History of RMT
Rockville Musical Theatre, a volunteer organization, is dedicated to the presentation of high quality musical theatre designed to entertain and enrich the community while showcasing local talent.
Rockville Musical Theatre held its first organizational meeting in June of 1974. Present at that meeting were Mike Reed, Kathy Reed, Tom Reed, Barbara Reed, Bob Hunter, Ginny Hunter, Betty Keate, and Cliff Smith. Essentially, this was a group of people who had worked on the RLT musical “Guys and Dolls” and who were interested in continuing to do musicals (the RLT Board had decided to stop doing musicals). At that first meeting, we began to explore some of the details of theatre organization and musical production. There were four main problems facing us in those formative days: a place to perform, people to put the show together, money to finance the show, and equipment such as lights, scenery and costumes.
RMT’s First Show
We decided to cut our teeth on a relatively simple but entertaining musical, “Bells Are Ringing.” The only auditorium that was available when we wanted it was the gymnasium of Broome Junior High School. The problem of financing was solved by the founders, who went out on a limb and loaned the organization (interest-free) a total of $900, which was just enough to get the royalties paid and the production underway. We’ve come a long way from the days of a $900 budget for a show – more recent budgets are in the range of $25,000. Adult ticket prices for this first RMT show were $3.50. The production problems encountered during this show were nightmarish. Our technical director (Mike Reed) said he didn’t sleep well for about two months and lost some significant weight. Nonetheless, overcoming them one-by-one gave the group confidence in their ability to cope with almost anything. As mentioned, technically we started from scratch. Everything had to be borrowed or salvaged or, failing all else, rented. We were not sure enough of our continued existence to buy anything major. In the early days, we spent a fair amount of time going through dumpsters (especially at the Sears Warehouse in Gaithersburg) looking for materials for our sets. This included salvaging pipes from an NIH renovation, cutting, and then threading them in order to hang lights in the gym. The sets, by the way, were being built in the garage of the father (Paul Reed) of two of our founders (yes, he parked his car on the street for several weeks!), not in a storage bay on city property, as we currently do. In spite of the odds against us, “Bells Are Ringing” received good reviews and was enjoyed by all (relatively few) who saw it. Fortunately, it even made money, and after all the bills were paid, and we paid back the founders, there was still enough money for a start on another show.
For our second show, we needed to make some money! We settled on the idea of putting together a musical revue and trying to “tour” the show around and sell it in a profit-sharing arrangement to school PTAs, etc. We put our heads together and picked some Broadway show tunes collected generally around the theme of life “relationships”, and titled it “Dating, Mating, and other Relating.” We needed just a small portable set and designed a few cubes and ramps which could be put together in different combinations during the show. We also manufactured a simple, transportable lighting system using coffee cans and household dimmers. We made sure to design the size in order to fit in the back of a Ford station wagon (mini-vans were not yet popular). We performed this show over a period of 8-10 weeks, touring around to mainly elementary school all-purpose rooms. Sometimes we had a good audience – mostly we didn’t. But the show didn’t cost much to produce and we made enough money to undertake a regular musical the next season.
The RMT Refrain
July 1977 brought the first issue of “The RMT Refrain,” our member newsletter. The first issue was dedicated to reminding our membership we were still in business and planning for our next show, which was to be “Fiddler on the Roof.” There was also a notice asking if members had any used baby furniture for sale…yes, the second generation of RMTers was about to be born (Stephanie Reed). A note on another second generation kid – we had recently done “Kiss Me, Kate” and Mike and Kathy Reed were so enamored of the show that they named their third child Kate.
On a Roll
While our start was a bit rocky, we have gathered steam since then. We traveled around some in the early years, performing at Holy Cross Academy (“Fiddler on the Roof”) and Parkland Junior High (“Company”). One of the problems with our production of “Fiddler…” was that our set, which was designed to be made out of cardboard to save some costs, was deemed unsafe by the fire marshal a couple of days before opening. The director (Sue Denny) took this in stride saying essentially that the cast was the important thing, not the set. She was right! This show was the first show that made a significant amount of money for us and more or less settled us in business.
In the early days of the group we had general membership meetings several times a year; selecting the next season’s shows and electing group officers were significant topics. Of course, they we nice social affairs, too, frequently held in a restaurant (side note – a tray of glasses of beer was dropped by a waitress on one of our founders at one of these meetings. As one of our wags said to him, “Hey, there’s a beer with a head on it.”)
Also in the early years, perhaps because of the success of “Dating…,” we formed the “RMT Traveling Troupe,”putting together brief musical reviews for schools, senior centers, etc. There were several members of this group who were available to perform and had prepared certain musical selections. Our culmination I suppose was being invited to perform for an activity at Wolf Trap.
