Compass Rose Artistic Director Leads Theater with Passion and Vision
Acting began as a fun activity for Lucinda Merry-Browne at only eight years old, but eventually it developed into a life-long passion. The actress has directed over 300 shows and is the founder of five theater companies.
Her first venture was The Merry Company, an acting company for seniors in Washington D.C. She had previously instructed many young children and high school students, and contemplated working with adults. She felt that theater could be very useful for people as they age.
Later in her career, Merry-Browne moved to Annapolis where she founded the drama program at Archbishop Spalding High School, called the Spalding Theater. She developed Round House Theater, The Bay Theater Company, and The Compass Rose Theater.
Merry-Browne continues to hold the same values for Compass Rose as when she initiated the company six years ago. The mission of the theater can be summarized in two efforts, education and performance.
This mission is supported through the studio’s various educational classes and workshops, and through the mentor-mentee relationship between the professional and student actors who collaborate together. Each play aims to transform the members of the audience emotionally and spiritually.
“I was always passionate about how powerful theater can be in lives of children and young adults. It allows and encourages development of the imagination, empathy, and making human connections… Performance moves and inspires audiences, being a force for change and for good.” –Lucinda Merry-Browne
Merry-Browne seriously training with the Pittsburgh Playhouse at 12 years old. She graduated from a two-year professional program with The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, and graduated from Duke University with an English degree. Merry-Browne is now a member of Actors’ Equity, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers, and is on the Performing and Visual Arts Advisory Board of Anne Arundel County.
Head out to The Compass Rose Theater for a night of entertainment. The Liar plays Friday, September 8th through Sunday, October 8th, and Inherit the Wind plays Friday, October 27th through Sunday, November 26th.
Tell me about your history with theater performance. Was it always a part of your life? Why and how did you get involved in the performing arts?
I started acting at eight years old. I grew up with many siblings and we just did plays for fun when we were little. We even put on plays for the neighborhood. I joined the Pittsburgh Playhouse when I was 12 or 13 years old. I always had a love for stories and drama is essentially story telling.
What was the inspiration behind creating the Compass Rose Theater? What is the meaning of the name?
The inspiration came from two places: first, education and theater education. I was always passionate about how powerful theater can be in lives of children and young adults. It allows and encourages development of the imagination, empathy, and making human connections. The second is performance. Performance moves and inspires audiences, being a force for change and for good.
Combining these two things is very powerful. To educate and perform is the mission of Compass Rose.
And the name, I thought it was perfect for the location! Compass rose is a symbol to help mariners know where to go, and it’s one of Shakespeare’s first theaters as well.
Would you say that theater and performing is the best form of art to educate and inspire?
I think there’s more of a wholeness in theater than what you find in just dance or just music. A play is a very complete experience. But, all art can educate and inspire. It’s like types of fruit; there are many different kinds with nutritional value but you want to have a variety.
What roles and tasks do you have as the founding director?
I have to keep the vision and the mission of the theater at the forefront of everything I do. The second thing is, I have to make sure the theater can be self-sustaining. With professional theaters, you need to capture people’s imaginations and get them invested in what you do, so that they too, share the vision. That’s pretty important.
You need to have a strong board of directors. You need to do strategic planning and always have the vision in mind so that it can grow. We’ve had a 20% growth rate each year since our founding.
Tell me about your next upcoming shows, The Liar and Inherit the Wind. How did you decide on these productions? What do you want the audiences to take away from the shows?
The Liar by Pierre Corneille is a farce, a broad comedy about someone who lies. It’s very sophisticated work. We just had the auditions. All the actors are professionals, local and from out of town. I chose the production because it is very timely and I wanted to open with a very strong comedy.
Inherit the Wind will be playing after that in October and November. It’s a drama that battles the interpretation of the Bible. It’s about the Scopes Trial, when a high school teacher got in trouble for teaching evolution instead of creationism. Small time America meets big time lawyers, and the search for the truth of scientific exploration. It’s about how people’s minds expand when they are educated, going from being limited to being a critical thinker. I chose this because it is also timely, many people today are finding the juxtaposition between fact and alternative fact extremely challenging.
I don’t tell my audience what to take away from the play. All I really want is for the audience to be inspired, to feel comfortable reacting, and to be moved. We do have talk-backs after the show where the audience can discuss with the actors. The whole idea of theater is that it’s not an intellectual experience, but a soulful one. It’s the speaking of the heart to the heart, a soul connection to everyone in the room. The only thing I hope the audience member does is lose himself in the story. We try to eliminate distractions by doing high caliber work so that this is possible.
What are some of your favorite productions that you have directed and acted in? Why? Do you have a favorite genre of theater?
Well, I’ve directed over 300 shows, so there are many. A Man of No Importance, Cats, Tartuff, The Sound of Music, and West Side Story have to be some of many favorites. That production of West Side Story was at Spalding High School, it was fantastic, and some of those students involved went on to Broadway.
I also loved acting in Glass Menagerie as Amanda, and in Lost in Yonkers as Grandma. They are powerful, complete roles for women in the theater. They are iconic with lots of humor.
These were incredible productions because of the acting and how the audience responded. The audience needs to suspend their disbelief and forget they are in the theater, and the acting has to be incredibly good. It begins and ends with the actor.
Do you have any plans for the Compass Rose Theater?
I want Compass Rose to be the primary theater destination for Anne Arundel County and beyond, and we will be looking for a new theater location. That’s the 10-year plan. We partnered with the lighthouse shelter this past spring, and it went so well that we want to do it again, maybe a few times a year. I’m thinking about doing it again sometime this late fall for Fiddler on the Roof.
We already have many educational programs with schools, and have field trips where students come here. We have about 5,000 students a year. I want to continue to grow the theater and grow strong educational programs with schools and colleges.