The Rep Stage Company in Columbia shows signs in its sophomore year of maturing as a dramatic locus between Baltimore and Washington.
Additions by the company, which is based at Howard Community College, are cooperative works with other theaters, more shows for each performance in the Outback Series and an increase in the number of Equity actors.
Six of the eight works in the schedule will be solitary or cooperative productions by the company.
One of the exceptions is this weekend's performance by the KanKouran West African Dance Company at Smith Theatre, which will open the Mainstage Series.
Those who search for a full sensory experience will be rewarded with the Washington-based KanKouran.
Its mix of vibrant Senegalese costumes, high-impact dancing and dominant percussion is a virtual aerobic exercise for the family to experience.
"You can't catch your breath, because they are going so fast and furious," said Kasi Campbell, company manager for the Rep Stage Company and general manager of the performing arts division at HCC.
After the stage cools from this weekend's performance, the Mainstage Series will follow with "Six Degrees of Separation" and "M. Butterfly," and conclude with "Dancing at Lughnasa" in May.
The company, which was named a member of the League of Washington Theatres this year, will produce together with the Olney Theatre "M. Butterfly," one of the two cooperatives planned for later this season.
The other is with the Baltimore-based Everyman Theatre for Sam Shepard's "Buried Child."
In both cases, performances will take place at Howard Community College, with subsequent shows at the house of each partner. Creative and technological elements will be shared.
"It allows us to do challenging pieces, challenging literature. We would not be able to do it on our own," said Valerie Costantini, producing director of Rep Stage Company and chair of HCC's Performing Arts Division.
To meet the demand for tickets, each of the remaining performances at the 150-seat Outback Theatre will run for three weekends with a Sunday matinee.
For the past two seasons, the Outback box office has turned away patrons from sold-out performances. The progression in adding shows has grown from four performances when the Outback opened three seasons ago to nine this year.
Mrs. Costantini hopes that some season the company will have 16 performances of each show in both the Outback Theatre and Smith Theatre.
The Outback Theatre had been reserved for controversial works such as "Burn This" and "Aunt Dan and Lemon," which may not be suitable for the 400-seat Smith Theatre.
"We haven't followed that this year," said Ms. Campbell. "Some shows are large and some are not. Those that require intimacy we put in the Outback. Those that have more of a spectacle we put in the Mainstage.
She said this season's spectacle would be "M. Butterfly," which has sold the most tickets despite being flagged by the company in its schedule as containing "mature language and situations."
The Outback Series started this month with "Sweet Swing Thing," to be followed by "Buried Child" next month, then "The Road to Mecca," directed by Ms. Campbell. The concluding production will be "The Kathy & Mo Show: Parallel Lives," directed by Mrs. Costantini.
Ms. Campbell said that as a company matures it searches for "strong, adult material that is entertaining but challenging."
"We're looking at a nice variety. I wouldn't say it's a heavy season," Mrs. Costantini said. "It has a lot of variety -- three strict comedies and comic elements in other works."
Mrs. Costantini said there is also a thread of multicultural themes this season, with works that are based in locales such as South Africa, Ireland and Asia.
Like all things that mature, the Rep Stage Company has had to assume more responsibilities as an Equity theater. It has agreed to add three increase Equity actors over the season. Last season, there were two and a stage manager in each show.
The company regularly files box office receipts with the New York City-based union so that it can determine the troupe's status.
"They don't want to put a financial burden on us that we can't handle," Ms. Campbell said.
KanKouran West African Dance Company will perform 8 p.m. today and tomorrow at Smith Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College. Tickets are $15 and $12, with a $2 discount for students, seniors and groups of six or more. More tickets remain for tonight's performance than for tomorrow's. Information: 964-4900.
REP STAGE COMPANY'S 1994-1995 PERFORMANCES
Mainstage Series at Smith Theatre
* KanKouran West African Dance Company, today and tomorrow.
* "Six Degrees of Separation," Nov. 11, 12, 13, 18, 19 and 20.
* "M.Butterfly," March 3, 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12.
* "Dancing at Lughnasa," May 6, 7, 12, 13 and 14.
The Outback Series at the Outback Theatre
* "Buried Child," Oct. 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29 and 30.
* "The Road to Mecca," Jan. 27, 28 and 29. Feb. 3, 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12.
* "The Kathy & Mo Show: Parallel Lives," March 31, April 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16.
Friday and Saturday shows start at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees start 3 p.m.