Spotlighters restructures

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Since its founding by Audrey Herman in 1962, the Spotlighters Theatre always has sought to give newcomers a chance, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the theater is trying something new in terms of its own administration.

After Herman's death in 1999, the Spotlighters, at 817 St. Paul St., was purchased by Bob Russell and Jonathan Claiborne. The pair ran the community theater at a loss for five years before deciding, at the start of this season, to transfer ownership to a volunteer board of directors and apply for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

As of this week, a new 11-member board is in place, with Russell and Claiborne still serving as officers and James "FUZZ" Roark assuming the paid position of executive director. Roark - who, over the last three years, has worked on more than a dozen Spotlighters shows as music director, actor, lighting designer or director - said that although the leadership structure has changed, the theater remains true to Herman's mission, which he describes as: "To provide quality traditional and cutting-edge theater, accessible to the Baltimore community, and to provide a venue for new playwrights and new artists to develop and refine their craft."

Roark said the theater has received $10,000 in private and corporate donations since November and hopes to attract additional corporate underwriters. The theater is also seeking grants to support summer theater programs for urban youth, internships and projects with area performing arts schools.

In addition, next month the Spotlighters will initiate a late-night cabaret at which local artists can try out new material, whether poetry, stand-up comedy, performance art, music, theater or dance.

In a letter sent to area arts organizations, Laurel Burggraf, who will coordinate the cabaret with Lucia Treasure and Chris Bassett, writes, "How about we do something down-home and backyard and hole-in-the-wall and stubbornly cheap? How about we meet each other and find out who's making art?" (Those interested in taking part can send an e-mail to balti morecabaret@hotmail.com.)

Meanwhile, two performances of the Spotlighters' current production of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple have been designated as fund-raisers for the theater. Tickets to this Saturday's 8 p.m. performance and the 8 p.m. Jan. 28 performance are $50 and include a post-show wine-and-cheese reception with the cast and board.

For more information about making donations or participating in programs at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, or to buy tickets to one of the galas, call 410-752-1225.

Center Stage gala

Tony Award-winning actor Brian Stokes Mitchell will headline Center Stage's 19th annual benefit gala on May 14. Mitchell's most recent Broadway credit was the lead role in the 2002 revival of Man of La Mancha. He also played the title role in the 2001 Broadway production of August Wilson's King Hedley II; originated the role of Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the 1998 Broadway musical Ragtime; and won a Tony for his portrayal of actor-manager Fred Graham in the 1999 revival of Kiss Me, Kate. His TV credits include seven years as Dr. "Jackpot" Jackson on Trapper John, M.D.

Center Stage's black-tie event will take place at the theater, 700 N. Calvert St., from 6 p.m. to midnight, and will include dinner, dancing and a silent auction. Tickets cost $300 and benefit the theater's artistic and educational programs. For more information, call 410-986-4024.

Theatre Project shows

The Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., has added two shows to its February schedule. From Feb. 17-19, Sandglass Theater of Putney, Vt., will perform One Way Street, based on writings by German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin and starring puppeteer Eric Bass. And Feb. 22-23, the Maryland-based dance company Updraft will perform Suite Earth, an aerial dance piece. Call 410-752-8558.

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