Taking Root

The Single Carrot Theatre troupe searched nationwide before deciding Baltimore was the place it could grow

August 08, 2007|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,Sun theater critic

Scrutinize your salad. Peruse the parsnips. Better yet, concentrate on the carrots.

Do you see one - and only one - vertical orange veggie brandishing a playbill and a miniature AK-47?

Baltimore's newest theater troupe takes its name from a quote by the painter Paul Cezanne: "The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution."

Single Carrot Theatre's opening salvo will be fired tonight at the company's official debut at Theatre Project, when Single Carrot opens a two-week, 11-performance run of Adam Rapp's Red Light Winter. This challenging work, a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for drama, is about two college friends on vacation in Amsterdam who become enmeshed with a young prostitute.

"When you're just starting a new company, you can do anything," says Brendan Ragan, Single Carrot's public-relations director.

"We want to revitalize the art form. We want to push ourselves and our audiences out of our comfort zone, and reward serious theatergoers with sophisticated, ambitious shows they won't see anywhere else."

Though this is Single Carrot's formal introduction to the Chesapeake Bay area, its members already have waded in ankle-deep. In January, the troupe presented a short-play festival at Mobtown Players. And, at Artscape last month, members conceived, wrote, rehearsed and staged a one-act play in 24 hours - a technique they learned as students at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The addition of a new theater company with professional aspirations would be welcome under any circumstances. Though Baltimore has an established network of well-respected community theaters, the city is home to just three resident professional troupes: Center Stage, Everyman Theatre and the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival.

(Three venues - Theatre Project, the Hippodrome and the Lyric Opera House - don't create their own shows, but present national tours.)

That's awfully sparse for a city this size (population 631,366). Indianapolis (785,597) has at least six resident professional groups, and Milwaukee (573,378) has a minimum of nine. Seattle (582,454) has a dizzying two dozen.

The young artists' energy and savviness have favorably impressed Anne Fulweiler, Theatre Project's producing director.

"They remind me of what Everyman Theatre was like when Vincent Lancisi first came to town," she said, referring to the artistic director of the now well-established Charles Street ensemble. "When Single Carrot performed at Artscape, a number of people commented, `They're really good!' "

The city's theatrical dearth is partly what inspired seven members of Single Carrot to pick up lock, stock and stage lights and relocate to Charm City.

"When we realized there were only three professional theaters in town, we concluded that Baltimore was underserved," says the group's artistic director, J. Buck Jabaily, who also is directing Red Light Winter.

Adds company member Giti Lynn: "We thought we could make a difference here."

Single Carrot was formed in 2005 by a group of friends studying directing and performance techniques on the Boulder campus.

"There aren't an abundance of things you can do with a theater degree," Jabaily says. "You can move to New York or Los Angeles or Chicago and throw yourselves to the wolves. Or, you can team up with people you know and like and have good collaborative relationships with, and form a theater company."

The company spent its debut year in Boulder, waiting for some of the founding members to graduate. But by June 2006, it was time to leave home. "If we had stayed in Colorado, it would have been too easy to kick back and not be as successful as we can be," Ragan says.

But, where should they pitch their pup tent? One of the Carrots - it might have been Lynn or Aldo Pantoja - suggested a nationwide search to identify the city that would offer them the greatest likelihood of success.

They took into account the cost of living, public transportation, the amount of support for the arts and the number of existing troupes. "We avoided locations that were oversaturated with theater," Ragan says. "We didn't want to get lost in the void."

The original list contained 50 metropolises. After researching possibilities on the Internet, four finalists were selected: Austin, Texas; Philadelphia; Columbus, Ohio - and Eden on the Chesapeake.

Company members set up e-mail contact with arts organizations in the various communities and made site visits.

"Austin has a great arts scene, but it wasn't close to anything else," Ragan says.

"Columbus was incredibly enthusiastic and welcoming, but there isn't any theater scene there at all. It came down to Philadelphia and Baltimore, and Baltimore's charm eventually won out. We also were impressed that you have designated arts and entertainment districts. It's great to have a city dedicated to growing, and that understands the value of the arts."

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