A little building with a lot to offer

On Hanover Road, in Reisterstown, there sits a building that, from the outside, is much like any other in the area.

But if you enter that building, you will find Open Space Arts, a nonprofit founded in 1989 and run solely by a handful of key staff members, two junior staff members and a four-person board — all volunteer.


"Open Space Arts is a small nonprofit community theater. We pride ourselves in providing a safe space for people to come and create and experiment with new things … We don't judge or discriminate," said Elora Maisenhelder, co-artistic director and costume designer at OSA. "We provide a space in which people can come and feel that they can try new things without getting shot down or that it'll be held against them or anything like that, particularly young kids who might feel embarrassed to get up on stage or older adults who have never done this kind of thing before. We offer them a space to exercise their creativity and see what happens."

OSA offers three classes: the Children's Theatre Company for grades 3 through 6; the Studio Theatre Company for grades 7 through 12; and the adult-teen improv group, which is currently in session and is open to anyone 14 and older. The two companies, which are not currently in session, meet weekly, have two sessions per year and culminate in an end-of-session showcase performance. The improv group also meets weekly.


One 13-week session of each company is $140, and one 9-week session of the improv group is $100.

Making the arts accessible to everyone, regardless of income level, is an integral part of the organization's mission.

"I think that there's a misconception with theater that it's unaffordable or it's this high form of art, like Shakespeare you have to go to college to understand it, but really it should be enjoyed by everyone no matter how much money you make," said Katie Ganem, public relations representative at OSA. "It provides a sense of catharsis that everyone needs … I think that the reason that Open Space was started was to let everyone enjoy art."

OSA also offers a winter and spring production. Last year's winter performance was "Peter Pan." For this year's winter production, on Feb. 12, 13 and 14, Open Space will be presenting "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." But, co-artistic director Will Dalrymple said, the script isn't exactly what the audience might be expecting.

"We actually found an original kind of reworking of the script that we really liked and we contacted the playwright … we like to do things that are a little off the beaten track," he said.

Ganem said the production, which will be directed by Maisenhelder, will be especially visually interesting for the audience.

"Last year we did 'Peter Pan,' which was really cool, so we're really excited to do this new adaptation of Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland.' It's going to have some elements of the original book and also 'Through the Looking Glass,' which was the sequel, and it's going to be kind of a surrealist cirque de soleil-themed production and it's going to be really cool," Ganem said.

Anyone can audition for a role in one of the seasonal shows, regardless of experience or age. And odds are, Dalrymple said, you'll be given some way to help out.


"We really, really try hard to not turn anyone away who comes to an audition. We will find something for you to do and we will try our best to make sure it's something you don't absolutely detest," he said.

The organization also holds various events throughout the year. Upcoming events include a blanket fort and movie night Dec. 11 and a masquerade ball on Jan. 2.

"We offer quite a few events throughout the year," Maisenhelder said. "In December we'll have our blanket fort and movie night, so we turn our building into basically a blanket fort and we project a movie on the wall and invite people to come and hang out and watch movies with us. In the spring we'll have a bake sale."

Events and productions range in cost from a $5 to $12 suggested donation, depending on the event and age of the individual.

Open Space isn't just about making the arts financially accessible to the public. Its primary mission is to give people of all ages a safe, comfortable environment in which to be themselves.

"It's kind of a home away from home for a lot of people, myself included. It's a really safe place. We put a lot of focus on that — being able to come into this space judgment free of who you are, where you came from, any of those things, and kind of come together and create something that we can all be proud of," Dalrymple said.


It's the welcoming environment that has led many students to continue with the organization as staff members. Dalrymple, Maisenhelder and Ganem all got their start at OSA as students.

"I took their classes, so I was in Children's Theatre Company and Studio Company … In college I majored in musical theater, and I've always wanted to do musical theater so when I came back home and even in college during the summer I still directed the shows and was heavily involved because it's always been a safe place for me. It's been a second home to me. I've always loved being there and loved the work that me and my fellow actors would do there, so I really love Open Space," Ganem said.

For Matthew Arroyo, 16, of Catonsville, the safe place provided by Open Space has given him more than just a chance to perform — it has given him the opportunity to be himself.

"I came out [as transgender] to the people of Open Space before I really came out to other people … and it was a very beautiful and enlightening experience, I would say. Compared to the stories I have heard it was very, very positive what happened. Everyone was very accepting; they changed pronouns and the name very quickly," he said.

The love and support Arroyo was shown at Open Space has influenced him in the way he lives his life, he said.

"As a person it has impacted me," he said. "I feel as though I have also learned to be a little more accepting of people."


Spreading that acceptance and tolerance beyond the walls of Open Space is what the organization is all about, Dalrymple said.

"The idea is that no one will ever come into Open Space and feel uncomfortable about the way they think, the way they look, the way they are, and after they leave Open Space, hopefully, they'll kind of have that wide angle lens to see the value in every opinion, no matter how starkly contrasting it is to their own," he said.

Arroyo said he has grown as an artist through the classes and productions offered at Open Space. And, like many others, he said he hopes to stay with the organization by becoming a staff member.

Though Open Space primarily offers theater arts classes right now, staff members said they're planning on expanding to other artistic media, as well, including painting and writing.

"We are primarily a theater company but we'd like to give a little more of the scope of the arts," Maisenhelder said.

But regardless of what OSA offers, staff members will continue to work toward the goal of making the arts as accessible to the community as possible.


"I feel like we've always been just a little sliver in the community, but we really want to impact Reisterstown and Baltimore County on a bigger level. I feel like Reisterstown really needs an artistic voice. And we have some great theaters there … and I feel like there are a lot of people in Reisterstown that really appreciate the arts and I feel like we'd love to be kind of the go-to home for theater arts in Reisterstown," Ganem said.

There are many reasons why volunteers at Open Space work to bring the arts to the community at a low cost. But they can all be summed up in four simple words, Maisenhelder said.

"Because we love it," she said. "Because this is what we want to share with the community and this is our passion and many of us are very driven by the arts. We're a group of very creative and resourceful people and we want other people to feel the same joy and passion that we do and we want, especially given how a lot of schools, their art and theater programs are very small, we want them to be able to access those things without having to empty their pockets or bend over backwards to get into programs. We want to share our love for the arts."

For more information about Open Space Arts, its programs and its upcoming events, visit