Chesapeake Shakespeare Company Opens New Theatre in Baltimore
Has there ever been a more exciting time for theater-lovers in the Baltimore/Washington area? I have witnessed new theaters blossom at the Signature Theatre, the Arena Stage, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Hippodrome Theatre, the Everyman Theatre, and now, the latest addition, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is about to open just two blocks from Baltimore's famous Inner Harbor complex, Harborplace.
I recently was riding down Baltimore Street and noticed the huge marquee to my right on S. Calvert Street which featured in big block letters "SHAKESPEARE" and on the top "Chesapeake" and on the bottom "Company". It then dawned on me that this was really happening. I had known and read about the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company for many years where it performed outdoor summer theater on the grounds of the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City. I have been always under the impression this must have been a jail or hospital for females. Was I ever wrong. Actually it was an exclusive boarding school for the "young ladies of the south" in the 1830's.
Ian Gallanar, who had been the founder of the Minnesota Shakespeare in the Park, came to Baltimore to run the Theater Touring Company of America in 1999. Gallanar wanted to start a Shakespeare Company in Baltimore and took the opportunity when the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival failed 12 years ago. He found some space in Howard County and began with a production of TWELVE NIGHT at a converted elementary school known as the Howard County Center for the Arts. A hundred people came to their inaugural performance. Lesley Malin, the CSC current Managing Director, auditioned for the show and she related that about half the people who were in the cast are still involved with the CSC.
After Howard County Government restored the Patapsco Female Institute space, the CSC began summer outdoor performances there in 2008 with "movable" productions. What a success it became. Their audience has mushroomed to 6,000 for these summer productions. They also performed elsewhere in Ellicott City during the winter. They began the difficult task of finding their own space with a roof. Their initial attempt to find a home was in Howard County but they quickly realized this was too expensive.
It was Everyman Theatre's Artistic Director Vince Lancisi who wanted them to join Everyman on Baltimore's west side and the Grover's Bank Building but that building needed too much work.
It was suggested to them to look into the old historic Mercantile Bank Building at the corner of E. Redwood Street and S. Calvert Street which was built in 1886 and was one of the few buildings in downtown Baltimore that survived the fire of 1904. The former bank had been turned into a nightclub. Wait to you see the purple and gold coffered ceiling. When Gallaner and Malin walked into the building, they noticed the huge three-story Corinthian columns, the gorgeous ceiling, the mezzanine and said to each other "It's the Globe" (referring to Shakespeare's Theatre in London).
The Helm Foundation purchased the building for $1.2 million in May 2012 on behalf of the CSC and a $ 2 million renovation ensued with the help of PNC Bank. Architects Cho Benn Holback and Associates, who also did a wonderful job with the Everyman Theatre, have once again designed a gorgeous interior. Construction began in August 2013 by the Southway Builders to build an indoor Elizabethan playhouse in the tradition of London's Globe Theatre for 260 people which features a thrust stage and three levels for the audience.
The first thing you will notice when you enter this gorgeous space are the bright red upholstered and ergonomically designed bench seats originated by the United Kingdom firm of Steel Deck who created this design of seating in England. They are very comfortable. No view is further that 28 feet from the stage.
The space has a couple of other unique features. The CSC hopes to entice young people with families to attend and there is even a PNC Family Room to the side of the orchestra for unruly children where they and their parents have a huge TV monitor to watch the play. The desire is a family friendly theater. Malin added, "We hope people bring the kids. If they get noisy, go to Family Room where there will be dress up stuff, coloring material and foam swords."
The theater will encourage audience members to purchase drinks during performances. They have a bar on the first level and one in the mezzanine which are both open to the stage. You could stand at the bar and continue to watch the play! Can you do that anywhere else? The plan is to keep the house lights up a little bit during the shows to make it easier to get a drink.
The CSC is also offering those 18 and under half-price tickets. They are proud to have a young demographic which they hope to continue.
September 15 will be Ribbon-Cutting at 10 a.m. The public is invited to attend. There will be tours available.
On Saturday night, September 20, there will be a Black-Tie Gala to benefit outreach and educational initiatives. Tickets are $250 for the reception and the performance of MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.
A Grand Opening Family Festival will be on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 21. The Festival begins at 1 p.m. where there will be behind-the-scenes tours, dress-up in period costumes, and learn stage combat prior to the 3 p.m. matinee. At 5:30 p.m. you can meet the cast. Tickets are $75 for adults and $25 for children under 19.
CSC will continue its tradition with theater during the summer of 2015 at their old home in Ellicott City.
PARKING: All patrons will be able to park for only $5 with their business partner, Arrow Parking on Water Street, one block south of the theater.
SHOWTIMES: Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m.
RESTAURANTS: Close to Inner Harbor dining and shopping.
SECURITY: The Downtown Partnership will be monitoring the area around the theater.
The CSC Season:
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM: Sept. 25 to Oct. 12, 2014.
RICHARD II: Oct. 24 to Nov. 9, 2014.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Set in Baltimore's 19th century business district) : Nov. 29 to Dec. 23, 2014.
UNCLE VANYA: Feb. 13 to March 1, 2015.
THE IMPORANCE OF BEING ERNEST: Feb. 27 to March 22, 2015.
ROMEO AND JULIET: APRIL 10 TO MAY 10, 2015.
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS (outdoors in Ellicott City): June 12-July 19, 2015.
The CSC Box Office is located at 7 S. Calvert Street. Subscription prices start at $21 per show. Visit www.ChesapeakeShakespeare.com or call 410-244-8570
Memorial for Baltimore Actress Tana Hicken Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. at Everyman Theatre.
One of Baltimore's greatest artists, Tana Hicken, passed away on August 17. She was an amazing actress and I recall her many roles at Center Stage with Terry O'Quinn. They were a delight to watch together. She also appeared at Everyman Theatre, Arena Stage, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Studio Theatre, Theatre J, and the Roundhouse Theatre.
She was such a delight and she will be sorely missed.
There will be a memorial on Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Everyman Theatre in Baltimore and on Sept. 29 at the Studio Theatre in DC at 7 p.m.