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National Players may not go all around the world in 80 days – although that is their next theatrical production. As America’s longest-running touring company, however, the Players have covered a lot of ground. They’ve performed in 41 states; at the White House; and for the American military in Europe, Asia and the Arctic Circle.
Wherever National Players go, their guiding principle is to work with communities with limited access to live theater. They comprise young professional actors who perform three Shakespearean and classic plays in repertory and teach theater-related courses to students of all ages and backgrounds.
Father Gilbert V. Hartke, head of the drama department at Catholic University of America, founded the troupe in 1949. Olney Theatre Center has been its artistic home since 1953.
This year’s season, called Tour 70, includes Arthur Miller’s McCarthy era-inspired drama “The Crucible,” and Shakespeare’s beloved comedy “Twelfth Night.”
The final play in the repertory is “Around the World,” which Laura Eason wrote based on Jules Verne’s adventure novel.
Both the book and play concern London gentleman Phileas Fogg who makes a wager that he can travel the world in 80 days – to the amount of 20,000 pounds. With his valet Passepartout, Fogg is determined to stick to a rigid itinerary, but discovers that sometimes the unexpected brings more excitement – and romance.
“Once Fogg finds love for the world, he finds humanity,” said Alice Kabia, a member of Tour 70. “He was not in touch with it before.”
Kabia learned about National Players at their alma mater of Boston University, where they were also able to audition on campus.
One draw for Kabia included the particular plays in Tour 70, of which “each has its own conversation one gets passionate about.”
Of course, they said, doing three plays at the same time takes “dedication and concentration on each distinct piece.” Kabia is playing two very different roles within “The Crucible” – Tituba, the black slave accused of witchcraft, and Reverend Parris, who starts the cycle of the accusations.
For “Around the World,” Kabia is part of the ensemble. But “ensemble” here doesn’t mean what it may in other productions.
Another was the traveling; the Players drive themselves, as opposed to a bus or van.
The official touring component of the season starts on Kabia’s birthday – Oct. 2 – at Chesapeake Arts Center. The fall leg of the tour, in fact, focuses on venues close to the DMV.
Ben is the only member of Tour 70 who is back with National Players for the second time. A graduate of Hartt School in Hartford, Ct., he spent five years in New York City in theater, “with some successes.”
Ben is one of four performers in the group who gets to play only one character. He is Detective Fix of Scotland Yard, who follows Fogg around on some suspicion.
“Fix is the antagonist, but he’s also a lot of fun,” said Ben. In “The Crucible” the actor is Parris, and in “Twelfth Night,” Malvolio.
“The three plays all have an element of antagonism, but they cover a wide range, with very different motivations.”
National Players are not unique, but they are different – in that they’re “self-sustaining.” In addition to administrative tasks – Ben books all the hotels – ensemble members may handle various tasks such as patching up paint on the set.
Following their tour, National Players will return to Olney Theatre for one-week runs in May and June of the play,
Since theater is all about stories, Ben said one thing he appreciates about National Players are the stories and “incredible people” that one encounters.
“Around the World in 80 Days” plays for two days only, Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 17 and 18, at Olney Theatre Center, at 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Rd, in Olney. For more information, visit www.olneytheatre.org.