Mountain Maryland Theatre Festival Encourages Those with a Flair for the Dramatics


For one weekend in March, the halls of Frostburg State University’s Performing Arts Center echoed with young, joyful singing, reciting, dancing, building, laughter and applause as students from grades 8 to 12 descended on campus for the Mountain Maryland Theatre Festival. In its third year (organizers skipped 2021 due to the pandemic), the event is a fun, creative and hands-on way to expose the area’s young people to all aspects of theatre.

According to Nicole Mattis, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, the festival started after her colleagues attended similar events in Maryland and neighboring states and noticed the lack of representation from the Western Maryland region.

“From talking with teachers, we learned that this was largely due to distance and cost. We have a beautiful performing arts facility at Frostburg State University and realized that a festival is something we can provide for arts students in Western Maryland,” Mattis said. “This region has so much talent, and these young artists work incredibly hard to bring theatre to their schools. We want to encourage and support their training onstage and backstage.”

female festival goer shows pulls on stage curtain

High school senior Mackenzie Guynes learned how the magic happens backstage. She plans to attend FSU in the fall.

The two-day event offered workshops in acting, musical theatre, dance, improvisation, design and technical theatre and gave the young artists opportunities to perform one-act and scene presentations. It also allowed for FSU alumni working in theatre to share their real-world experiences with the young hopefuls. This year’s event featured alumni Jennifer Bonner ’04 teaching commercial, film and theatre acting, Bill Dennison ’10 with improv, and current FSU theatre faculty member Shea-Mikal Green ’09 on mask- making and performance.

“[Theatre students] are determined, focused, creative, and they want to connect with each other and the world around them through the power of storytelling and art.”

“We have had an outpouring of support from our alumni, and we are so grateful to them. During all festivals, alums returned to present professional workshops, keynote talks and engage with participants. This has been a meaningful way for the department to connect with alums at transitional points in their careers,” Mattis added.

Mattis also knows the importance of nurturing the theatrical spirit of young people and showing them that careers in theatre and the arts are possible and fulfilling.

“As an art form, theatre brings people together,” she said. “Theatre students show up, and they want to be there. They are determined, focused, creative, and they want to connect with each other and the world around them through the power of storytelling and art.”

The MMTF holds a “Tech Olympics” to show students the behind-the-scenes and the “dark side of theatre” and those who make the “magic happen,” said Mattis. High school senior Mackenzie Guynes attended the festival as part of the group from the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts in Hagerstown, Md. The high school senior, who plans to attend FSU in the fall and major in theatre design and technology, was thrilled with the event.

female festival goer shows off homemade mask

Mask-making was one of the hands-on activities that made up the Mountain Maryland Theatre Festival.

“The Mountain Maryland Theatre Festival was an amazing experience,” Guynes said. “I learned more in one day than I ever have. The teachers were so amazing to work with and took time to answer all of our questions.”

She and her BISFA classmates won the festival’s coveted “Theatre Team Spirit Award.” She hopes to one day work in professional theatre. “My heart will forever be in the theatre,” Guynes said.

After a year of being away, 2021’s festival focused on personal connections. Organizers encouraged participants to support one another’s upcoming middle and high school shows, stressing the importance of being in the audience as well as on and behind the stage.

“That kind of networking and positive support is exciting and important because these young artists are the future of our field. Attending productions this year is especially meaningful, as most programs are doing their first live theatre production since 2019. The pandemic was devastating for the performing arts and difficult on the kids who do theatre,” Mattis noted. “This return to the stage is a celebration, a homecoming for the performing arts.”

The Mountain Maryland Theatre Festival is supported by the FSU Foundation and the Allegany Arts Council.


To make a gift in support of the Mountain Maryland Theatre Festival, contact the FSU Foundation at 301-687-4068 or visit online at foundation.frostburg.edu.