Every year, for the last seven years, an unusual international collaboration has taken place with the assistance of The Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA). The cultural exchange program between the UK and the United States allows for high school students interested in theater to travel abroad and train with their counterparts.  Students experience a different culture and theatrical environment as well as different approaches to acting and directing while rehearsing and performing together. Through the exchange, the senior acting ensemble from BSA travels to the UK each spring and British students travel to Baltimore in the fall.

The program, directed by Donald Hicken, head of the Theatre Department at BSA, is supported almost entirely by contributions from families and sponsors, with the largest funding coming from Rolf Schmitt and Ann Mladinov, parents of one of the BSA students from the first year’s exchange who continue to support and help organize the program.

The exchange trips have proven to be an invaluable artistic and personal challenge as well as inspiration for the young performers from both countries. With nearly 300 student participants from the UK and US, the far-reaching effects on their lives is more than evident as they move beyond secondary school to higher education and careers.

Closer, which will be presented at Load of Fun this coming weekend, is produced by  Shayna Small and Carli Jones, who themselves met in 2005 as students in the pilot year of the exchange program. As the years have passed, the US-UK exchange program has continued to become broader and stronger. Carli and fellow Closer cast member Lee Thomas have participated in a number of the joint US-UK productions with BSA since that first year as mentors actors and administrators. Upon graduating, Shayna has been directing and mentoring BSA acting students as part of the intern program at CenterStage.

Both Shayna and Carli speak to the important role the program played in their own achievements and they are passionate about keeping the program running for the future. Showdown’s founder and principal, Carli Jones, says, “Having this opportunity back in 2005-2006 had a huge impact on my career. We couldn’t think of a better way to raise support and potential sponsors than to produce a quality piece of theater together in Baltimore.  We are thrilled to be working with BSA and The Boys and Girls Club to give young people in Baltimore creative opportunities and we hope to receive lots of support to keep the program running for many years to come.”

Showdown Theatre Arts, a British theatre company, will be presenting the award-winning play by Patrick Marber this weekend. The production is a sad, savvy, often funny play that casts a steely, unblinking gaze at the world of relationships and lets you come to your own conclusions.  Set in London, the play follows the lives of four characters Anna, Alice, Dan, and Larry as they intertwine over the course of four and a half years in this stinging look at modern love and betrayal.  Cast members Tom Miller (Dan), Lee Thomas (Larry), and Carli Jones(Anna), direct from the UK, alongside BSA and Juilliard graduate Shayna Small (Alice), will join a production team based in Baltimore supported by students from BSA and The Boy’s & Girl’s Club.

Closer is playing April 13th, 14th and 15th with 7:30pm performances each evening and weekend matinees at 2:30pm. Load of Fun Theater, 120 West North Avenue.  Tickets $17/Students $12. VIP tickets also available on April 13 for $40 which will include an opening night reception with the cast and sponsors. For tickets please call 1-800-838-3006 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/230708

More info at: www.loadoffun.net

I stopped by the set on Wednesday night and grabbed a few great shots of the Closer team rehearsing and preparing for the opening on Friday: