Special Report! Keep Harford Stages Free: Advocacy Round-Up


Ryan Anthony Nicotra, Development Director at Single Carrot Theatre and Former Company Director at the BOOM Theatre Co. is leading the charge for equal access to the arts in Harford County. Here he poses with the Town of Bel Air “the heart of Harford County” mural. Photo Credit: The Bad Oracle


If you follow The Bad Oracle on Facebook, you may have noticed that we’ve lately gotten ourselves all worked up into a tizzy about some kind of Harford County…thing.  If you were thinking that would just go away well, surprise!  It won’t.  In fact, I was there on Sunday for the Keep Harford Stages Free: Advocacy Round-Up in order to show support for the protest.  YEP, there’s a protest going on and it’s kind of a BIG DEAL, even if you don’t know what Harford County is, exactly, except you think it might have something to do with cows.

The issue at hand:  on Monday, June 27th, the Board of Education in Harford County voted 5-3 against a motion to cancel the proposed “pay to play” drama fee for next school year.  So, if you’re a kid who wants to participate in a drama program in Harford County next year, you’re going to have to pony up $100 PER PLAY to do it.  Pony up, indeed, friends, because this?  Is absolute horseshit.

If you think that the fee miiiight be justified because there is a similar one in place in the county for sports participation ($100 per sport), think again.  First of all, two wrongs don’t make a right.  Secondly, sports are lionized in this country.  Something, admittedly a little cynical, sure, tells me that the Benjamin will be found for soccer when it might be hard to scrounge for Shakespeare.  And sports get things, too, big things: track and field maintenance, pavilions, dugouts, score boards, officials.  You know, stuff.  I mean, the difference is right there in the proposed budget, if you want to look at it.  The county will spend almost three million dollars on extra-curricular sports programs in 2017 but will not even crack a million on like…uh…everything else.  In totality.  On every other outside-of-school program.  Combined.  Drama, fine arts, speech and debate, chess, literary magazine, S.A.D.D., Student Government Association, orchestra, choir, band, career oriented clubs (like Future Farmers of America), mock trial, academic teams, dance, foreign language clubs, yearbook.  You get it.  [ETA A note from a Harford County parent who got in touch:  “The problem we see, or at least I see, with drama students paying is they are totally self-funding, parents and families pay for program adds, tickets, costumes and occasionally props.  Sports teams are not buying their own uniforms or selling adds for their program books.  So in this respect the drama kids and parents are getting hit extra in the pocket!”]

Here’s the thing:  theater and the arts aren’t exactly givens, not in a place like rural Maryland.  I should know, I grew up in the same kind of area.  I saw more Trump for Prez lawn signs on the road into Bel Air then I have ever seen ever.  Somewhere in those ranchers, tucked so neatly back from the road, is a thirteen-year-old boy who just realized that being in a play is the best thing he has ever done.  Who is finding self-expression, his people, who is learning that he isn’t so weird.  And maybe also, in that little house, is a thirteen-year-old boy’s father who wants to make DAMN sure that the nearest his son ever gets to putting on makeup for a crowd is the black smears under his eyes as he scores a touchdown.  For that guy, this is the PERFECT time to quash his son’s arts-related dreams, no?  And the kid will accept it, because it’s money, and money, especially out of Mom’s purse and Dad’s wallet, rules.  And he loses.  And so do we.

If you think this doesn’t concern you because you live in Baltimore, you’re wrong.  Ryan Antony Nicotra, pictured above, lives in Baltimore, and he knows that these fees are the kind of thing that can spread like a fungus.  You better believe school board officials in neighboring counties are pricking up their ears at this “increased revenue stream” (even though it’ll barely dent the county school’s overall unrestricted spending budget).  Nicotra, a Harford County native, has picked up the gauntlet thrown by the Board of Ed.  He’s established the Harford County Arts & Culture Alliance to encourage citizens to fight.  Nicotra organized the action this past Sunday, circulating sign-up sheets and rallying the diverse crowd, almost sixty people strong, even on a holiday weekend, with storms threatening.  And that’s not all, either.  Nicotra is ginning up support from Americans for the Arts and he’s in touch with lawyers, too, to see if legal action can be taken.  It’s pretty impressive, especially given the one week lead up.  Pretty impressive indeed.  

BOTTOM LINE:  The Harford County “Pay to Play” drama fees are unacceptable.  The arts are not for only those whose Mom and Dad can (or will) pay for them.  The arts are for everyone.  People are clapping back, and you should be one of them.  I am.

(More intel about the Harford County Arts & Culture Alliance here)

*This article has been revised to clarify the sports participation fees in Harford County.

*An earlier version of this article gave the date of the Harford County Board of Education vote as July 27th.  It has been updated to reflect the actual date of the vote, which was June 27th.

Email The Bad Oracle at emailthebadoracle@gmail.com

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    Even though I was homeschooled and have no children to be in the school system, as a lifelong HarCo theater geek this really hit home for me. I know a LOT of the kids who will be affected by this. Most of them have parents who support them 100%, but with the whole family involved, the cost will just be too high. Large families are fairly common around here. You’re not putting down $200 a year for one kid, you’re putting down $1,000 for your 5 budding thespians who thrive on the stage. Plus dance shoes, costumes, fundraising, etc. same as always, because not one cent of that fee funds what your kids are doing.
    Really wondering what the story here is, because it is so off-kilter and counterproductive a policy that making money can NOT be the whole point of this fee. Honestly, the only explanation I can come up with for why it was put together the way it was is that some rich parent’s/board member’s kid keeps getting passed over for roles that end up going to more talented poor kids, so by making it pay to act (because you can still do tech for free), said talented kids can’t be cast.
    So far that’s really the only workable theory I can find.
    Really hoping the board gets its act together. Because otherwise the Drama clubs of the county are gonna show them just how creative theater geeks can be. We are the people who live on shows like Hamilton, Les Mis, and Newsies, after all…

    (P.S. One quick correction- that date should be June 27th, not July.)

    • Thank you, Essie, for your kind comments. I agree with what you say completely, and am hoping that the fire doesn’t burn down on this (oh, and that correction was made, thank you for that also!).

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