Single Carrot Theatre hit the ground running on Friday, Jan. 3.
As the new year began with snow, the up-and-coming Baltimore troupe was supposed to start moving from the old Everyman Theatre building downtown to its new space in a redeveloped former tire shop at 26th and Howard streets in Remington.
The weather situation could have been, like the title of Single Carrot's most recent play, a "Worst Case Scenario."
But when a reporter emailed spokeswoman and ensemble member Jessica Garrett to see if the move was still on, Garrett responded, "Oh yeah. We're working now. We're from Colorado!"
Sure enough, when the Messenger arrived, a core of Carrots, most in their 20s to 30s, were waiting for lumber and other supplies, so they could start building their set for "The Flu Season," Single Carrot's next play, which opens Jan. 24 and will be the first in the 5,500-square-foot space.
The next day, they were joined by several dozen other ensemble members and volunteers from as far away as Pennsylvania.
And on Sunday evening, as bitter cold blew in, the cast, director and stage crew were already rehearsing for "The Flu Season."
"This has been my dream," Garrett said. "It still feels a little bit like a dream."
In 2005, 22 undergraduates at the University of Colorado, including Garrett, decided to start a theater company after graduation and went looking for just the right city to open it in — one that would be welcoming, with a taste for offbeat, even experimental theater.
"We wanted a city of comparable size to Denver, a town with fairly high arts funding and a low cost of living," Garrett said. She said they didn't want a major city like New York or Los Angeles, where they most likely would be swallowed up.
As they called around to various cities, networking with people in the arts and asking if they thought there was a niche for such a troupe, "Baltimore was by far the most responsive," Garrett said. Vinny Lancisi, artistic director of Everyman Theatre, was particularly helpful and encouraging, as was the late Nancy Haragan, founding executive director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, who died in 2011.
"To get an artist on the phone in a city you don't live in is pretty incredible," Garrett said. "The concept was exciting to people (in the Baltimore arts community); a spot for a small theater to have cultural significance, to explore more experimental work and provide a training ground for future artists."
"We showed up with a couple of thousand dollars and a list of five plays," said founding member and managing director Elliott Rauh, 30, of Harwood in the Charles Village area. "That was our first season."
The first seven members arrived in 2007, taking their company name from the 19th century French painter Paul Cezanne, who said, "The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution."
The troupe's annual budget has grown to $345,000, funded by contributions, grants, ticket sales and memberships, Garrett said.
"Single Carrot fills an intellectual space in the theater world," said William "Chick" Chickering, of Guilford, a Single Carrot board member and one of the volunteers who helped with the move.
"What I like is that they really invest in the arts," said another volunteer, Heather Jackson, a freelance costume designer and full-time spokeswoman for Center Stage downtown. "They do really creative shows."
Jackson said she thinks Single Carrot is growing fast as a company, "for what they do and how young they are."
But finding a permanent home in the city has been a different story and Single Carrot has led a nomad existence. For its first few shows, the theater company rented various spaces around town, including the Mobtown Theatre in Hampden, the Theatre Project downtown and an event space on Antique Row on Howard Street.
Then the company settled down for about five years at the Load of Fun space in Station North, on North Avenue. But when Load of Fun closed in 2012 because of city code violations, dozens of artists lost their studio spaces suddenly, including Single Carrot.
"We were scrambling," Garrett said.
They bounced around again, from the Maryland Institute College of Art to the old Everyman building. But then their luck changed, when Seawall development Corp., which is redeveloping much of Remington, approached them about being a tenant in the old Mr. James Tire Shop, which Sewall partners Evan Morville and Thibault Manekin were converting to a building that would blend the arts, nonprofit offices and dining.
Now, Single Carrot is one of two tenants that have moved into the building, along with Young Audiences Maryland, which is the nation's largest arts education network and brings performing arts to area schools.
It's a heady time not only for the tenants, but for Seawall, which redeveloped the building in about six months at a cost of $3.5 million, Morville said.
For Single Carrot, the spanking new, state of the art building represents a major upgrade from years of sharing dressing rooms and freestanding toilets, and doing one another's laundry at home.
Single Carrot now has a separate rehearsal space and a sound and light booth high above the main theater area. There's a bathroom with a shower, and space for a shop to build set pieces, as well as offices upstairs for an administrative staff of seven people, four of them full-time.
Newer Carrots such as technical director Michael Varelli couldn't be happier. Varelli, 42, of White Marsh, said Single Carrot Theatre is much better run than other theater jobs he has had.
"I'm glad to be a member and to work in a department where we collaborate and don't argue all the time," he said.