This story features “The Opioid Crisis: Not in MY Backyard” presented by Peace Mountain Theatre Company. Learn more about this performance and get tix on the event page here.
Something was missing in Laurie Freed’s community. And five years ago, the Darnestown resident and all-things-theater maven – equipped with two master’s degrees and 30-plus years as an actor and director—decided to fill that void.
That’s when “the idea of starting a theater company blossomed …,” she said. “After working for a variety of theater companies on the West and East coasts, I decided it was time to create a company that I would be intimately involved with.”
Freed recognized the time was right for her personally. “I started Peace Mountain Theatre Company (PMTC) when I did because it was time. I have come to realize that big decisions are often made when you intrinsically become aware of a need for change.”
“You could say,” the St. Paul, Minnesota native added, “I was tired of following; I wanted to lead. It became apparent to me that the geographic area in which I lived was devoid of a professional theater company that tackled important, issue-driven plays.”
Freed proceeded to “gather colleagues who shared my ethos. After several meetings, PMTC was born.” They chose their name, she said, because “Peace Mountain in Hebrew is Har Shalom. This was a way to acknowledge Congregation Har Shalom,” the Potomac congregation to which Freed belongs, whose administrators immediately agreed to house the company.
Although PMTC is not a “Jewish” theater company, Freed noted, “we definitely search out plays that adhere to Jewish ethics and values. The plays we choose must have a strong message, one that will arouse our audience to discuss and ask questions.”
From the start, Freed said, “my goal was to create a theater company that has a strong purpose. By that I mean, to entertain, yes, but also to deal with issues or conflicts that are relevant to humanity, to inform people of situations or conflicts, be they within a family or the nation at large. I did not want to shy away from making a statement.”
Locally, Freed has acted and directed for companies including Silver Spring Stage, Montgomery College, Rockville Little Theatre, Potomac Community Theatre, Cedar Lane Stage, Adventure Theatre and Imagination Stage. The major difference she has experienced in leading a company, she said, “is one of responsibility. Before, I was hired to direct. The play was chosen, the staff was chosen, etc. Today, I carry a considerable weight on my shoulders for picking an appropriate play, finding the design staff, the venue, the actors. I worry about ticket sales. I worry about ushers and the snack table.”
Freed is proud that PMTC “has become known as the ‘theater with a purpose.” Board members are “committed to those ideas. Our play selection committee diligently researches and identifies plays that fit into our mission.” Since its inception, PMTC has presented dramas about relationships and ethics, including Donald Margulies “Collected Stories,” Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” and Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers.”
Last year, PMTC added an Educational Outreach Program “in an effort to give back to the community,” Freed said. “(Its) programs deal with significant issues of our time.” First up was “Bullying: Please Don’t Beat Me Up,” a one-man play and program about bullying. Coming up on Sunday, April 8 is “The Opioid Crisis: Not in MY Backyard,” consisting of a performance of Tim Kelly’s “The Empty Chair,” “an emotional play about the loss of a friend to opioids,” Freed said, followed by a panel discussion and a question-and-answer session between audience and panelists.
Panelists are Cari Chou, director of Cornerstone Montgomery and a social worker; Montgomery County Police Officer Douglas Tressler, narcotics division; Sorell Schwartz, professor of pharmacology; Donald Wood, a father whose son died from a drug overdose; and Alexander Jeffrey, a recovered addict.
The statistics are grim and all around us. “Opioid addiction is impacting staggering numbers of individuals and families, including many right here in Montgomery County. In 2016, 2,100 people overdosed in our state; 162 of them lived in our county,” according to PMTC. As such, board members have worked hard to get the word out to the public, Freed said. “We have reached out to churches, synagogues, radio stations, organizations and various community list serves.”
When planning the April Outreach Program, “(board members) all agreed that we must deal with a topic that is important and relevant to our community. The opioid crisis is a tragedy that needs urgent attention,” said Freed. “PMTC is paying close attention, and we are proud to bring this educational outreach program to the area for the first time.”
Freed, who has found her abundant responsibilities “invigorating,” hopes to build on Peace Mountain’s successes. Next up, she said, are expanding the company’s play production offerings and educational outreach programs and enlarging its audience numbers and volunteer base.
Peace Mountain Theatre Company will present “The Opioid Crisis: Not in MY Backyard,” at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 8, at Congregation Har Shalom, 11510 Falls Road, Potomac. For tickets– $10—visit www.peacemountaintheatre.com or call 301-987-2478. PMTC will share a portion of the proceeds with Cornerstone Montgomery, a Rockville-based provider of behavioral health services in the county.