The Mercantile Bank Building sits on the corner of Calvert and Redwood, a couple of blocks from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Its stone walls enclose 20,000 square feet of space and 60-foot ceilings. When Ian Gallanar went to scout the location, its structure reminded him of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.
The building is occupied by the Dubai Night Club, but in January a new tenant will be moving in: The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, which Gallanar founded in 2002.
The Maryland-based company has primarily been using outdoor performance spaces, such as PFI Historic Park in Ellicott City. For indoor productions, Gallanar said, the troop uses “small, wherever-we-could-find-them spaces,” including Oliver’s Carriage House in Columbia and the Block Box Theatre at the Howard County Center for the Arts. About four years ago, he said, CSC considered the growth of the company and determined “the logical way to expand” was to set up shop in a building permanently.
The search for a new home began in Howard County, but zoning restrictions and the lack of available structures meant the company would probably have had to buy land and build from scratch. CSC broadened its scope to Baltimore County, whose residents make up about one-third of the CSC audience, according to Gallanar.
A nonprofit family foundation that shares a member with CSC’s board paid the $1.25 million for CSC to acquire the building. There’s still work to do to “convert it into a theater space,” said Gallanar. Construction is scheduled to begin when the current tenant vacates in January. Gallanar anticipates it will take about a year to complete the transformation. “We’re hoping to program there in early 2014.”
CSC will continue to hold outdoor performances in Howard County while developing another community in Baltimore. CSC’s offices will relocate to Baltimore from Ellicott City once the renovations are complete.
Gallanar said the reaction from CSC regulars has been positive. “We’ve tried our best to reassure [Ellicott City patrons] that it’s important to us to keep our presence there . . . and they felt reassured.” Far from feeling abandoned, said Gallanar, “I think the folks in Howard County see it as a local company making good.”
In Theater Alliance’s world-premiere production “Hum,” an incessant humming sound fills the world, rendering verbal communication impossible. That is, until an outsider arrives and makes the humming stop, forcing married couple Van and Eva to learn how to talk to each other without the cardboard signs they’ve been scribbling all their lives.
The hum “is a drumming, didgeridoo sound,” said Artistic Director Colin Hovde, who is co- directing the show with Nathaniel Mendez. “It’s like a heartbeat that has feedback.”
In addition to being a literal hum, “it’s allegorical,” said Hovde. “It could be any number of things: the socioeconomic structure within which we live, [it] could be money, it could be technology, but it could also be the mind chatter that goes on in people’s heads.”
“The hum can be described as monolithic or draconian,” said playwright Nicholas Wardigo. “It’s also very comforting.” Wardigo intended the hum “to be metaphorical of Facebook and texting and cellphones and all of that” but said it could just as easily symbolize “something like communism or religion or government, other deeper, larger ideas.”
Spoiler alert: “We won’t really define what the hum is,” said Hovde.
The power of the hum, Hovde said, is the way in which it unites the actors and the audience in a common conundrum: No one can escape it. “There’s a completely shared experience between audience and performer,” he said. “You can literally feel this hum, and it’s the same hum that those actors are feeling. When it stops, you’re experiencing the same thing that they’re experiencing.”
You can feel the hum? As in, through the floor?
“Oh, yes,” said Hovde. “It’s really strong. But you get used to it.”
Through June 2, the H Street Playhouse, 1365 H St. NE, www. theateralliance.com, 202-241-2539.
For Factory 449’s fourth production, company members Rick Hammerly (currently performing in “1776” at Ford’s Theatre) and Lisa Hodsoll wanted to produce an original work. They’d just done two back-to-back world premieres and were ready to write something all their own.
“We were thinking of a horror story,” said Hodsoll. “A ghost story.”
They looked at the stories of Ambrose Bierce, author of “The Devil’s Dictionary.” In hindsight, though, it’s clear that Bierce was just a stop on the horror trail en route to the inevitable: Edgar Allan Poe.
“I came across ‘The Cask of Amontillado,’ which I remember scared the bejesus out of me as a kid because somebody got buried alive inside a wall when he was drunk,” said Hammerly, in what actually constitutes a pretty perfect summation of Poe’s short story.
“I thought: Maybe this is the kernel of something,” said Hammerly. “Being buried alive, that’s one of the horrors that’s been around for an eternity and will always be around. It’s a terrifying thing. How do we bring that into 2012?”
This was an easy question to answer, said Hammerly, because, “fortunately I’m also a ‘Criminal Minds’ addict.”
His predilection for police procedurals about violent crime led him to ask, “What if somebody is entombed and kept prisoner in something the size of a coffin?”
The result of that thought experiment is “The Ice Child,” written by Hodsoll, Hammerly and Hunter Styles, who is also directing the show. Catherine, the titular ice child, is abducted and kept in a freezer chest in someone’s basement.
Hammerly was inspired by his recent move to a new apartment. “I started thinking about how I say hi to the people who live on either side of me every day, but I have no idea who they are. . . . You never really know what’s going on in the basement of the place next door.”
The show uses video and has no traditional blocking, said Hodsoll. “The actors are talking to each other, but they’re never actually facing each other,” she explained. “It speaks to the distance and alienation between people.”
May 18-June 3, Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW, www.factory449.org , 202-302-4991.