After all that, founding artistic director Ian Gallanar, in a short-sleeved baseball shirt and flip flops, welcomed the overflow crowd. Then the show itself played out against the backdrop of the CSC’s summertime stage: the stone ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute, a girls’ school built in 1837 just up the hill from Ellicott City’s ultra-quaint historic district.
“Oh! I can’t see!” chirped an ad-libbing actress, squinting into the setting sun as Austen’s marriageable Bennett sisters cheerfully swatted a shuttlecock back and forth.
The CSC’s future, however, lies in a Baltimore nightclub two blocks from the Inner Harbor, where the current aura is a little different. A disco ball looms high above a semi-sticky dance floor. Sultry backlighting illuminates rows of liquor bottles. Downstairs there’s a basement bar called the Bedroom, where patrons can loll (a safe verb) on mattresses within curtained alcoves.
Such adults-only particulars will be stripped away when the CSC takes possession of the building next year, leaving the bare bones of the Mercantile Trust Building. Two stone columns soar upward in the main room, an 1885 bank space that is on the National Register. A mezzanine looks down over what will be a thrust stage, with the audience on three sides. Capacity will be about 250 to 300.
The expansion into Baltimore is a major development for a $540,000-budget troupe that has grown steadily since it opened a decade ago with a “Twelfth Night” that Gallanar says was attended by about 100 people — not per night, but altogether. The move is also part of what is shaping up as a significant shift in Charm City theater, where an indigenous professional scene has yet to flourish. The moment the CSC opens for business, it will be the third largest company in town.
“I think there’s some momentum,” says Gallanar, sitting in a coffee shop with managing director Lesley Malin. “And I think a little bit of that may have to do with an eye or two glancing over to Washington and seeing what’s happened there the last few years, saying maybe we can do that.”
Center Stage has long been the big dog in Baltimore, and the recent appointment of the charismatic British playwright-director Kwame Kwei-Armah as artistic director has plainly energized the community. But the city’s second-most successful troupe, Everyman Theatre, is making huge strides of its own, converting an old burlesque-turned-movie house near Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Hippodrome into a 250-seat theater scheduled to open in January. Gallanar and Malin are quick to credit Everyman founding artistic director Vincent Lancisi for guidance as they searched for their own space downtown.