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Played Out

Posted 8/12/2009

As is common in most American cities, the theater arts in Baltimore saunter so far behind the innovations and relevance of other artistic forms/communities that theater might not be recognizable as art at all, but rather as a tolerable pastime. Granted, there has been a recent upsurge in the local theater scene, but many of the theater companies that have sprouted up have been well-received and even considered "edgy" or "experimental" merely because they are doing something unique just by presenting theater in Baltimore. When such traditionalism can be mistaken for innovation, it speaks volumes about the state of theater in the city.

This city has a rich history of challenging and original performance work: the early years of Theatre Project, the handful of now-defunct companies that once called 14 Karat Cabaret home, the Neoist performance experiments, etc. But today's local outlook for experimental/contemporary theater is bleak. There are some bright spots: the explosion of the Baltimore music scene in recent years has spawned some interesting theater spin-offs, Theatre Project continues to occasionally bring in something interesting in order to fill its quota for bringing in something interesting, some sporadic productions and companies briefly grace us before they move operations to other cities with more resources and appreciation, and various DIY efforts thrive under the radar. But outside of a few flares of activity, Baltimore theater remains out-dated, soft, and fettered to convention.

I recently browsed through two years worth of City Paper's "Stage" archive, and I couldn't but notice that not only is the section helplessly restricted to a more traditional brand of theater, but also the journalism seems to suffer as a result. It's as if only a lightweight and clichéd journalism is appropriate for the section of the paper committed to such standard fare as ShakespeareShakespeareShakespeare, high emotion American realism, and overdone musicals. The CP journalists who--when not covering theater--can skin a subject with sharp criticism or exalt it with balanced praise, are reduced to penning flaccid human-interest stories.

The unfortunate rhetoric, which I can only assume is held at gunpoint by the subject matter itself, doesn't do much for cultivating a language for speaking about theater which could use some resuscitation in this city, nor does it do anything for sparking an interest in the field in general. There must be a better way to approach the discipline in your paper, maybe starting with expanding your editorial scope of what constitutes "stage" in your coverage.

Ric Royer

The writer is the artistic director and manager of the LOF/t.

Post Most Bills?

So Baltimore is cluttered with signs placed by questionable realty companies whose advertised services may not be legitimate ("Time of the Signs," Mobtown Beat, July 29). So what? Are these signs any more annoying than the giant billboards one sees around town urging virginity on local youths? Are they any more misleading than the posters, offering inaccurate "information" about sexual "predators," that have been popping up all over on bus kiosks? Do the sleazy owners of fly-by-night businesses have any less of a right to attempt to deceive the gullible than blowhard politicians such as Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke?

Jon Swift

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