It's All About Growth For Players Of Single Carrot Theatre<

July 12, 2009|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

Single Carrot Theatre has taken root and sprouted.

Hard to believe that it's been just two years since this troupe of former Colorado theater graduates moved en masse to Baltimore after searching nationwide for a city where a fledgling arts collective could flourish.

Since the summer of 2007, the 10-member ensemble has found permanent headquarters in the Station North arts district with a performing space, rehearsal hall and scene shop/storage area.

The group has hired a full-time staff member, after scraping together a bare-bones salary for Elliott Rauh, the troupe's managing director. And it has put together a five-member board of directors, headed by Rich Espy, a mainstay of the local theater scene.

The troupe is concluding its second season with Slampooned! an original satire about the slam poetry movement that runs through Aug. 2.

"We're growing fast. These changes that we've made recently already have made a palpable difference in how smoothly we operate," artistic director J. Buck Jabaily says, adding that the company's operating budget is in the low six figures. Then he quips: "Elliott's task now is to make enough money so we can all afford to quit our day jobs."

The company tries to mount shows rarely staged in Baltimore, and the 2009-2010 season is packed with works by such edgy, contemporary dramatists as Sarah Ruhl and Will Eno. (See season details at right.)

The Carrots also are dipping into the theatrical talent pool in the wider Baltimore area. Playing Dead is a Russian work that has been adapted by Juanita Rockwell, a widely known local playwright, director and educator. The show will be directed in the spring by Fulbright scholar Yury Urnov.

Illuminoctem, which runs over the holidays, will feature some costumes and props created by Chelsea Carter, an Emmy Award-winning designer with whom ensemble member Brendan Ragan is friendly.

"It's exciting to be able to work with accomplished outside artists," Jabaily says.

The troupe's current production, Slampooned!, contains many of the elements that have made the theater popular with a young and hip audience.

The original, full-length satire was spearheaded by ensemble member Aldo Pantoja, but written by the ensemble as a whole. It concerns a fictitious poetry slam team from Mackinaw City, Mich., traveling to the 1991 championships in Chicago.

The 14 "characters" contain such familiar figures from the slam scene as the angry feminist poet, the nerd poet who celebrates his geekiness and a Vietnam vet who experiences a flashback while on stage.

"We've been working on this for about two years," Pantoja says. "We did a lot of research. We went to poetry slams, we interviewed slam poets, and we had traveling slam poets conduct workshops for us."

"We wanted Slampooned! to be a combination of Def Poetry Jam and Best in Show," Jabaily says, referring to the long-running HBO program and Christopher Guest's mock-umentary film about dog shows.

"Poetry slams are a delicious art form that is artistically rewarding and unique and weird," he says. "You can completely roast poetry slams and also really celebrate them. At poetry slams, I've heard the worst poetry of my life and the best poetry of my life, often in the same poem."

Slampooned! also includes an element of spontaneity, as judges pulled from the audience determine the "winners" of the competition each night.

"The whole atmosphere of these events has changed since 1991," Pantoja says.

"Twenty years ago, poetry slams were still evolving. The slam was a form of experimentation. You wouldn't know if your poem was a good poem or a bad poem, but you'd still want to get up and recite it.

"Today, poetry slams are much more about strategy, about wondering what kind of poem will go over well if you're up after the angry feminist poet. It's about wordplay and engaging the audience."

The Carrots also have found a way to develop an audience through an intensive program in acting, directing and design that they're providing this summer for students in the eighth through 12th grades. "A key part of our mission," Rauh says, "is providing opportunities that will help young artists develop."

After just two years, this vigorous bunch has already started to set seed. The season

Single Carrot Theatre's 2009-2010 subscription series highlights four of the smartest contemporary playwrights writing today - plus an original work produced by the collective. Subscriptions to all five shows cost $40 to $80 and can be purchased online or by calling the box office. Next season's shows include:

* Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl, Sept. 23-Oct. 18. Ruhl's riff on the myth of Orpheus, and the perils of looking back, features a realm where stones can speak and worms are the messengers.

* Illuminoctem, by Single Carrot Theatre, Nov. 25-Dec. 20. This movement-based work inspired by the enchantments of nightfall weaves together dance, live music and fluid visuals.

* Playing Dead by the Presnyakov brothers, Feb. 17-March 14, 2010. Fulbright scholar Yury Urnov, the Carrots' first guest director, will oversee a work by two Russian playwrights known for their sardonic wit. Valya, a thirtysomething college dropout, is fiercely determined to avoid real work.

* Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) by Sheila Callaghan, April 28-May 23, 2010. A year after her father's mysterious death, an 11-year-old girl concocts a bizarre Christmas wish list while engaging in bleach-drinking tea parties with her dolls.

* Tragedy: a tragedy by Will Eno, June 16-July 11, 2010. The playwright who has been extolled as "the Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation" imagines television coverage of a media-generated "calamity": The sun has set. Will it rise again?

If you go

Slampooned! runs at Single Carrot Theatre, 120 W. North Ave., through Aug. 2. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. $10-$15. 443-844-9253 or singlecarrot.com.

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