With three clicks of their ruby-red slippers, and a whole lot of hard work, September Song Musical Theatre is back home in Westminster.
Just a year after going dark due to financial trouble, the family-oriented theater company is back. And what better way to return to the stage than with the beloved classic about a Kansas girl who embarks on a grand adventure, only to discover, “There’s no place like home.”
Founded by two Carroll County educators in 1973, the Westminster-based September Song always has aimed to enrich the Carroll County community through the arts, and more specifically, through theater.
Since its inception, September Song has produced one show per year, with rehearsals beginning in May or June and opening night in September. The group used Westminster High School as rehearsal and performance space and then moved to Eldersburg in 2005.
Thanks to the summer schedule, the theater group was always able to employ music and dance teachers looking to continue instruction over the summer.
But that all changed in 2011 when the company was forced to close after its umbrella organization had to cut off funding.
“People were surprised when we said we weren’t doing a show,” says Allen Cross, “The Wizard of Oz” director and president of the newly appointed September Song board of directors. “People were just coming out of the woodwork with, ‘What can we do?’”
What the tight-knit Westminster community did was fundraise. The group held two musical revues at the Carroll Arts Center and a night of dinner and entertainment at a local restaurant to raise money.
The overwhelming support from the community was no surprise to September Song producer Joan Eichhorn.
“[September Song] has always been a really close-knit group, and it’s always been important to give back to the community for how they support us,” Eichhorn says.
She adds that in the past, September Song has associated with charity organizations, donating some of its proceeds to those in need, a tradition she hopes to continue once the company is back on its feet.
It was September Song’s philanthropic nature that drew then-13-year-old Jocelyn Tuttle to the group back in 1996.
At the time, September Song worked closely with Change, Inc., an organization dedicated to helping those with developmental disabilities. Tuttle, a Westminster native, loved acting and felt September Song’s partnership with Change, Inc. was a great way to honor her aunt, who has Down syndrome.
Tuttle’s first show with the company was “Fiddler on the Roof.” She went on to act in several September Song productions throughout middle and high school, including “Annie,” “Bye, Bye, Birdie” and “Guys and Dolls.”
After acting in college at Salisbury University, Tuttle returned to the area, and this summer stars as Dorothy in Cross’ adaptation opening tomorrow night at Winters Mill High School.
Cross says the September Song production closely mirrors the 1939 film version, although the play includes an additional musical number.
Despite the similarities between the play and the movie, Tuttle says she was determined to create her own version of Dorothy.
“I didn’t want to model my character after the movie,” she says. Instead, the 29-year-old says she drew on her own experiences, including her love of adventure and even her relationship with her parents.
Eichhorn says it’s people like Tuttle who make the September Song community so special.
“[Tuttle] is a typical September Song person,” Eichhorn says. “People will pop up after years of being away.”
“I think it’s a bug that kind of bites you,” says Cross, who graduated from Westminster High School in 1999 and acted in some September Song shows with Tuttle. “It’s like a little family.”