Three local companies take up residence at Theatre Project


"Local but good" is a slogan Binnie Ritchie-Holum, artistic director of Splitting Image Theatre Company, has been tempted to put on a bumper sticker. And now, as proof of its faith in that philosophy, the Theatre Project has announced residencies of three local alternative theater companies during its 1992-1993 season. The arrangement will be the most extensive local producing effort in the Theatre Project's 21-year history.

In addition to Splitting Image, New Century Theater and Impossible Industrial Action will each present two-week runs of two productions. The resulting 12 weeks of local work will make up nearly half of the upcoming 28-week season and are budgeted at $150,000, out of a proposed annual budget of $400,000, according to Theatre Project director Philip Arnoult. Specific dates have not yet been set, but Arnoult said two productions will be presented before Christmas and the remaining four afterward.

Explaining that small alternative troupes "are an endangered species, not only in Baltimore, but all around this country," Arnoult said "making this kind of commitment for these companies is a way of trying to provide some sort of shelter in this hard economy."

In a group interview at the theater, the heads of the three companies spoke about the productions they are planning for the Theatre Project season. Splitting Image, a movement-oriented troupe whose work deals with social issues, will present a new version of "Closets," its 1991 examination of child abuse. Its second selection will be determined at a later date.

New Century, the newest of the companies, is planning an adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's feminist novella, "The Yellow Wallpaper," and possibly a new play by local writer Stuart Voytilla titled "The Other Man," according to artistic director Mark Redfield.

Kirby Malone, artistic co-director of Impossible Industrial Action, said his theater will probably stage an original work and is also looking at several existing scripts, including a selection of short works by Samuel Beckett and Bertolt Brecht, Joseph Heller's "We Bombed in New Haven" and Robert Anton Wilson's "Wilhelm Reich in Hell."

Though all three companies will continue to produce work at other venues as well, the artistic directors expressed enthusiasm at being part of the regular season at the Theatre Project, which has a reputation as one of the country's foremost presenters of avant-garde work, frequently imported from abroad.

"To have a place that supports local artistic efforts in this way -- through a venue that supports international efforts -- really does pay tribute to the potential of, I hope, more than just these three companies," Ritchie-Holum said. "I hope it will encourage others."

All three companies have past connections with either the Theatre Project and/or Towson State University. Because these two institutions have an affiliation, the new arrangement could result in such crossover activities for students as workshops and internships. Maravene Loeschke, chairwoman of the university's theater department, praised the local residencies as a way to show Towson students that it's possible "to stay home and do quality theater."

For Impossible Industrial Action's Malone, the immediate benefits are more concrete. "We already know where we're going to perform next year," he said. "It's hard to get used to."

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