King Lear was busy pulling up carpet. Brutus was brooming the floors.
That was the scene on Monday as about 40 people – mostly members of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, along with their family and friends – donned work boots and rubber gloves for a “Day of Service.” Their charge was to clean out the theatrical company’s new space ahead of renovations which are set to commence sometime in April.
The new space is the historic Mercantile Trust and Deposit Company building at the corner of South Calvert and Redwood Streets. The Shakespeare company has already removed five dumpsters full of debris. From the looks of things there is plenty more to go.
Their plan is turn the old bank into Baltimore’s very own version of the Globe Theater. It’s a challenging task and supporters acknowledge the group has its work cut out. The building, which survived the Baltimore fire in 1904, has more recently survived several incarnations as a string of dubious night clubs. So problematic was the location in fact that the Downtown Partnership had listed the site as one Baltimore’s 10 most troubled buildings.
The coming changes came as welcome news to area businesses. Visitors to Monday’s day of service and media open house included local vendors and the management team of a nearby hotel. The hotel people seemed pleased with the plans and with the idea of having a theater practically on their doorstep. Incoming CSC Communications Director Jean Thompson says, “The downtown area needs good neighbors. That’s what we’re going to be.”
Thompson says the CSC is already using the new space for rehearsals. The company, which is now in its eleventh year of operation, is currently rehearsing a telling of The Two Gentlemen of Verona which will open in February at The Other Barn in Columbia, Md. Summer productions of Antony and Cleopatra and Taming of the Shrew will be performed at the company’s outdoor home at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City, Md.
Lady Macbeth (Managing Director Lesley Malin) stopped wire brushing brick walls long enough to tell the Baltimore Post-Examiner that the company hopes to host educational programs throughout the year. Part of that endeavor will be to put on a production of Romeo and Juliet each spring.
“Romeo and Juliet is in just about every curriculum, so it’s a natural to produce the play for local school groups.”
Malin also stressed what she sees as the importance of introducing children to the works of the Bard. To that end, not only will the company offer free admission for children but a space in the old vault will be set up for parents to take fidgety young ones. “It will be like a family room in church where parents can take their restless children so they won’t disturb other patrons but can still watch the play on closed circuit tv.
In addition to having an educational outreach to area youth, the company also plans on hosting international arts events and related festivals that will bring not only theater but other arts groups to Baltimore.
Scott Helm, a trustee for the company and the capital campaign chair is excited about the potential of the new space, noting that the interior’s fluted Corinthian columns and existing balcony lends itself to such productions as Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet.
The theater is scheduled to open in 2014, after the proposed six million dollar acquisition and renovation project has been completed. Once done, the theater will seat about 250 people, making it one of the larger theatrical venues in Baltimore City. Helm says the company hopes to draw upward of 20,000 people a year. For those anxious to get a peek at the work in progress, an open house for the public is scheduled for February 24th.
To some, setting a goal for an April 2014 opening may seem like an ambitious undertaking, but not to this reporter. Not with Bottom repairing the bathroom fixtures and Hamlet hanging the doors.
(Feature photo by Justus Heger)