Maryland Arts Festival comes to an end

December 03, 2006|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

After a quarter-century as one of Baltimore's premiere venues for summer theater, Towson University is discontinuing the Maryland Arts Festival.

"It was a very difficult decision to make. There was a lot of emotional effort that had gone in over many, many years, but it was a financial model that just wasn't working," said Kit Spicer, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication.

At its height, the festival produced four stage shows as well as art exhibits, concerts, an opera film series and children's programming. In more recent summers, while Towson's Center for the Arts was being renovated, the festival was scaled down and used various campus venues. This past summer, it returned to its spruced-up quarters.

There were some highly impressive shows over the years. Three standouts mined jewels from Broadway discards - Kathleen Marshall's 1993 production of Chess, which was the first solo directing job for Marshall, who went on to win two Tony Awards for choreography; director John W. Ford's 1999 production of Rags, a musical about Jewish immigrants in America with a book by Fiddler on the Roof librettist Joseph Stein; and Side Show, staged in 2001 by Tom Kosis, associate director and choreographer of the Broadway production.

A letter sent by Phillip Collister, the festival's artistic director, to past supporters, says the university hopes to focus future summer programs on arts education. Explaining that no new programs are anticipated before 2008, Spicer said one idea is a "boot camp" for undergraduate and possibly high school musical theater students.

Whatever form the future takes, Collister's letter promises it "will certainly contain some form of publicly presented performances." Still, Baltimore summer theater will be decidedly less festive without the Maryland Arts Festival.

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