Local actors, poets and musicians will have a new place to perform this summer when the Howard County Center for the Arts opens the Black Box Theatre in the center's Ellicott City building.
Scheduled to open Aug. 14, the 100-seat theater -- named for its configuration and black curtains -- was created to provide community groups with an affordable space for performances.
"Many of the local performing groups in the area have come to us and mentioned that they needed more space," said Debbie Meyer, deputy director of the Howard County Arts Council.
"They don't make a lot of money," she said. "Basically, they're just trying to make enough to cover their expenses."
Most small arts groups can't afford to rent places such as the 700-seat Jim Rouse Theater for the Performing Arts at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia. Meyer said the rent for the Black Box Theatre will depend on what each group can afford and whether it is a nonprofit organization.
With a small number of seats and a lower rent, the Black Box Theatre will allow performers to try riskier, unknown material without having to rely on popular, crowd-pleasing scripts, Meyer said. She expects that the new theater also will hold activities such as poetry readings and piano concerts.
The space was previously used by the Kinetics Dance Theatre, which has moved to a new home in Ellicott City. Though the Eva Anderson Dancers are in residence at the arts center, they do not use the Black Box Theatre area exclusively, Meyer said.
No one looks forward to the opening more than Tina Smith, a pianist-in-residence at the Howard County Center for the Arts since 1983.
Smith said the new theater will provide another outlet to community artists who have been "begging and borrowing from schools and churches" for space.
"I think the theater is going to bring groups in that are not necessarily resident artists. It's going to encourage community use of the space," said Smith, director of Piano Perspectives School of Music, a nonprofit arts organization housed at the arts center. "There's just tons of theater groups and music groups."
Bob Russell, president of the 25-year-old Columbia Community Players, said his group is happy at Slayton House, but added: "We would certainly look at this theater. We're not going to shake a stick at it.
"I don't look at it as competition," Russell said. "The more venues we have, the better."
When it opens in August, the new theater will present "Couplets," an evening of short plays to be featured in the Baltimore Playwrights Festival. It will mark the first time that the festival, which presents plays by local writers, has come to Howard County.
"There really hasn't been a space for them to come out and perform in," Meyer said.
The opening night will feature plays about couples, including Delores Moran's "Perilous Encounters" and Paul Sambol's "Something Else Entirely."
The performance is sponsored by the arts council, the Columbia Community Players and the new Howard Theater Company, which set its sights on attracting the Playwrights Festival.
"We're a group of people that want to bring original plays to Howard County," said John Sadowsky, artistic director of the Howard Theater Company. "These are people nobody's ever heard of."
Like Smith, Sadowsky would like to see more places where Howard County's performing artists can display their talents.
"There are other spaces, but there's not a whole lot that's out there," Sadowsky said. "We're thrilled and excited to be the inaugural production of the Black Box Theatre."
"Couplets," part of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, opens Aug. 14 at the Black Box Theatre. Information: Howard County Arts Council, 410-313-2787.
Pub Date: 6/15/98