Howard showcase offers 10 minutes of timed anxiety Performers take turns in hope of finding jobs

March 20, 1998|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

Picture this: You're an artist of the storyteller/musician/flamenco-dancer sort, and you've got 10 minutes to show the audience everything you've got.

That's 10 measly minutes to step out onto an empty stage, stare into the faces of a couple-dozen PTA members and special events coordinators, and hope they like what you do enough to hire you later.

About three dozen area artists are taking their turns during the two-day Performing Arts Showcase in Ellicott City, competing for gigs at area elementary and middle schools, fairs, festivals and summer-stock performances -- anything they can get, just so they can perform.

The event -- sponsored by the Howard County Arts Council -- is like an abbreviated Broadway show tryout in which professional artists do their shtick -- one act after another.

For the performers, braving the pressure yesterday and today isn't fun, but hey, it must be done.

"Showcasing is frustrating, but it's necessary," says Anna Menendez, a classically trained dancer who specializes in Spanish dance and flamenco and performed yesterday. "It's part of the process that you have to do so that you can get your program in there and educate the kids.

"Performance-wise, you don't have to change anything," she says. "But it's a really long 10 minutes."

Every March, for nine years, dozens of folk storytellers and African griots, dance and mime groups, opera singers, sword-fighters, cartoonists, musicians, puppeteers and other performance artists have come to the showcase, held at the Howard County Center for the Arts.

Cultural representatives from PTA boards and special-events planners from area parks and recreation departments fill the small auditorium for two packed days of song, dance and laughter.

"I really enjoy coming to the showcase," says Sally Hein, an events coordinator for the city of Bowie. "I think it's very valuable to bring all the artists together in one spot. It's really convenient to see a group of performers that you might want to hire -- all at once."

Myra Butler, program coordinator for Kent County, says being able to get a sample of artistic gifts at one time is a godsend.

She says that working in Kent County, on the Eastern Shore, "doesn't give me a lot of opportunities to see these kinds of performers unless you luck up on them at another event."

Artists who don't perform bring videotapes of performances or set up display tables with brochures detailing their gifts.

Mary Ann Jung, who performs an interactive living history show using famous women, says whittling down a carefully-honed show from 45 to 10 minutes is not easy.

"Before I showcase, I have to really think, 'What 10 minutes am I going to pull out of here that will really give people a true taste of what I do?' " says Jung. "I'm not just sitting around eating salt pork in a tent pretending it's the Civil War. I like to interact with the audience and hopefully teach them something interesting."

Donna Sherman, an agent with Young Audiences of America, says showcases like the one in Howard are an increasingly important venue for many performers that her firm represents.

"It's really hard for schools to book these groups unless they've seen them," she says. "This gives everyone an opportunity to see them live, to see what they're like in front of an audience, whether they'll be right for young children or older people."

After attending various showcases over many years, Jung finds showcasing an art form in and of itself.

"Let's face it, a showcase will give you an opportunity," she says. "Ten minutes is not a long time to show your stuff. Even really good performers sometimes don't showcase very well. The first time you do it, it's a real shot in the dark."

Even so, just a directory featuring information about the artists who perform "may not do justice to your talents," Jung adds. "A personal touch really helps you get some bookings."

"The showcases are like the previews in the movies," says Tom Plott, part of a duo from Action Classics: Literature-based Movement Theater who performed yesterday. "You can read what the movie is about, but when you see the trailer, it makes it a little more exciting, and you can actually see what you're getting."

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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