Tim McCarty leads Quest Visual Theatre. It’s a company of artists, educators and volunteers making theater from a visual base, rather than text. It is gorgeous art and exciting entertainment. Baltimore has a handful of truly talented and most distinguished artists. McCarty is one of them. You need to know that.
A part of Quest Visual Theatre is QuestFest 2014, a two-week international visual theatre festival. “QuestFest features groundbreaking work from exceptional performers and companies dedicated to the use of movement, gesture, and digital media to tell stories. By stripping away the artifice of language, QuestFest builds bridges between disparate communities and cultures.”
QUESTFEST 2014 — Now until April 8
• 16 different artists/companies
• Over 50 performances
• Post-performances Talkbacks
• 20 free residencies
• QuestFest Community Showcase
• QuestFest Conservatory – master classes, workshops, seminars
Stripping away the artifice of language really cuts to the core of what it means to be human. It’s more beautiful and fun than I can explain. Go. Don’t thank me. Pay it forward and tell a friend.
What is QuestFest trying to do?
QuestFest introduces American audiences to visual theatre through performances, residencies, and workshops. While visual theatre is quickly growing in the United States, it’s still rare to see the work and definitely difficult to see as many shows as QuestFest offers. QuestFest introduces teachers and teaching artists to Quest’s TheatreBridge Program. TheatreBridge takes a visual theatre, arts integration approach to teaching. The research that Quest has been conducting in this area indicates that students, especially students who are struggling academically or socially, benefit from visual theatre games and activities when they are woven into the curriculum.
QuestFest also is a strategy for community building. Communities emerge through shared experiences. However, with QuestFest we take a different approach to community building. The festival does not focus on a particular geographic location. QuestFest attempts to bring together people from our area’s richly diverse cultures and ethnicities. People who may speak different languages, people who are Deaf, hard of hearing or hearing can all enjoy a performance together without the use of interpreters or captioning. Visual theatre cuts across language and cultural barriers.Through performances, post-show talkbacks, residencies, master classes, lecture demonstrations, and workshops, QuestFest engages people in an ongoing dialogue about visual theatre and, as a result, bonds emerge.
Another important QuestFest community building strategy is partnerships. QuestFest partners with Theatre Project, Creative Alliance, Baltimore Medical System, University of Maryland, Gallaudet University, Shakespeare Theatre Company, and the Anacostia Playhouse to produce the festival. The partners weave festival events into their own regular programming. These partnerships help broaden the festival’s impact, but also enable the festival partners’ staffs to access diverse populations and gain a greater understanding of inclusive arts programming
What is changed?
Big picture…devised theater is exploding. Everyone wants in.
Locally, QuestFest started out as a two-week festival and now it is a six-week festival. Each festival somehow takes on a personality of its own. One of the strong themes for this year’s festival is “Nurturing the New.” QuestFest has always encouraged artists to take risks. The festival has always commissioned or premiered new work. This year’s festival is also work shopping and showcasing two new pieces and will have a one-week international theatre lab, with three theatre companies learning from each other and experimenting with new stuff. Here is a link to “Nurturing the New” at QuestFest: http://questfest.org/nurturing-the-new/.
Who is changed?
Big picture…Creators are accessible to a greater audience. Audiences are more diverse and younger than those who go to traditional theater. Brick & mortar theater people are surprised by the diversity of our audiences.
Locally, Two things are constant with QuestFest. Quest will perform and often premiere a new show and Ramesh Meyyappan (Singapore/Scotland) will always perform and teach. I consider Ramesh one of the most important visual theatre artists in the world. New this year, are artists from Greece, Romania, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, and Italy. This is probably the largest international contingent that QuestFest has ever had.
Why does that matter?
There are over a million new immigrants to the Baltimore/Metropolitan Area. Fifteen percent of our region’s households’ native language is something other than English. Approximately 36% of the population of Washington, DC has less than a basic understanding of English. Twenty percent of our population (25% in Baltimore) are people with disabilities and people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. In some school systems, up to 75% of the English Language Learners are native born. For many of our neighbors, language is a barrier to education, employment, and cultural experiences. In schools, if all of the theatre in the classroom and on the stage is text-based, many of our students will not participate or ever have a lead role in a school play. Quest values and encourages text-based productions. However, Quest and its QuestFest partners believe that visual theatre helps level the playing field for a significant portion of our population.
What question is visual theater asking?
Like all art, visual theatre productions cover a vast area of topics and address these topics in wide range of styles. One of the benefits of QuestFest is that audience members have the opportunity to see a wide variety of visual theatre productions, each one coming from a different base.
Within the field, artists are asking many questions? How do I create my work when I don’t start from a script? What is a visual theatre script? Once I have created a visual theatre piece, how do I make the work accessible for other artists to replicate? How can educators include visual theatre in the curriculum when there are no traditional scripts and because it’s difficult to catch a visual theatre performance that coincides with my course? The field also struggles with labels and titles. The roles and nature of visual theatre are different from traditional text-based theatre. So, titles like “director, choreographer, playwright, etc” don’t fit as comfortably in visual theatre.
What can the modern world learn from this ancient and universal form?
The irony is that visual theatre is an emerging field that actually draws from the beginnings of theatre – theatre as gesture and ritual. In many ways, we are going back to our roots while often adding contemporary elements such as video, computer generated animation, and projects. In an increasingly diverse and often divergent world, finding common ground is critically important for our society. Visual theatre can serve as an important tool to help people find commonalities.
Many people characterize their Quest experience as “life changing.” However, the most frequent comment heard at any Quest gathering is, “I am home.” It is a remarkable thing to hear this comment in a room filled with individuals from around the globe, people who can hear and can’t hear, people who speak English fluently and those who struggle with the language; and people of all different hues. Yet they are all at home. During QuestFest 2006, one QuestFest staff member noted, “Tonight, I saw deaf and hearing people laughing at the same time.” With Quest, cultural and language divides evaporate and for that time we all share together in the theatre, we are simply human.
What about this year’s Fest excites you?
The quality of the art and the artists themselves. These are exceptional artists who are taking risks and pushing the envelope. We have artists from so many different countries, yet they all share a common passion for visual theatre. On top of that, they are really great people. One of the important aspects of QuestFest, and one of the things that makes it different than most festivals, is that the artists are at the festival’s center. The artists see each others’ work. They teach each other through the QuestFest Conservatory. They gather each night after performances to talk about what they saw and share their ideas. At the end of each week during the festival proper (the last week of March and first week of April), the artists, festival staff, and volunteers gather to share their QuestFest experiences and talk about what they will take home from the experience. On those Friday Night Reflections, there is a palpable bond. Those bonds last well beyond the close of QuestFest.
I’ve already seen two of the shows and was deeply moved both times. My definition of beauty and my experience of art have expanded.
* * *