Cutting edge is where the Out of the Loop Festival wants to be

06:29 PM CST on Monday, March 1, 2004

By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News

ADDISION Feeling loopy? WaterTower Theatre will provide intensive recreational therapy for the next two weeks as the enterprising organization mounts its third annual Out of the Loop Festival. The title, of course, reflects the theater's locale, several miles north of the Interstate 635 loop.

It also announces that audiences are in for something different, maybe even off-the-wall. The 45 companies and individuals who wanted to participate all defined their projects in terms of "loopiness."

"The concept will always be mercurial," says WaterTower producing artistic director Terry Martin. "We wanted to know whether the ideas were appropriate for this festival and to get some insight into the way the people looked at the work and looked at themselves how committed they were and what kind of attention to detail they would put into the final product."

For the first time, nearly the whole schedule is devoted to world or area premieres, many by theater groups organized in the last year or so.

The offerings are also much more multidisciplinary than in previous years, with lots of dance, comedy, cabaret and other musical acts.

"We may have to go further out of the loop next year after all the premieres this year," Mr. Martin says. "That's kind of the point. The whole idea is to identify what kind of work we want to do and see right now, to feed our artistic selves by doing things we can't do year-round because we have to be conscious of what we can market during our main season."

The whole festival has a budget of only $15,000. That covers "very nominal" stipends for all 25 groups and individuals performing, rental of the performance spaces and marketing. WaterTower also provides technical support. Here are some of the most promising events:

E-mail ltaitte@dallasnews.com

Dance, dance, dance

Dance groups have always been a part of Out of the Loop, but they loom much larger this time around the block.

Alternative Moving Company, one of Austin's leading modern dance groups, is bringing six short pieces, two of them premieres. They're pretty heady stuff. Andee Scott's and so it goes portrays the breakup of a lesbian relationship. Theresa Hardy's Absurd Heroes retells the myth of Sisyphus to punk rock music.

One of five dance companies performing, elledanceworks (with Darby Wilde, right), returns to the festival with a fresh group of pieces, including new musical interludes by company member Amy Seltzer.

Come to the cabaret

Some of the area's best cabaret performers are riding the Out of the Loop trend in presenting new material. Denise Lee and Patrick Amos, fresh from their joint triumph in Upstage Players' The Life, pay tribute to two great figures in American musical history, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller, in Sophisticated Misbehavin'. They're also teaming up with Liz Mikel and Natalie Wilson King in an older compilation, Blues, Ballads, Broadway & Blessing.

Singer Amy Stevenson and pianist Mark Mullino frequently do their act in Manhattan's noted cabaret venue Don't Tell Mama. They've already performed their latest revue, Making Changes, in New York so Out of the Loop will present the Texas premiere. Their turf includes pop tunes and country songs as well as the expected Broadway musicals.

Young Turks

A couple of relatively established local theater companies, Theatre Quorum and Rover Dramawerks, are in the festival. But most of the groups performing are brand-new. And young. "We have lots of people in their 20s," festival administrator James Lemons says.

Coincidentally, many of them are Baylor University graduates. "In Dallas these days, I actually feel out of place as a theater person in my 20s and not from Baylor," Mr. Lemons adds. Another area school well represented by alums performing in the festival is Texas Christian University.

Two youth-dominated companies are giving area premieres of important plays. Boaz Unlocked is perhaps the fastest-rising younger group in the festival; it has succeeded Theatre Quorum as resident professional theater at the Mesquite Arts Center. The mostly Baylor troupe's production of Stephen Belber's Tape (best known in its Richard Linklater film version starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) will feature William Harper and Elizabeth Van Winkle, both of whom have done stellar work on Dallas stages in the last year.

And SATER (Shane-Arts Traveling Ensemble Repertory) is doing This Is Our Youth, the breakthrough piece of one of the most lauded young American playwrights, Kenneth Lonergan. TCU grad Tim Shane founded the group to perform in various spaces so it can "fill in the gaps" when houses would otherwise be dark.

Three seems to be the magic number for these and a number of other plays in the festival a cast of two men and one woman has evidently become the norm for new American plays.

Home team

Mr. Martin has brought in his East Coast friend and mentor, Henry Fonte, to direct the world premiere of Dave Johnson's Baptized to the Bone as WaterTower's anchor show for the festival.

Mr. Fonte describes the piece as "Southern Gothic, maybe a combination of Tennessee Williams and Quentin Tarantino, but not so violent." A strapping young stranger comes between a married couple and causes a religious crisis.

"The reason I was attracted to the play was that I didn't quite know how to wrap my head around it when I read it," Mr. Fonte says. "Then I heard it read aloud and found myself laughing my ass off."

The festival will also give audiences a rare look at Mr. Martin as a playwright. A Country Life, his re-setting of Anton Chekhov's classic Uncle Vanya in the pre-Depression South of 1922, will be performed in a staged reading.