(From left) Single Carrot Theatre interim Artistic Director… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
Single Carrot Theatre, the zesty venture by a bunch of buddies from the University of Colorado who decided to cultivate a company in Baltimore, now has something it has long desired — a permanent roof over its head.
This week's inauguration of a spiffy venue at the corner of North Howard and 26th streets in the metamorphosing Remington neighborhood marks a milestone and fresh opportunity for the troupe, devoted to cutting-edge repertoire.
"It feels like the first six years were one chapter and this is a new chapter," says Genevieve de Mahy, a founding member of Single Carrot. "It's like we've grown up and gone off to college."
There's a grown-up budget to go with the change — $345,000, almost $100,000 more than last season and more than eight times the budget in the company's early years. There's a big new capital campaign, too, already halfway toward reaching its goal of raising $400,000 by the end of 2014.
All of this represents a long journey in the course of just seven years.
Single Carrot roamed from performance space to performance space in its first months before settling down at Load of Fun, an artist-filled spot on North Avenue. It was far from luxurious, but it worked — until the place was suddenly shut down in 2012 for building code violations.
Then it was back to roaming, first to a hall at Maryland Institute College of Art, then the former site of Everyman Theatre on North Charles Street, where the ensemble was based until December.
Along the way, Single Carrot got wind of a $3.8 million renovation project by the Seawall Development Co. to convert an auto repair and tire shop at 2600 N. Howard St.
The theater company signed on as a tenant in the complex, which also houses Young Audiences Maryland (a six-decade-old nonprofit that facilitates arts education programs) and will be the future home of Parts and Labor, a butcher shop-restaurant planned by restaurateur Spike Gjerde.
The Single Carrot portion of the building is about 6,000 square feet, twice what the company had at Load of Fun. The theater can accommodate an audience of 99 (65 was the maximum at Load of Fun). There's also a separate rehearsal hall-classroom just off the lobby that can also be used as an intimate black-box performance space.
With high ceilings, exposed brick walls and hardwood floors, the overall ambience is decidedly inviting.
"Every time I walk in, I'm amazed," says de Mahy, 30. "I'm loving it. On Aug. 20, the floor was just rubble. You blinked, and there were walls and windows."
And lighting and rigging systems, sufficient restrooms, a green room (the traditional lounge for performers), and office space on the second floor. Not to mention temperature control, kitchen, washing machine and more comforts of home.
No wonder company members seem to have bigger smiles and brisker walks these days. Single Carrot is clearly on the move.
"It would be a very different story if we had been thrilled with being a $40,000 organization," says managing director Elliott Rauh. "But when the idea of Single Carrot started in a classroom in Boulder, Colo., we all had a desire to be something larger down the road. And at a retreat in the fall of 2009, we said we'd have a $500,000 budget by 2015. I don't think we'll actually end up there, but we love to make great leaps."
Rauh, a founding member who has acted in several Single Carrot productions over the years, is one of four full-time administrative employees; two production personnel account for another full-time equivalent position.
"Adding staff and getting paid real salaries is a big change for us," Rauh, 30, says. "One reason we were able to grow is because we hired our first full-time development director, a major cultural shift for us. Genevieve had been doing it part time, but she was also acting and directing."
For a company that started out very do-it-yourself, Single Carrot looks and acts more professional than ever. The new development director, Batya Feldman, worked at Center Stage and Everyman.
Among recent additions to the resident company are Paul Diem, who studied at Towson University and is acting chair of the theater department at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology, and actor-playwright Alix Fenhagen, who arrived with experience at New York's Subjective Theatre Company.
Several of the original "Carrots" left over the years, some to start or join other theatrical ventures in the area and abroad; one was offered the job of running the drama program at his old high school.
Although Single Carrot is not an Equity company, which would require actors to be paid according to union guidelines, there is some money for performers, more than there used to be.
"The first payment was $5," Rauh says. "Everyone donated it back to the company. Now it is $200 per production. And there is another $100 to $160 for educational programs we do."