In an effort to strengthen and expand live theater in Baltimore, theaters big and small are joining forces in what may be one of the most broad-based groups of its kind in the country.
The new, non-profit Baltimore Theatre Alliance will serve all ranks of theaters -- from established professional Equity companies like Center Stage to community, children's, university and dinner theaters -- as well as theater artists.
"What everybody is realizing is there's strength in numbers," said Vincent Lancisi, a founding board member of the Alliance and artistic director of Everyman Theatre, where the first official membership meeting of the Alliance will take place Monday at 8 p.m.
Praising the spirit of cooperation among Baltimore's theaters, Lancisi said, "There is an openness that has never been tapped before, and it has never been felt so strongly as it is now. These theaters are ready to join forces. They're realizing in the face of diminishing government and corporate support that we have to re-invent ourselves -- all of us -- and become creative in the ways that we do business."
Among the services the Baltimore Theatre Alliance will provide are: a hotline where individuals can learn about artistic and technical openings at member theaters; an annual theater-wide audition; a central registry of resumes and head shots; block theater advertising; and lobby displays promoting the offerings at participating theaters, according to longtime Baltimore actress Vivienne Shub, the guiding force behind the Alliance.
"For theaters the attraction is getting the word out. It's a sense of unity. It's cross-pollination. It's an exchange," Lancisi said.
More than 15 area theaters and 50 theater artists have joined the Alliance, which has been in the works for more than a year and which has annual dues of $50 for theaters and producers and $5 for individuals. Lancisi said he expects the number of individuals to double and the number of theaters to reach two dozen by the end of the year.
zTC Shub, who was a member of the first acting company at Center Stage, said she recognized the need for the Alliance when she chaired a panel discussion sponsored by the Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel newspapers in March 1995.
"There were close to 100 people who attended that meeting, and there was kind of a feeling that there had never been so much of the theater community of Baltimore in one room," Shub said.
Maravene Loeschke, head of the theater department at Towson State University, also attended that meeting. "It was all supportive -- one idea after another," she recalled. "It was amazing. I think we all knew then this was not something that was going to go away."
Loeschke volunteered space at Towson for a second meeting. Committees were formed at subsequent meetings and an agenda was drawn up based partly on two Washington groups -- the League of Washington Theatres, an organization of non-profit professional theaters, and the Washington Actors' Center.
Although the Baltimore Theatre Alliance's hotline and registry are already in place, Shub hopes that eventually the organization will also reach out to audiences with discounts, workshops, lectures and programs to develop younger theatergoers. A newsletter is another goal.
Another advantage of the Alliance, Lancisi pointed out, is that it will offer potential donors a streamlined way to support theater in Baltimore. "If there are some foundations and corporations that care about the arts in general but don't have a commitment to any particular institution, they can support the Alliance and help the whole community," he explained.
Lancisi also lauded the involvement of Center Stage, which was among the first theaters to join the Alliance. "I'm really pleased that they are a part of this because in reality Center Stage needs these services the least because they have so many resources," he said.
John Lanasa, who represents Center Stage on the Alliance board, acknowledged that Center Stage will be able to serve an educational or mentoring role for some of the other theaters. But he also expects Center Stage to derive some benefits, especially from the literature distribution system and the hotline.
"A couple times a season we need technical help -- a follow-up spot operator or running crew. Just like every other theater, people back out on us at last minute. It's a great way for people to work at Center Stage," Lanasa said of the hotline.
He added that, as a public relations tool, "Baltimore needs something like the Alliance to increase awareness of what the theater community has to offer the rest of the city and counties. People don't really realize it, but Baltimore is a vibrant theater city."
The Baltimore Theatre Alliance membership kickoff celebration will be held at 8 p.m. Monday at Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St. Individuals are encouraged to bring head shots and resumes. Call (410) 752-2208.
Pub Date: 8/13/96