Out with the outdoors and in with the new.
In September, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company will officially open the doors of its new home at Redwood and Calvert streets. The company plans to move to the former Mercantile Trust and Deposit Co. building after 11 years of primarily performing outdoors at the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City. The season will kick off Sept. 19 with a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Lesley Malin, the company's managing director, said the new space will offer more opportunities for the company by providing a hub for the entire operation and allowing for a more accommodating atmosphere for the audience and the performers.
"My favorite thing [about the new space] is the roof," Malin said. "We've been performing mostly outside … and when it rains and [when it's] extraordinarily hot, it's just hot for everybody. We [can now] say 'We will have a show tonight' and absolutely know we will."
Founding artistic director Ian Gallanar explained that the new stage was designed to represent a modern, indoor twist on the Globe, the outdoor 17th-century London performance space famously associated with Shakespeare. The audience surrounds three-quarters of the stage and occupies "a very vertical space with two different mezzanine levels," Gallanar said. He explained that "no seat is further than 40 feet from the stage. [You] may be high but [you are still] close to the stage."
While in the past Gallanar had to adjust the programming to the outside space, he now had the opportunity to work with architectural firm Cho Benn Holback & Associates to adjust the space to the programming. "We could custom-build for our work," he said. "It's unbelievably exciting."
Malin said the thrust-stage design replicates the way Shakespeare's plays were originally performed. "With three-quarters of the stage surrounded by the audience, [it allows for] much greater intimacy," Malin said. "Shakespeare's places were designed for the actors to talk to the audience."
With the move into downtown Baltimore, Gallanar and Malin picture Chesapeake Shakespeare Company as an arts and culture center for the city — the building is located near other downtown theaters such as the Hippodrome and Everyman — and see the theater as a way to bring people into the city and show them that downtown Baltimore can be a vibrant and safe place to visit.
Gallanar also said the theater should still be a place where families can gather to see plays. The facilities are family-friendly, featuring a family room where parents can take their children to "blow off steam" but still watch the play on a monitor.
The total campaign for the new facilities is $6.7 million and, according to Malin, they have raised $4.8 million (Malin said there's on deadline to finish the campaign, but that she's confident they will raise the rest).
"A Midsummer Night's Dream," the season opener, is a favorite for audience and actors, Gallanar said.
"I think it's a nice play for us to do as we open a new space and our relationship with the city of Baltimore," he said. "It celebrates a marriage. It's sort of like our relationship with the city of Baltimore. We will be creating together; we are joining something later in life."
Starting Oct. 24, the company will perform Shakespeare's "Richard II," Gallanar said, and on Nov. 29 they will put a Baltimore-twist on Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."
"We've been dying to do it for several years just as a way to bridge our relationship between community and our artists," Gallanar said. "It's a good way to celebrate the holidays and our community." The original adaptation will be true to Dickens' novella but will reference 19th-century Baltimore.
Other shows of the season feature a variety of genres. Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" opens Feb. 13, 2015, followed by Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" (Feb. 27). But a project the founding artistic director is even more excited about is "Romeo and Juliet." Not only will the play, which will open April 10, have five weeks of evening performances, but there are plans to include weekday performances for students.
"Our expectation is that every year, for one to two months, we will produce it during the day for school groups," Gallanar said. "It's the play that's in everyone's curriculum. Everyone studies it and not everyone gets to see it." Gallanar added that the building will host educational programming such as after-school and weekend programs.
The seasons will end with a return to the outdoor theater for "The Comedy of Errors" at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City from June 12-July 19.
A grand opening for Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's new building is scheduled for Sept. 20. Subscription sales begin March 10. Information: chesapeakeshakespeare.com.