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Buck Jabaily Cooks Up a New Venture With Performance Kitchen

Vincent Thomas rehearses Performance Kitchen's "Red Flags"
Vincent Thomas rehearses Performance Kitchen's "Red Flags" - Steve Ruark
Buck Jabaily recalls the audience’s apprehension towards the performance of Chinese playwright Gao Xing Jian’s “The Other Shore.”
“It was a difficult piece, unique in the sense that it didn’t have a clear narrative,” says the former executive director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance. “My error is that I didn’t prepare the audience for it. A lot of people after said that it made them feel stupid, and that’s not at all what I wanted.”
Jabaily explained to audience members a bit of the play’s background. “I learned that the works should speak for themselves, but there should be some type of context for audience members.” Based on this experience, Jabaily recently formed the Baltimore Performance Kitchen, which has artists traveling to different local theaters to showcase new projects in front of an interactive audience. Jabaily says his last artistic venture Baltimore Open Theatre dissolved after just a few months after the partners realized that bringing in international performers on a large scale wasn’t feasible. “I learned that the works should speak for themselves, but there should be some type of context for audience members.” - Buck Jabaily, Baltimore Performance Kitchen
So Jabaily formed a new nonprofit in June with a $200,000 budget and support from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. Its core mission is to provide free performances at various locations that encourage audience participation. Jabaily, his assistant director and wife Giti, and a handful of contracted community organizers are providing tickets for the first official season in October through their website, Free Fall Baltimore and other city events.
Jabaily, a founding member of Single Carrot Theatre, talked to BmoreMedia about his plans for the Kitchen and what if offers the arts community.
BmoreMedia (BM): Why call it a Kitchen?
Jabaily: Sometimes people call the place where performers do new work a rehearsal studio, laboratory or incubator. I don’t necessarily love the term incubator because it implies that the work couldn’t work without the place that’s supporting it. I think about the kitchen I grew up in, my grandmother’s kitchen. The kitchen was a place of creativity and good conversations. With Baltimore Performance Kitchen we’re interested in structuring some kind of dialogue after every performance to get the audience to really talk to each other about what’s behind the work and how it links to their lives.
BM: Which venues for the kitchens have you selected?
Jabaily: In the fall, Performance Kitchen will be more traditional looking. The Mobtown Ballroom seats 150. The Baltimore Theatre Project also seats about 150. The stage is about 35-40 feet deep with ceilings about 35 feet high. The Arena Players has a three-sided audience configuration with space for about 270-280 people. We’re hoping to have performances for high school students in more intimate spaces in the future, but we’re still checking the level of appropriateness of some of the performances.
BM: Describe the first season’s lineup.
Jabaily: We have a residency at the Mobtown Ballroom with a world-renown choreographer, Liz Lerman. A residency means we’re giving her the time and space to work on a portion of a larger dance that she’s creating.  She’ll have a performance at the end of her two weeks stay to show what she’s created. At different points of her residency, Lerman will open up the process to the public, so anyone who’s interested can come in and see her work.
There will also be a trio of African-American artists known as “Red Flags” who we put together to work together for the first time. One’s a dancer. One’s a spoken word artist, and one’s a filmmaker. They’re creating a piece to perform at the Arena Players.

The third, Double Edge Theatre, is a theatre company we’re bringing from western Massachusetts for a workshop production. This will be the first stop for their work. They’ve been creating their performance for three years in their barn. From here it goes to Chicago, then Washington D.C. then Russia for a couple of performances.
BM: How do you select artists?
Jabaily: It’s a varied process each time. A lot of them are artists I’ve had relationships with in the past and whose work I admire. We try to answer big questions: How do you interest people? How do you make sure that your audience members are consistently diverse? What’s the meaning behind the work? One of the reasons that we’re presenting these for free is to take away this barrier of cost. We know that’s not going to alleviate all of the problems, so we want to make sure the work is high quality and the artists are exciting.
BM: How is this beneficial to artists?
Jabaily: It provides artists with the ability to talk about the work that they have created and see how audience changes the work. Their energy and insight have the power to take something that was presented and think about it in a different way than the artist intends. It makes the piece a lot richer. Artists should ask questions, not always necessarily knowing the answer, or wanting to know the answer.
BM: As an artist yourself, how would you use Performance Kitchen?
Jabaily: There are a couple of projects I’m kicking around. What my process will be when creating new work is to find an issue that needs to be discussed, like youth incarceration, and find partners who I could present this with, in an overly exciting venue that would help me perform any of these issues. I might work in partnership with another artist who worked in jails or with youth and proceed in that way. Moving forward, we want to make sure that each of the pieces really does tackle some kind of issue in Baltimore to engage the audience.

Jolene Carr is a graduate student at Towson University. She is originally from Syracuse, N.Y.

Photographs by STEVE RUARK except Jabaily by Arianne Teeple
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