BALTOFEST: all the world's a stage in Baltimore

The cable address is "BALTOFEST." It stands for the Baltimore International Theater Festival -- said to be the first of its kind in the United States. From June 6 to 28, the historical port city on Chesapeake Bay will play host to 10 companies from abroad and two from the United States.

Among the prestigious overseas participants will be the National Theater of Great Britain and the Habimah National Theater of Israel -- both making their exclusive US appearances -- as well as the Abbey Theater of Dublin in an American premiere. Besides the 66 performances of adult attractions on the festival's three main stages, the sponsors are mounting a special Young People's Program, including circus acts.

Baltimore has been preparing for its debut on the global theater scene for several years. In 1978, Al Kraiser and his fellow organizers persuaded the city fathers that the festival -- previously an experimental program -- would quality as a major league international event. What developed was a blend of theatrical elements centered around several world-renowned companies. With the blessing and cooperation of the appropriate city agencies, producing director Kraizer began contacting consulates, cultural attaches, knowledgeable playmakers, and administrators of far-flung producing groups. "BALTOFEST" was in the wings.

Things moved along well. The first major company was lined up last July when the Habimah accepted the invitation to come to Baltimore. The National Theater of Great Britain expressed a tentative interest but there were scheduling and other problems. At a critical juncture, one of the National's leading players, Alec McCowen, came to townwith his "St. Mark's Gospel."

When Mr. McCowen discovered the scope and boldness of the Baltimore undertaking, he gave the project his important vote of confidence. Consequently , ticket holders to the Morris A. Mechanic Theater will be the only US audiences to see Mr. McCowen, Geraldine McEwan, and Nicky Henson in the National Theater's acclaimed revival of the Terence Rattigan double bill, "The Browning Version" and "Harlequinade."

Making its first appearance in this country in 25 years, Israel's Habimah opens the festival on June 6 with "A Simple Tale," by Nobel Prize winner Shai Agnon. The Abbey Theater of Dublin will perform Sean O'Casey's "The Shadow of a Gunman." Africa's John Kani and Winston Ntshona will appear in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot."

The three-week repertory will include two troupes from Barcelona, Els Joglars and La Claca; the Moving Picture Mime Show of London; and Mamako & Company from Tokyo. Their diverse fare features puppetry, mask, commedia dell'arte, and musical comedy. On June 28, the Actors Theater of Louisville will close the marathon on June 28 with William Mastrosimone's "Extremities," fresh from its premiere in Louisville's "Festival of New American Plays."

The Young People's Program, at Baltimore's inner-harbor site, will offer clowns, mimes, storytellers, acrobats, and other performers from Czechoslovakia, France, Canada, and the US. New York's Big Apple Circus will be doing its stuff in a specially erected harborside tent.

Baltimore is financing its festival on a relatively modest budget of $850,000 , representing cash and services in kind. World Airways, for instance, is flying the British National Theater troupe and some other performers across the Atlantic free of charge. The festival has received $15,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, $5,000 from the Maryland Arts Council, and $3,500 from the Mayor's Committee on Art and Culture. The festival is administered by a small professional staff aided by about 150 volunteers, who will usher, take tickets, answer phones, chauffeur special guests, and otherwise help ensure a smooth operation.

The festival is offering 58,000 tickets, priced from $6 to $20 for main attractions. According to executive producer Hope Quackenbush, response so far has been encouraging with reservation orders received at the festival's Hopkins Plaza office (Baltimore, MD 21201) from the Northeast, South, Midwest, and even as far west as California.

It looks as if everything's coming up roses and "BALTOFEST" will go global in style.

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