Off-Broadway in Columbia Rouse Theatre: New venue is a work of art by business, government and nonprofits.

February 21, 1997

ONE WOULD EXAGGERATE only slightly, if at all, by concluding that the Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts was a stroke of genius. How else would you describe the act of creating the equivalent of a $10 million theater at one-tenth the cost? In an era when it takes considerable innovation to supplement scarce federal arts funds, business, nonprofits and government in Howard County can take a curtain call for their fiscal performance.

Contributions totaling $1.2 million paid for enhancements to the new Wilde Lake High building to construct a unique venue that is becoming a national model. For years to come, the facility will benefit local groups and Wilde Lake's outstanding performing arts programs.

The nonprofit Howard County Arts Council worked brilliantly with other sectors of the community to create a 750-seat theater at Wilde Lake High. "It's rare that you see the government, the not-for-profit agencies and the business community coming together -- and we had all three," observed Sandra Trice Gray, the former vice president of the arts council.

The official opening is tomorrow, with a fund-raising event that will feature the Columbia Pro Cantare, the New York dance company MOMIX and two Wilde Lake alumni, Broadway's Betsy True and Oscar nominee Edward Norton. But current Wilde Lake students broke in the facility last November in a triumphant production of "The Man Who Came to Dinner."

Mary Toth, the arts council's executive director, points out that the theater is not the perfect solution to the group's needs: Squabbles between the council and school are inevitable, but this is a minor imperfection. The architectural firm Cochran Stephenson & Donkervoet designed the building, creating a 40-by-48-foot stage that is the county's largest indoors. Two-thirds of the seats are on ground level and the other 250 are in the balcony. Every theatergoer is within close range of the stage. The theater has its own image, and patrons are so far from the gymnasium and cafeteria that unwelcome smells will not reach them.

Tomorrow night, there will be reason to cheer even before any performer dances, sings or recites. The act of creating a good community theater at such a modest cost deserves a standing ovation.

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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