The woman who brings a county many an enchanted evening

March 05, 1995|By Charlotte Sommers | Charlotte Sommers,Special to The Sun

For more than 20 years, Marie Hopkins has lured acclaimed professional companies and international artists to Harford County.

As cultural arts coordinator for Harford Community College's Special Events Series, Ms. Hopkins has fostered a tradition of high-quality music, theater and dance, including performances by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the National Shakespeare Company.

Audiences at HCC's Special Events Series have also seen Chinese acrobats; Spanish dancers; the National Theater of the Deaf; a colorful assortment of puppets, magicians and clowns; and a dancing dog named Spark Plug.

"If only people knew how much they owe to marvelous, modest Marie," said Rosa Crocker, artists liaison with the School Concerts Committee, a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides lists of performers to Harford County schools. "She's meticulous, knowledgeable and dependable."

Most shows are presented at the 350-seat Chesapeake Theater on the HCC campus. Those requiring more seating and stage space are presented in the Havre de Grace High School auditorium.

The person who books these performances is a soft-spoken DTC woman with gray hair and a British accent.

In a recent interview at her tiny office on the HCC campus, Ms. Hopkins talked about the evolution of the Special Arts Series and the role she has played. "It's been a privilege to work in the arts all these years," she said, as she recounted the twists of fate that led her to Harford County.

Ms. Hopkins had a high-powered job with IBM in London when she met Jim Hopkins, a HCC drama professor who was visiting England with a group of students. They married and moved to the United States in 1973. She began her HCC career as a secretary, and was given the task of bringing musical groups to the campus.

"The first performing group Marie booked was a woodwind quintet," recalled Ms. Crocker. "And, including the five musicians, I think there was an audience of 25."

Ms. Hopkins persevered, and was later appointed cultural arts coordinator by HCC President Alfred O'Connell. Last season, more than 26,000 tickets were sold to HCC cultural events.

"The Special Events Series has been tremendously important to the community," said Jerry Ryan, vice president of marketing, planning and development at HCC. "It's made the college the center of fine arts in the county."

"It's all because of Marie, her energy and vision," Dr. Ryan said. She does it all -- the booking, the money, the marketing. She's phenomenal."

Ms. Hopkins works with a modest budget and relies on grants from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Harford County Cultural Advisory Board. Asked how she manages to lure such prestigious companies to Harford County, she said, "The great thing we have is our theater. Performers find it exciting to work in such an intimate setting."

"Because of the continuity of the series, we've built up connections. The season evolves, really, it's an ongoing process."

Providing high-quality family programs has become a priority for Ms. Hopkins.

"When I see the mothers rushing in to a children's matinee with their kids, they look so tense and frazzled," Ms. Hopkins said. "They sit down and enjoy the performance, and when they come out, it's amazing! They're smiling, they're talking to each other, they look like different people. That's what the arts can do."

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