Monday morning’s ribbon cutting ceremony at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s (CSC) new digs in downtown Baltimore was unique. No phony large scissors but rather a Lieutenant Governor wielding a sword. No long, drawn-out speeches leading up to the official opening but rather a solo bagpiper and the old English cheer, “Huzzah.” Why endure boring treatises of modern man when instead you can hear the gems of the bard?
It happened to be a glorious morning in Charm City, and Shakespeare fans and followers should feel proud of Baltimore’s newest arts residents. For over a decade CSC has performed its seasonal productions at Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City. Those of us who trekked uphill to the outdoor park, high above the old railroad town, remember sitting outside on a sultry summer eve or early autumn night with stars shining above. Sweet memories, indeed, watching musicians and dancers and actors of all ages playing the parts of Shakespeare’s greatest works.
So how does the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company top that? By transforming a landmark bank into a replica of The Bard’s famous Globe Theatre. And, of course, the task of finding various supporters for this huge endeavor that took five years in the making.
Now based at the historic Mercantile Trust & Deposit Company building on Calvert Street near the Inner Harbor, the company’s first full production takes place this weekend with A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the 260-seat playhouse. The opening celebration continues with a gala for donors and patrons on Saturday evening and culminates with a festival for kids, teens, and families on Sunday afternoon.
As he welcomed the politicos and benefactors at the breakfast reception, Ian Gallanar, Founding Artistic Director of the theater company, chuckled as he commented, “This 1885 financial fortress is a wee bit more posh than our first home,” referring to a section of Baltimore called “Pig Town.” He delighted the audience with his repartee, “When you tell folks you’re going to build a Shakespeare theatre, some are happy but others go to a dark place, thinking back to their college classes or high school plays. Let me reassure you that this is not about fancy actors wearing pumpkin pants and talking with phony accents. We’re interested in bringing people together and shedding a light on the genius of Shakespeare.”
A representative for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (who had been hospitalized during the Star Spangled Banner celebrations over the weekend and was unable to attend) pointed out the possibilities for the neighborhood to become a cultural center with hotels, law offices and high rise residencies.
Surrounded by the speakers, two swordfighters, a tiny character from the play, and the aforementioned bagpiper, reporters and guests were invited to stand on the thrust stage and look upwards towards the magnificent glass ceiling. Behind us, the CSC banner dangled from the rafters that surround a backdrop that serves as an entrance and exit for the actors. And while there may not be bad seat for viewing in the three-tiered house, beware of leaving your red-upholstered bench without something to hold it down. Otherwise it pops back to its original place – perhaps a way to keep the audience seated throughout the performance!
Last used as a nightclub, the Victorian building survived the Great Fire of 1904 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. CSC will soon receive the Preservation Maryland’s 2014 Phoenix Award for creative revival of a Maryland historic resource, according to Mary Gregory, a trustee of that organization.
“We could not have created this remarkable cultural center without the enthusiastic support of the State of Maryland, Baltimore City, local foundations and corporations, generous individuals and our loyal patrons,” enthused Lesley Malin, Managing Director of the theater company. “Look at these wonderful people who are here to celebrate CSC. We are ready,” she emphasized.
Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performs A Midsummer Night’s Dream September 25th through October 12, 2014 in its new theater – 7 South Calvert Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call (410) 244-8570, or purchase them online.