Learning the art of theater at U.Md.'s 'Festival of New Works'

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Entertainment,Theater,Barbara Mackay

The University of Maryland's School of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies is about to present a Festival of New Works, a series of seven performance pieces staged over three weekends in February. The performances are part of a unique program, the Master of Fine Arts in Performance, created to train self-sustaining, entrepreneurial theater professionals.

The festival will represent the work of the first group of students to graduate from the three-year-long program.

"Throughout the years the students are here at College Park, there have been performance pieces and presentations," said Leslie Felbain, head of the MFA in Performance program. "Each one of those is an important step in the process of preparing students for the MFA in Performance.

"In the festival, each of the seven candidates has written, researched, collaborated with the designers and been progressively working toward this thesis presentation. This is their chance to shine the light on subject matter they're interested in and the means whereby they want to express their stories."

Onstage
Festival of New Works
Where: 3800 Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, College Park
When: Feb. 1 through 16
Info: $10 to $25; 301-405-ARTS (2787); claricesmithcenter.umd.edu

Although the faculty of the MFA in Performance program doesn't choose the subject matter for the performances that will be presented, they created the structure that would prepare the students to maximize their skills: In the fall semester, for instance, the students took a thesis preparation course; also in 2012, the students took a course in solo performance.

"So some of the work they did in the solo performance is showing up in these thesis projects," said Felbain. "For others, work they did in their first semester here is coming back."

What sets this program apart from many other theater programs is that it is trying to give additional skills to its graduates. "We're really focusing on the artist/scholar/teacher and the artist/entrepreneur," said Felbain. "We are trying to train people who can write and teach."

Felbain credits many faculty members for helping create the program, especially Leigh Smiley, Walter Dallas, Scot Reese, Mitchell Hebert, Ashley Smith and Faedra Carpenter. "It's taken a great ensemble effort of faculty and administration to launch this program," said Felbain.

The Festival of New Works will begin on Feb. 1 and 2 with the works by Caroline Clay and Anu Yadav and continue Feb. 8 and 9 with presentations by Rob Jansen and David Demke. It will conclude Feb. 15 and 16 with performance pieces by Nick Horan, Claudia Rosales and Teresa Bayer.

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