Toby Barbara Orenstein

As a resident of Maryland since 1959, Ms. Orenstein has openly devoted herself to touching the minds and hearts of students and patrons through theater. She first began with the founding of Toby's Dinner Theater in Columbia, Maryland and nearly a decade later established the famous Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA). Since then, she has served her community by coordinating multiple projects and programs that primarily motivate and teach children in theatre arts. Ms. Orenstein's mission particularly encourages social diversity and equality among community members. In the area of performing arts, her commitment is considered legendary.

Ms. Toby Orenstein began her career as a graduate from New York's High School of the Performing Arts and Columbia University. From 1974-1980, she was a visiting professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. As part of her earlier endeavors in the community, Ms. Orenstein worked on Eleanor Roosevelt's All Day Neighborhood School Project to motivate and stimulate inner-city youth learning. This work, next to her dinner theatre establishment, led to her vision of the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA), which began in 1969.

With the help of visionary developer Jim Rouse, she specifically designed an institute that works at developing motivational and theatrical programs to build self-esteem, instill values, provide coping skills, and transform lives. Over thirty-five years, her students have included movie stars, Broadway stars, politicians, doctors, lawyers, and many teachers. The center continues to serve its community with more than 100 teachers, directors, writers, actors, musicians, technicians, and consultants with particular attention given to ethnic and talent diversity. Students are encouraged to work as a team to improve their knowledge, self-esteem, skills, and poise, qualities that are meant to serve them both on and off the stage.

Ms. Orenstein's generosity has no bounds. She has received and distributed multiple awards, grants, and scholarships for the improvement of diversity in children's participation with performing arts programs, ranging from classes and camps to public productions and traveling performances. One of her first projects, developed out of CCTA, was The Young Columbians. This was a touring group of young performers featured at national events, including a performance at the White House for the Carter Administration in 1977. With a $35,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts fund (2005), Ms. Orenstein was able to enlist fifty-six students in another rigorous and specialized program that culminated in five public performances of a student version of Aida. Many students and teachers have benefited from these types of projects as well as interactive programs including the Labels Project and the Ben Carson, M.D. production.

In her community, Ms. Orenstein has also devoted herself to helping raise funds for scholarships and social programs including more than ten years of producing Labor of Love to raise money for the Howard County Aids Alliance. She has also chaired and directed Howard County Arts Gala for the Arts Council (3 years), participated in the events for the Carson Scholars Fund, and provided numerous scholarships and materials to children in need for classes, camps and traveling. She has not only given many free concerts to hundreds of senior citizens, hospitals, and community events but also she has directed and produced plays for USO/military troops overseas.

In recognition of her supreme efforts to connect performing arts with her community, Ms. Orenstein has received many distinguished honors and awards. Over the past twenty years, she has received the Columbian of the Year Award by Columbia Magazine (1985), Howie Award-Outstanding contributions to the arts in Howard County, Best of Baltimore-Toby's Dinner Theatre (1996-1999), Aids Alliance Community Recognition Award-10 years support and guidance (1997), Outstanding Women Award-Maryland State Board of Education (1998), Honorary Chair for Howard County Arts Gala (2001), Howard County Women's Hall of Fame (2003), Helen Hayes Award-Outstanding Director of a Musical (2003), on The Daily Record-2007 Maryland's Top 100 Women, and the 2007 Mary lander of Distinction by Maryland Life Magazine. Maravene Loeschke also memorializes her life accomplishments in Lives in Arts: Sixteen Women Who Changed Theatre in Baltimore (2001).

For decades, Ms. Toby Barbara Orenstein has openly strived to improve the lives of others as a role model and mentor in her community. Through the inspiration of the performing arts, she has succeeded at connecting children, educators, and patrons in Howard County with innovative theatre. Moreover, she has achieved many of her superb accomplishments while proudly raising a family with her husband Hal.

Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 2008.

© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2008