Baltimore Center Stage announced Tuesday that its artistic director since 2011, Kwame Kwei-Armah, will be leaving the theater at the end of the 2017/2018 season.
As artistic director, Kwei-Armah steered Center Stage through three of the top-selling shows in its 54-year history: "The Mountaintop," "One Night in Miami...," and "Marley." The latter, the first bio-musical about the life of Bob Marley, was written and directed by Kwei-Armah, who demanded that the show receive its premiere in Baltimore when asked to take on the project. The musical's rehearsals coincided with the Baltimore Uprising, which compelled Center Stage to take it straight to the Penn and North, a central point in the riots and protests, where the show's actors performed Marley favorites for the community.
Kwei-Armah was made an Officer of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for services to drama in 2012, and in 2014 he graduated to the much loftier honor of being named Best Director by City Paper.
Kwei-Armah's last season at Center Stage will end in May with another musical production written and directed by himself. The title and subject matter have yet to be announced.
This morning, Kwei-Armah spoke to "The Wire" creator David Simon for BBC World Service about creating theater in Baltimore.
"I feel that I'm living amid the new civil rights era," Kwei-Armah said. "And that's a very exciting time to be leading an artistic institution. Part of the reason I wanted to come to Baltimore, and that I accepted this theater when asked, is because at that time 13 percent of the subscriber [base], of our membership, was African-American—that's larger than nearly everywhere else in America—which is now somewhere near 22 percent, in a city that is 60 percent African-American. And it meant to me that I would be able to do work that spoke culturally, specifically to the African-American voice, or the diasporic African voice, as well as for everyone else. I could look after the multiple audiences."
And then, Simon asked if Kwei-Armah ever left—which Simon hoped he wouldn't—what would he want sent to him as a reminder of the city?
"The Baltimore accent."
Baltimore will miss his accent, too.
Additional reporting by Brandon Weigel.