After a four-month vacancy, curtains will rise again Saturday at the Ellicott Theatre in Ellicott City, with a production of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."
With a 50-year history, in which the building has been used as a movie house, children's theater, disco and coin-operated laundry, the structure now will offer stage productions as part of the nonprofit Center For The Arts.
The center's founders -- theater veterans Tony McGuffin and Gary Goodson -- signed a lease last month, and two weeks ago started work on the Christmas production and an art exhibit that will be on display for a month, beginning Dec. 7.
Benefit concerts were scheduled last Friday and Saturday to raise money for the center.
"We plan to present plays, concerts, art exhibits and community events," said Mr. McGuffin of Ellicott City. "We would like to do as much as we can to keep the center dynamic and versatile."
The Ellicott Theatre's last tenant, Jill Porter, operated an art film revival house featuring artistic, second-run and classic movies.
In July, after seven months of operation, Ms. Porter closed the theater suddenly and without comment. She was unavailable for comment last week.
Mr. McGuffin, a folk singer, songwriter and substitute teacher for Howard County high schools, has 20 years of experience in theater.
Mr. Goodson, a Baltimore City resident, is artistic director for the Drama Learning Center, an instructional theater for children and adults in Jessup. He also has a 19-year background in theater.
To prepare the theater for productions, the two are painting walls, shampooing the carpet and extending the stage area. At some point, they plan to move the box office and perhaps extend the lobby.
"We will do what we can, when we can," said Mr. Goodson, 41. "It could be 20 years of renovation."
They also hope to offer a diverse menu of events at the theater. In addition to theatrical productions, possibilities include a jazz series, a Haunted House and other seasonal activities, art exhibits, open mike night, plays coordinated with literature being taught in local schools, and acting classes and workshops for both adults and children.
The two are funding the new operation with their own money and by selling advertisements.
"Our initial funds are a shoestring arrangement," said Mr. McGuffin, 42. "We are raising seed money so we can do more than pay the rent."
Philip Gugliotti, chief financial officer for Historic Ellicott City Properties -- which owns the Ellicott Theatre -- is optimistic about the potential of the Center For The Arts. "I met with both Tony and his partner and have a lot of confidence in their many years of experience. I like the idea. I like the concept that it is not a single-theme type of center, and the theater has a much better chance of succeeding on those merits," Mr. Gugliotti said.
Mr. McGuffin said the pair plans to establish a board of directors and apply for state and federal grants in about a year, after they have qualified for nonprofit status. In the meantime, the two hope to receive money from some of the larger businesses in the county.
"We have experience and enthusiasm to do this," Mr. McGuffin said. "We will approach it from what we know. I think the center will catch on, and I feel the community will adopt us and think of us as their theater."
The Center For The Arts in Ellicott City will present Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays Dec. 2 through Dec. 24.
The theater is located at 8217 Main St., Ellicott City. Information: 750-7524.