Welcome to the F. Scott
Our first production at the F. Scott Fitzgerald theatre at the Rockville Civic Center was in 1978, with our production of “My Fair Lady.” We have settled in there since and have forged a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with the City of Rockville staff.
For many years, we also performed about a half hour of seasonal music in December as part of the Glenview Mansion’s holiday celebration. We would get together at someone’s house and put together the program and then perform it at the mansion. While not particularly well attended usually, we all felt festive and usually received many nice comments on our performance.
In addition to our performances moving around in the early days, our set construction places moved as well. In addition to the garage mentioned earlier, we also built sets for one show using space we were given at the (now defunct) Rockville Mall (an empty store) and later were assigned space in a city storage building down the hill from the mansion, part of which we shared with the rock-climbers and Rockville ballet. In 2000, we moved into a new storage and set construction facility built by the city for RLT and RMT (with some financial help from the groups) – we have separate halves of the building.
Things were not always swell with us, though. We have had our share of problems, from cast and directors not performing their tasks well and needing to be replaced, cast members dropping out of shows at the last minute, a cast member getting sick just the day of one of the performances (another cast member who had done the part before did his role and the role of the sick person – while both were significant roles, it turns out they were never on stage together and, apart from a few delays changing costumes, went off without a hitch). Another problem once was that a junior cast member drank at one of our cast parties (RMT used to provide beer at the parties). She got sick and her parents were quite upset. The RMT board shortly thereafter decided that RMT would no longer provide alcoholic beverages at cast parties (if people wanted to drink they would have to bring their own drinks).
Consortium with RLT
In 1987 we began a continuing relationship with Rockville Little Theatre to sell a season ticket of three straight plays and two musicals. In our first years, this consortium sold about 800 season tickets, but as of the summer of 2000 we had sold over 1,900 season tickets. We continue to manage our groups separately, but combining for a season of five shows at about the price of one ticket to the Kennedy Center has proven to be a godsend for both the groups and the community.
20 Year Anniversary
Rockville Musical Theatre marked its 20th anniversary in the summer of 1995 with a gala celebration/reunion at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rockville. We spent a wonderful evening seeing old friends and reviewing a tape of clips from previous productions. Guest speakers included Congresswoman Connie Morella and Rockville Mayor, James Coyle. We honored all our past production workers and cast with a commemorative program listing their names, and unveiled plaques with the names of our previous Producers, Directors, Musical Directors, and Choreographers engraved. In addition, we recognized four of our members who made exceptional contributions during the first twenty years of the group: Edie Anderson, Richard Battistelli, Roberta Margolies, and Tom Reed.
RMT has a long tradition of service to our community. RMT has endowed a scholarship with Montgomery College for a student majoring in theater, dance, or music; for many years we performed at the Glenview Mansion for their annual Christmas celebration. In 1999 we celebrated our 25th anniversary with a “Silver Jubilee” – a musical revue of songs from many of our previous shows. The proceeds from this show were donated to two charities (Mighty Special Music Makers and Very Special Arts) to improve life for the disadvantaged in our community.
Honors & Awards
Since our establishment in 1974, we have received recognition through the Ruby Griffith award presentation (for excellence in the Washington D.C. area for community theater) either as overall winner, best musical, or one of the runners up for our productions of: Fiddler on the Roof (1977), Man of LaMancha (1980), A Chorus Line (1987), Sweeney Todd (1991), Grand Hotel (1995), My Fair Lady (1999), and Victor, Victoria (2000).
Oh S*** Award
And no RMT history would be complete without a mention of our award presented at the end of each production run. This is the (coveted) “Oh S***” Award.” During our first show, “Bells are Ringing”, our sound technician (who was working just off-stage) cued up the wrong sound cue and sounded the doorbell instead of the telephone (or vice versa). As the mistake became obvious, he was heard to say (rather loudly since he was wearing headphones) “Oh S***”. Hence the award was born and is given to commemorate a notable on stage or backstage error or other event which would cause the individual (or someone else) to utter those immortal, and oh-so-graphic, words. Forgotten lines, verses from songs, or entrances onto the stage; lights miscues (e.g. going to a blackout too soon), doing a scene with your fly unzipped; dropping stage props (or the like), sometimes into the orchestra pit; stage crew or cast not getting the stage properly set; and other cast or crew miscues – these are all examples of “happenings” resulting in the award.
In 2001, we were the first group at the F. Scott Fitzgerald theatre to use the new City of Rockville box office. Even though we were the first, things went off without a hitch. With our production of “Anything Goes” in the summer of 2002, we tried reserved seats for the first time. This also was successful.
We have adjusted our policies many times over the years, but we have remained constant with one thing: all parts for our shows are cast from open auditions. The result of this policy is that our group has continued to flourish over the years, always adding new blood and fresh faces to our shows and our group. We hope you will come and join us!