Festival is part of group's quest to transform theater



QuestFest - an international visual theater festival - will present 11 productions ranging from clown theater to dance at three Baltimore venues Jan. 9-22.

The festival is the second spearheaded by Quest: arts for everyone, a Lanham-based organization whose mission is to "use the arts to promote understanding among all people and enable people who have been marginalized to realize their full potential," according to Tim McCarty, the company's founder and executive director.

McCarty defines visual theater as "non-text-based" performance that "involves mime, dance, gesture, also digital media, and it really blurs the line between what is dance, what is theater, what is mime."

His goals for Quest and for the festival are far-reaching. "We're really trying to change how theater is done, how theater is made, who's making that theater and who's coming to see that theater," he says.

"Most of theater in this country is done in mainstream regional theaters, and most of that work is text-based work. That really leaves out a lot of our population when you're talking deaf people, people with disabilities and the ever-growing number of people who don't speak English as a first language."

McCarty hopes to attract those audiences as well as traditional theatergoers to this international festival. The first QuestFest took place in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2003. Even before that, however, McCarty had begun talking with Juanita Rockwell, a professor of theater at Towson University, about having a festival in Baltimore.

Those talks launched a collaborative effort that widened to include the Theatre Project, which will present Australia's Blood Makes Noise, and the Creative Alliance, which will present Serious + Hilarious, a regional showcase of dramatic and comedic work, and The Tell Tale Heart and The Masque of the Red Death, a one-man visual interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe's stories by Ramesh Meyyappan, a deaf performer from Singapore.

Towson University will be the site of the eight remaining shows, which include performances by the dance company Pilobolus Dance Theater and two world premieres - Lost & Clown'd, a comic work created and performed by Maryland theater artists Eric Beatty, Willy Conley and Mark Jaster; and Rivers, which combines classical Indian dance, modern dance and American Sign Language and features Astad Deboo, regarded as the father of modern dance in India.

And McCarty has already started planning future festivals, including one in Salt Lake City in 2007 and another in Baltimore in 2008. "What we're focusing on this year is primarily theater that uses the body as a primary expressive tool. In subsequent years we're looking at adding masks and some puppetry," he says.

In addition to the 11 productions, this year's QuestFest will also offer residencies, master classes, panel discussions and workshops (for adults and children). For ticket information and a schedule of events, visit questfest.org or call 410-704-2787.

Two discussions

Center Stage has announced two community discussions in preparation for its Feb. 3 American premiere of Israeli playwright Motti Lerner's The Murder of Isaac, a drama in which patients suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome stage a play about the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

A discussion titled "Reflections on Rabin: His Life & His Legacy" will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 4 and will examine Rabin's continuing impact in the Middle East. Panelists include playwright Lerner; Yuval Rabin, Washington-based son of the late prime minister; and the Rev. Christopher Leighton, executive director of Baltimore's Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies. Marc Steiner of WYPR-FM will moderate.

And, at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 1, a discussion titled "Political Violence" will examine the subject in its various forms. Panelists include three political science professors - Steven David of the Johns Hopkins University, Robert O. Freedman of Baltimore Hebrew University and Louis Cantori of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The discussions, co-sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Council, will take place at the theater, 700 N. Calvert St. Admission is free, but reservations are required. Call 410-332-0033.


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