A change of scenery

November 19, 2006

If Cleveland can have a theater district, there's no reason Baltimore can't. Cleveland's Playhouse Square features an astonishing collection for a city of 478,000 - the restored Ohio, State, Allen, Palace and Hanna theaters, all clustered along Euclid Avenue. They were once movie houses or vaudeville stages or both; four of them went dark in the dismal days of urban decline. Now, through a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people, they've gone legit in a magnificent way, and the people of Northeast Ohio are the beneficiaries of it.

This is why the news that the Everyman will be moving into the old Town Theatre on Fayette Street, just across Eutaw from the Hippodrome, is so welcome. Baltimore, like Cleveland, had a theater district, and there's nothing like an old theater if you're looking to find somewhere to put a new theater. The west side was about as dead as it could be 10 or 15 years ago, which may have stayed the wrecking ball. Its rebirth has been an eye-opener and a testament to those who believed in the possibilities - restaurants, apartments, offices. To the Hippodrome now add the Everyman - and there should be more where that came from.

The announcement of the Everyman move, which could come as soon as 2009, reinforces the imperative to get moving on the so-called superblock on the other side of Fayette. This development project has been spinning its wheels for long enough, and it has become a drag on the whole district and a formidable barrier to the rest of downtown.

The Everyman, founded in 1990, was instrumental in breathing life into the now vibrant section of North Charles Street between Penn Station and North Avenue. But the theater is bursting at the seams, with no rehearsal space or costume or scenery shops; it has to move, driven by its own success. The Town offers the opportunity someday to have two performing spaces, which Vincent M. Lancisi, the Everyman's founder and artistic director, says would make it possible to put a resident company on salary.

As for Charles Street? It can probably take care of itself.

The movie theater and restaurants and bars are bustling, so much so that there's likely to be a strong demand for the Everyman space. Anything that attracts foot traffic would be a good choice - and won't be hard to find. Success feeds on itself.

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