$35 million given to Arena Stage

theater column

December 07, 2006|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,sun theater critic

A physicist and an astronomer now retired from the Goddard Space Flight Center have donated nearly $35 million to Washington's Arena Stage in support of a $120 million arts complex, which will be named in their honor.

Gilbert and Jaylee Mead's gift is the most substantial ever made to a regional theater in this country, according to Arena, which made the announcement at a news conference yesterday.

Anticipated to open three seasons from now, the three-theater campus will be called Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.

Yesterday's announcement also included the news that the theater has raised more than $100 million, or 85 percent of its campaign, which was begun in 2002. More than $23 million of that amount was contributed by the theater's trustees.

The planned complex was unveiled three years ago and will be designed by the Canadian firm of Bing Thom Architects. It will include artists' apartments, rehearsal rooms, design shops and offices, along with the 650-seat, in-the-round Fichandler Stage; the 514-seat semi-thrust Kreeger; and a new 200-seat, flexible black box theater called the Cradle. Groundbreaking is expected to begin within 12 to 24 months.

The campus will remain at Arena's Southwest Washington location, where it is expected to be the first significant project in an improvement effort that will also include a new stadium for the Washington Nationals.

The Meads, who are major donors to theaters and arts centers throughout the Washington area, began subscribing to Arena in 1977 and became board members in 1991. Last year they offered the theater a challenge grant of $20 million, to be matched within a year. Gilbert Mead is the grandson of the co-founder of Consolidated Papers in Wisconsin.

Moore joins `Chicago'

Tony Award-winner Melba Moore will play prison matron "Mama" Morton when Kander and Ebb's Chicago comes to the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St., Jan. 2-7. Moore made her Broadway debut in a small role in Hair and subsequently took over the part played by Diane Keaton, becoming the first African-American to replace a white actress in a starring Broadway role. In 1970 she received a Tony Award for her supporting role in Purlie. Her most recent Broadway role was that of Fantine in Les Miserables.

Moore last appeared in Baltimore in April at the Lyric Opera House in the civil rights musical If This Hat Could Talk.

Tickets to Chicago, which stars Michelle DeJean as Roxie Hart and Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly, cost $27-$65. Call 410-547-SEAT or visit BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com/Baltimore.

`Citizen Josh'

"Go out and foment democracy!" That will be the rallying cry of Josh Kornbluth's latest work-in-progress, Citizen Josh, at the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., at 8 p.m. Monday. Kornbluth, who performed Ben Franklin: Unplugged at the Theatre Project in 2003, is developing his new work in conjunction with Democracy Matters, a national student organization that focuses on campaign reform.

Citizen Josh examines, among other things, the nature of democracy and how Kornbluth's offbeat upbringing influenced his efforts to be a responsible adult. The show is being workshopped at theaters and Democracy Matters chapters across the country before a premiere at San Francisco's Magic Theater in May.

Tickets to Citizen Josh are $15. A discussion with Kornbluth will follow the performance.

In other Theatre Project news, producing director Anne Cantler Fulwiler has announced that the eighth and final show in the 2006-2007 subscription series will be the world premiere of The 761's: Men of War, a play about the World War II African-American tank battalion, scheduled for June 28-July 8. Written by Al Letson - author of last season's Julius X - The 761's will be cast locally. For more information about Citizen Josh or The 761's, call 410-752-8558.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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