “It’s the fact this group makes the larger congregation seem smaller.”
Even college didn’t stop Scott Kaplowitz, who plays Dickon, a member of the mansion staff, from performing. The University of
Maryland senior said he loves to sing and perform and this group has helped foster that.
“I’ve grown up with this,” he said. “These people have seen me evolve and I’ve gotten to see them through the years. And that’s a great community to have.”
The appeal is the same for the actors who come from outside the congregation.
“The draw is the people,” said Steve Kairns, who first performed at Har Shalom in “Music Man” a couple years ago. In “The Secret Garden, he plays the uncle, Archibald. “The people are just fantastic. You come back for the people,” Kairns said.
Putting on a show in a synagogue involves some challenges. The sanctuary, where the plays are performed, is not set up like a theater, so Horn choreographs the productions more like theater in the round.
And the backstage is just the back part of the sanctuary partitioned off with black curtains. But, said Kaplowitz, they almost always sell out both performance dates, and the money made from ticket sales goes into synagogue coffers.
“Like two weeks before the show, I always wonder how we’re going to pull this together,” Remer said. “But it always comes together.”
For show times and tickets go to harshalom.org/players.