Baltimore is a great theater town but sometimes you have to leave home to appreciate it. It offers way more access and opportunities than the theater world recognizes.
Last week, I traveled to New York and stayed at a hotel in the East Village across the street from the Village Voice. The hotel had floor-to-ceiling windows which overlooked the street. The incoming students at Cooper Union and NYU were just getting to know the city and each other as they moved through the late summer heat. The mask requirements had been reinstated for indoor spaces, but you could feel the city coming back again and, with it, a flood of joy and happy memories.
One late afternoon a few weeks before the pandemic, after a table read of The Grace of God & The Man Machine, I was drinking with the actors at The Triple Crown at 29th and 7th Avenue, a semi-dive next to The Opera Center offices where the reading had taken place.
I was bellyaching about being a geezer, starting my career as a fledgling writer so late in life. Two beautiful things happed almost simultaneously.
First, several of the actors, who, in some cases were easily half my age, somewhat seriously, told me to “shut up and grow up.” They had no pity for me, they told me unceremoniously. They were trying to make ends meet and support a family as they pursued opportunities in order to learn their craft and develop an acting career. Meanwhile, I was able to write all day and still cry in my beer. Second, they buttressed their argument by reminding me of something I had just told them moments before. I had apologetically said I have had 10 plays performed in the little theaters in Baltimore.
It was all true. I had taken it for granted. Baltimore from top to bottom is an oft-unrecognized theatre town full of opportunity. At the top, The Everyman Theater and Center Stage are nationally recognized and Everyman stands out because it has built a company which supports its actors and offers its audience the chance to get to recognize these actors.
The theaters such as Fells Point Corner, Audrey Hermann Spotlighters, The Vagabonds, Theatrical Mining Company, and others produce monthly shows at reasonable admission prices and offer competitive opportunities for actors, directors, stage designers and techs young and old. For over 25 years, they have sponsored the Baltimore Playwright’s festival, which pays burgeoning playwrights a small stipend and offers new work and summer performances.
But perhaps even more supportive are professional theater critics, such as Judy Rousuck, who have covered the Kennedy Center and the Baltimore regional theaters for years, and have also gone out of their way to cover the little theaters as well, reviewing them in The Baltimore Sun and WYPR radio, the NPR affiliate.
I had never really recognized the greatness of Baltimore theater and how much I had benefited from it until I left home and abruptly recognized the good fortune and education I had received at home.
How odd that the rebirth of New York theater would bring me back to my genesis in Baltimore. I have nothing but love and appreciation for the place and the friends and mentors I have made and found there.