Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
is more than halfway to reaching its capital campaign goal of raising $6 million to fund its move to a new home in downtown Baltimore's Mercantile Trust and Deposit Co. building.
To date, the company has raised about $3.5 million from board members, individuals and foundations to support its move. The nonprofit is on track to begin renovations of its new home within six months and debut productions at the historic property at 200 East Redwood St. in 2014.
The money raised will pay for the purchase and renovation of the building and initial operating expenses. Lesley Malin, managing director, says the campaign is in its “quiet phase.” When it reaches 80 percent of the goal, the company will reach out to the public for contributions although she does not have a timeframe for doing that.
“We’ve already had a couple of open houses for the public
to see the building. We’ve also had wine-and-cheese events” for donors, Malin says. “We like quiet events, like open houses. We will not have a gala to raise money.”
The new home is two blocks from the Inner Harbor and has been the home of several nightclubs. Baltimore architectural firm Cho Benn Holback + Associates Inc. will convert the 14,000-square-foot, circa 1885 building into a 250-seat theater.
The Helm Foundation, whose director Scott Helm is a Chesapeake Shakespeare trustee, bought the building for the company. Other foundation donors are The Abell Foundation, which recently gave $250,000, The France-Merrick Foundation, which gave $200,000 and The William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund, which gave $25,000 for operating expenses.
It could also get some state money. In the current Maryland General Assembly session, companion House and Senate bond bills would provide $500,000 in matching grant money to the company. The bills have yet to be approved.
Until now, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has presented shows in the summer at an outdoor venue in Howard County's Ellicott City. The acquisition of the Baltimore theater allows the company to expand its season and its audience. In its new home, Chesapeake will present four to five productions as well as an annual Charles Dickens-inspired Christmas show while continuing its summer shows in Ellicott City.
Malin says she is in talks with the Baltimore City Public School system to offer every student the opportunity to see live theater, including an annual spring production of “Romeo and Juliet” especially for students.
Malin is also talking with the Baltimore School for the Arts, a public high school within walking distance of the theater, about “some kind of partnership,” she says. “Different things are on the table.”
“We are not just opening a theater but saving a beloved architectural landmark and an anchor in a troubled venue,” she says of the company’s new home. “We will serve as a cultural center for the neighborhood. It’s another reason to move and live downtown.”
Source: Lesley Malin, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
Writer: Barbara Pash