Interest piqued in use of theater

Groups suggest recitals, lessons, movies to use new Arts Council space

April 21, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

The future of the Carroll County Arts Council's new home rests in part with the community organizations that will regularly rent out the refurbished Carroll Theater for auditions, lectures, performances, exhibitions and classes.

To gauge the extent of participation among those groups -- and who is willing to pay to use the new multipurpose arts center in Westminster after it's completed early next year -- the arts council has held a series of public forums.

"Getting the building open is only half of the battle," said Sandy Oxx, arts council executive director. "Getting the community to come here is the other half. We will bring in some acts, but we'd rather it swing the other way -- that the community use it for their needs."

After two forums this month, it's clear community groups have a lot of interest in using the theater, Oxx said. There also is an overwhelming desire to make the art deco theater the epicenter of culture in the county.

Chamber music and modern dance recitals, plays and auditions were among the ideas bandied about.

Some groups suggested workshops and instrument lessons. Only one suggestion could be problematic: movies. Showing films once a month could cost the arts council as much as $100,000 because of equipment and rights fees, Oxx said.

The renovated 1937 building will include a 264-seat theater, along with a gallery, classrooms and offices.

Construction on the nearly $1 million project is expected to be completed by December. A grand opening isn't expected until February, after the necessary equipment -- lights and sound -- has been purchased to allow for performances.

When completed, the theater will greatly increase the arts council's space. Currently, its basement gallery at the Winchester Exchange encompasses 610 square feet. The theater will have 1,202 square feet.

Classroom size will triple, with two 453-square-foot classrooms and another at 877 square feet. The Winchester Exchange classroom is 440 square feet. At the theater, the stage will measure 877 square feet, and the backstage area, which will include storage for a Steinway piano and a small powder room, will be 572 square feet.

Many of the 20 residents who attended each forum were receptive to using the center at all hours and expressed support for lunchtime concerts. They also were open to showing up at other times for rehearsals and auditions.

Walt Michael, executive director of Common Ground on the Hill, a music and arts organization at Western Maryland College, suggested that groups be flexible in scheduling events and not focus only on holidays.

"We should be thinking outside the box," he said. "To have a well-rounded artistic community, we need to think of having events year-round."

The challenge of filling the space lies with its limitations as a renovated historic building. Large groups, for example, might not be able to use the small space. The use of microphones and other equipment might be limited as well.

"Much of the funding we got wouldn't have been possible if we started from scratch," said Oxx. "We have to be flexible with this acoustic environment to accommodate the various art forms. We're trying to please you all, but we'll have to have some compromise."

Each group present at the forums -- from the Old Line Statesmen Barbershop Quartet to the Children's Chorus of Carroll County to the Westminster Ringers bell choir -- had different requirements to make its performance and practice space work.

Acoustics was a concern for nearly everybody. Dramatic plays differ from classical music recitals, film and dance. The venues for such performances now are Alumni and McDaniel halls at WMC, Westminster High School and local churches.

"WMC doesn't have the ideal recital hall for chamber music, and Alumni Hall is usually filled up ahead of time," said David Kreider, head of the chamber music department at WMC.

The Carroll Theater would be ideal for chamber music. "I'm hoping the acoustics work out," he said.

Oxx appreciated the conditional endorsement from Kreider. "There's so many things we've had to compromise, so I'm glad to hear we're ideal on a few things," she said.

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