Celebrating their first year at the Chesapeake Center

After getting through a few growing pains, arts facility is a hit

January 24, 2002|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As the Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts prepares to celebrate its first anniversary, everyone who helped bring the project to life in Brooklyn Park should take pride in a year of outstanding and innovative performances, even as they look to work out a few bugs and increase attendance.

The organization will mark its first year with a gala dinner Saturday at the hall. And while some say any state-of-the-art facility goes through a learning period as theater groups get used to working with technical staff, it is clear that the center, at the site of the old Brooklyn Park Middle School, has already succeeded on an artistic level.

"The center presents so many opportunities for art in this area that I am excited about the possibilities," said Eloise Vaughan, a member of the CCCA board of directors and founder of Performing Arts Association of Linthicum. "To think that so much has been accomplished in such a short time is nothing less than a miracle."

In the mid-1990s, Del. Joan Cadden, a District 31 Democrat, opposed the county's plan to demolish the middle school building, which had fallen into disrepair. Cadden, who envisioned salvaging the site to create an arts center, enlisted the help of a trio who continue to serve on CCCA's board today: Brooklyn Park activist Ned Carey, president of the CCCA board; art teacher Bob Nichols, board vice president; and Vaughan. Cadden later persuaded recently retired English and drama teacher Wayne Shipley to design a plan to restore the old middle school auditorium into a theater and to preside over the $35 million renovation project.

The result was a 58,000-square-foot arts center housing a 900-seat theater and another smaller theater, dance studios and classrooms. The center opened in January last year with a weeklong celebration.

Shipley, the center's executive director, practically lived at Chesapeake Center during its renovation and for most of the past year, overseeing many of its 230 events. But the success of these events is not the greatest source of pride to Shipley, who says, "I'm especially proud of our membership totals, with Chesapeake having 962 charter members and a total membership of nearly 1400."

Shipley also remains hopeful about instituting a "guild system," where, he said, "all the resident theater companies can benefit in building something new together."

A number of theater companies are on board at the Chesapeake Center, including Actors Company Theatre, Do or Die Productions, Merely Players, Musical Artists Theatre, Pasadena Theatre Company, Performance Workshop Theatre and Second Stage Playhouse Inc. Each has contributed to CCCA's first successful season.

The first year featured memorable performances. Annapolis Chorale's lavish production of Die Fledermaus capped the opening festivities last January, playing to a near-capacity audience despite a snowstorm that evening. In March, Pasadena Theatre Company, CCCA's first resident theater group, presented a 45-member cast in Camelot, with PTC music director Eileen Eaton's 14-piece orchestra in a pitlike arrangement between stage wings.

A month later, the main theater's stage was configured to accommodate the Ballet Theatre of Maryland's large Cinderella set, transported from Maryland Hall.

Chesapeake Center presented the premiere performance of Run Past the Sun, an original play by Virginia-based playwright Theodore Groll. Later in the summer, Second Stage presented an excellent cast and outstanding singers in its production of South Pacific.

Local entrepreneur John Tegler brought a number of first-rate shows to CCCA's main theater, featuring clarinetist Dick Johnson with the 16-piece Artie Shaw orchestra, tributes to Bing Crosby and Jack Benny, and the well-attended concert featuring country singer Crystal Gayle.

In September, Three Mo' Tenors opened the Anne Arundel Community Concert Association's 50th anniversary season with a technically complex performance of their smash PBS show. Backstage, the tenors expressed delight with CCCA's facility.

In addition to events in the main theater, a number of successful productions were also offered in the smaller Studio Theater, including C. J. Crowe's Do or Die Mystery Theater productions and Actors Company Theatre's Jake's Women, along with Pasadena Theatre Company's Plaza Suite.

With so many events in the first year, growing pains are almost inevitable. CCCA has had a few such problems that needed to be resolved between theater groups and CCCA technicians who are protective of the center's expensive equipment, according to leaders of several theater groups.

"The first few years of any new state-of-the-art performing arts facility is a period of learning for both the technical staff and the resident user groups," said Garrett Hyde, who served as a sound consultant to a show producer at CCCA.

"The technical staff is developing a feel for the sound equipment and how it responds to the acoustic properties of the room under a wide range of program material," he said.

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