The stabilized ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute sit high on a hill in historic Ellicott City, overlooking the areas ravaged by flash flooding May 27 — the second time in less than two years.
The historic park off Church Road that dates to 1837 also serves as the summer home of the Baltimore-based Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, which has shared a tight bond with Main Street merchants and residents since it staged its first summer season in 2003.
After the raging river of muddy stormwater once again descended upon the quaint mill town, members of the theater company knew immediately what they must do: Donate proceeds from their two summer preview performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to flood relief efforts.
Funds raised by the benefit shows on June 20 and 21 will be donated to the Community Foundation of Howard County, which established its Howard County Community Relief Fund in 2016.
The recent flood upended Main Street, invading shops, ripping up roads and sidewalks and claiming the life of Maryland National Guard Sgt. Eddison Hermond.
As news of the catastrophe spread that Sunday evening across social media, “people in our company were anxious to know what we were going to do to help,” said Lesley Malin, the theater company’s managing director.
“It feels like members of our family are the victims,” Malin said.
When Ellicott City was struck with a deadly flood on July 30, 2016, the Shakespeare company had just closed its summer season. Members decided at that time to hold an internal donation drive for the town and assist with cleanup efforts.
The recent disaster occurred about a month before the company was set to open its summer season. That made the decision to donate net proceeds from ticket sales and to encourage additional donations from patrons an easy one, Malin said.
Howard County government officials are referring those who want to donate to Ellicott City to the website of the Community Foundation of Howard County, said the foundation’s president and CEO, Beverly White-Seals.
A combination of cash donations and pledges totaling $126,000 had been collected by the foundation as of June 6, she said, adding that the nonprofit Ellicott City Partnership has also raised approximately $100,000.
While this outstrips the $80,000 tallied by the foundation in 2016, fewer entities are collecting funds this time, White-Seals said.
Many people are saying they are hesitant to give this time because they’re not convinced donations will make a real difference to flood mitigation efforts, she observed.
“We need to remember that we are raising money to help people,” and not just to fund flood prevention measures, White-Seals said.
She pointed out that displaced persons are staying in hotel rooms and receiving meals provided by the county.
White-Seals hopes more people will consider donating since relief efforts still have a long way to go.
“This is not something that’s going to be resolved anytime soon,” she said.
Ian Gallanar, founding artistic director of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, said the people of Ellicott City were enthusiastic 15 years ago in helping the then-fledgling theater group succeed — and their encouragement hasn’t wavered.
“The Ellicott City community has been enormously supportive of our theater company since our early days,” Gallanar said.
“We are rock-throwing distance away from Main Street, and we want to do what we can to help people who are suffering,” he said. “This is a heart-breaking situation.”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is “the quintessential Shakespeare play,” Gallanar said, and it’s extremely popular because its plot revolves around a wedding celebration.
Malin said the play has “enchanting and mischievous fairies meeting up in a wood with a quartet of quarreling lovers and a troop of amateur actors.”
The play is a comedy with beautiful poetry, and contains “the funniest scene ever written by Shakespeare,” she said.
Jean Thompson, the group’s communications director, said the outdoor setting at Patapsco Female Institute, which was founded as an all-girls academy, makes Shakespeare “much more approachable.”
“It’s an awesome structure to work with because it’s so dramatic,” she said.
Thompson said the company must build its stage from scratch each year, and each stage is tailored to the production.
The company sets up 300 chairs for patrons and there’s a “blanket zone” up front for younger children. Picnic tables for groups and café tables for two are also available. Beer and wine are permitted, but grills and pets are not, Thompson noted.
Malin said the casual atmosphere in the park is “so much more relaxed and easy.”
After the play, actors come out to talk with the audience and field questions.
“We meet you where you are,” she said.
Malin said the theater company is hoping people will open their wallets and their hearts to help lift up the people of Ellicott City as they face the daunting tasks that lie ahead.
“We also hope people outside the county will come back to support Ellicott City and remember why they fell in love with this quaint town,” she said.
If you go
Preview performances of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” benefiting Ellicott City flood relief are set for 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 20, and Thursday, June 21 at Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, 3655 Church Road, Ellicott City. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. for picnics. Tickets cost $16 for all ages and can be purchased at chesapeakeshakespeare.com or at the gate, though performances may sell out. The shows will be canceled if there’s inclement weather. The production's full run is Friday, June 22 to Sunday, July 29.