Porfile// Anne Cantler Fulwiler

Bringing original, daring productions to Baltimore

Theatre Project's producing director is passionate about experimental theater



In a pluralistic art world where almost anything goes, "experimental theater" is one of those terms that can mean, well, almost anything.

Anne Cantler Fulwiler, who has been producing director of the Theatre Project on West Preston Street since 2001, has been attending performances there for the past 30 years and she's still not quite sure there's a definition that fits everything that appears on her stage.

Which is fine with her. Her vision of Theatre Project's mission is more about a sense of adventure and taking risks than reducing what performers do to a formula. She works with a tiny annual budget of $200,000 and a full-time staff of three - and loves every minute of it. "Making international collaborations, seeing new work created and helping new performance groups find a home is thrilling to me," she says.

About a third of Theatre Project's budget comes from ticket sales, a third from foundations and individuals, and the rest from city, county and state government.

A Baltimore native, Fulwiler graduated from Tufts University near Boston and spent a year studying theater in London. She lived in New York City for six years, where she worked as a stage manager, before returning to Baltimore in 1991. Before becoming Theatre Project's producing director in 2001, Fulwiler was associate director of development at Center Stage and previously served as a program associate for the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, a regional arts funding group.

"I started coming to Theatre Project as a teenager, so I already had an interest in theater that didn't follow the traditional form," Fulwiler says. "I was interested in ensemble work, and in companies that create their own work. I had already caught the backstage bug and really enjoyed stage managing, where I got to see the entire rehearsal process. So there was a natural career trajectory that started to include more administrative work, then programming and grant-writing work."

Some of Theatre Project's productions have made it all the way to Broadway, while others never got out of Baltimore. Still, every one of them was memorable in its own way, Fulwiler says, and that was enough to make it worth doing.

So what's your job all about?

I'm really not a theater director in the traditional sense of someone who chooses scripts and guides actors through the rehearsal process. The title "producing director" is intended to indicate a role as both artistic and managing director of this institution. My passion for the place comes from a love for both contemporary performance and the historic buildings of Baltimore. Theatre Project embodies those dual interests perfectly.

What's your vision of Theatre Project's mission?

We define our vision as connecting the audience in Baltimore with a global community of artists actively experimenting with performance. Which is why you get everything from the High Zero Festival - an annual concert series featuring experimental improvised music from about 50 different artists from around the world - to opera. We're not going to do old stagings. All the shows we do have something adventurous about them.

We want to nurture both local and touring companies and we seek performances that show a diversity of genre as well as ethnic influences. Our stock in trade is connecting different artists who can create interesting work. For example, we commissioned a play by Al Letson, Julius X, a work that mixes Shakespeare's Julius Caesar with the assassination of Malcolm X. The piece, which also had original slam poetry, combined different genres and gave us opportunities to match up different artists in different ways. It was produced here and directed by Troy Burton of the Eubie Blake Center. So collaboration is very important to us.

So how do you define experimental theater?

Well, I would say there's less emphasis on the text in experimental theater. At least, that is often a hallmark of it, though not always. I guess it's really a catchall term for interesting work that's contemporary. We don't pick a script and cast from it, for example. Our work is very much artist-created. That's something we think we'll continue to see because that will always be something that drives forward American theater. We call it experimental because it's different from the traditional kinds of shows, but you really can't define it much beyond that.

In the future, a place like Theatre Project will only grow in influence because of cyberspace and the Internet. We increasingly get proposals to do stuff, and stuff that starts here can go to Broadway. So it's only experimental for right now, really.

Then what's the difference between your kind of experimental theater and traditional theater?

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