CALL TO ACTION – August 22, 2020 – Building a Dance Incubator in Baltimore

Bottom Line Up Front

Please attend and represent dance as interested stakeholders, so your needs as dancers are fully integrated into the design process for the future development of the Lord Baltimore Theater in southwest Baltimore.

Who:  You! (and your dance friends)
What:  A “charette” (a “final” community engagement meeting) with Southwest Partnership ( https://southwestpartnershipbaltimore.org/ )
Where:  In person (place to be determined) and on Zoom.
Why:  To make a place for dance in the Baltimore region.
When:  August 22, 2020.  11am (please be early) to 1pm (theoretically).
How:  Register here https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSceuG1FqjApa-IRs3rv49A8402m5hHKiJmVNd6JxzuJ_V-Bxg/viewform?vc=0&c=0&w=1

Please be prepared to:

a) Demonstrate that the Baltimore regional dance community is a large, active, and engaged group of stakeholders in this specific project.  The Lord Baltimore Theater is (as far as I’m aware) the first large dance-specific construction opportunity since UMBC’s Performing Arts & Humanities Building in 2014, and the only one intentionally and specifically available to every dancer in the region as a production and development resource.

b) Request (and validate) the use of the entire building as a dance-focused incubator.  This means things like sprung floors and safe dance surfaces, so you don’t have to bring those yourself (or do without).  This means that the auxiliary spaces are dance-oriented (dance studios and production suites), not generic (boardrooms and conference rooms).  This doesn’t mean dance-exclusive (it’s wonderful to have a spoken-word artist on the stage, and multi-disciplinary collaborations are awesome), but to create a space DESIGNED FOR DANCE.

c) Guide the design team and Southwest Partnership (SWP) as they finalize their plans to redevelop the building.  Suggest modifications, upgrades, and features that would make your use of the space more cost-effective, convenient, or dance-friendly.

d) Offer your suggestions about using dance and this space-for-dance as a community resource.  Think about how you can engage the people in the immediate neighborhood, how dance can change lives.  Share those visions.

Call to Action

The Lord Baltimore Theater WILL be developed in the coming years.  The next step in that effort is an August 22 “charette” (effectively a community engagement meeting) organized by Southwest Partnership (the building owner).  The engaged presence of a large number of dancers is critical to delivering what YOU need from this project.  I believe the Lord Baltimore Theater will make an excellent place to develop and share Baltimore’s dance. Please help me make that happen:

  •  Talk to me before August 22… talk to me about….
    •  How you would use the space;
    • What features you think are most important;
    • What are your critical price-points;
    • Share your vision of dance as a positive way to engage the community; and
    • Whatever else you think I should know about your vision of this space.
  • Register to participate in the charette ( https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSceuG1FqjApa-IRs3rv49A8402m5hHKiJmVNd6JxzuJ_V-Bxg/viewform?vc=0&c=0&w=1 ) as soon as possible.
  • Share this registration link (and this message…) with your dance network.
  • Make sure you’ve completed the Baltimore Regional Dance Survey ( https://inthedancersstudio.com/brds2020 ) this year.
  • Attend the event, either in person or virtually (via Zoom).
  • Advocate for YOUR needs as dancers (and friends of dance) during the event.
  • Read on for more details about the vision, the space, and more…

The Vision

After much effort, I believe this is a solid plan for developing the Lord Baltimore Theater as a regional (and hopefully super-regional) dance incubator, development center, and performance space.  This plan includes:

  • An approximately 175-seat theater with a highly-raked seating configuration;
  • A 30Dx40W foot permanent sprung floor performance area;
  • Large clear wings (10-15 feet);
  • A flyhouse providing full-stage masking and rigging options; and
  • A complete array of sound, lighting, projection, and technical equipment (including, I hope, motion capture).

For those of you familiar with regional theater spaces, this is similar to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Dance Theatre (College Park) seating configuration (see http://theatreprojects.com/files/projects/university-of-maryland-clarice-smith-performing-arts-center-06.jpg ), facing the Towson Stephens Hall Theater stage (see https://balletchesapeake.org/nutcracker for clips from a Stephens Hall Nutcracker and the @danceatccbc Instagram from about 8 months ago for some behind-the-scenes photos).  Production support features include:

  • Dressing rooms (immediately below the stage);
  • A Costume Lab with on-site laundry;
  • Stage-level quick change areas on each side of the stage;
  • Stage-level crossover; and
  • Sound-isolated review suites for reviewers (including live streaming) and/or audio description of performances.

A theater at this capacity (less than 200 seats) fills an immediate need for dance-development space in the region.  This is small enough that dance companies and choreographers can afford to be in the space without the expectation of selling many hundreds to thousands of tickets, but still large enough to have a meaningful audience experience to help develop their work.  When you “graduate” from this space, there are several mid-capacity (500-1000 seat) theater spaces available in the region, and the work developed here doesn’t need significant re-work to translate to the larger-capacity venues.  In addition to the centerpiece performance space, the incubator concept also provides:

  • Two large (1200 sq ft) and two small (600 sq ft) dance studios;
  • A 1000 sq ft reception/gallery/open studio space;
  • Large public restrooms;
  • A coffee shop/cafe;
  • A large dancer lounge/common area;
  • A retail/community engagement space;
  • Several production suites for video recording/broadcast/streaming and sound recording/mastering;
  • Office/desk space for resident companies and dance support businesses.
  • Shower/changing rooms; and
  • Individual lockers.

These features, combined, represent a world-class dance development machine capable of engaging the local neighborhood, the Baltimore region’s broader dance community, and even reaching beyond the region as a place to come to develop dance performance for the stage.

The availability of multiple studios, and a casual, inviting common space bridges gaps between dance companies and schools in the region.  Bringing dancers of all kinds into the same space presents a great opportunity for engagement and innovation.  This may, in time, serve as an anchor institution for a dance complex, with dancer-oriented housing, businesses, and other performance and studio spaces in the immediate neighborhood.

The Space

The building is roughly 125 feet deep and 80 feet wide, and largely windowless.  The south side of the building has three one-story spaces (the original theater lobby and two retail additions) about 30 feet deep.  The existing seating area is about 80 feet by 80 feet with a sloped floor (it will be much smaller after development), and on the north side of the building, the theater stage, with an intact flyhouse about 40 by 80 feet.  I must emphasize that I believe this is the last available, vacant, intact, flyhouse in Baltimore, and this is an amazingly valuable asset when it comes to dance development for the traditional stage.  This unique space affords the ability to quickly set and reset the stage space for different dance productions, which makes it possible to do more with the theater.

The Region

The Lord Baltimore Theater is located on the north side of the 1100 block of West Baltimore Street, which is just over one mile from the stadium complex on the south side of Baltimore.  This is about 40 minutes from UMCP, less than 30 minutes from Towson University and Goucher, less than 15 minutes from UMBC, and about 10 minutes from both Peabody and Coppin.  Roughly 500,000 people live within 5 miles of the location, just over 1.8 million live within 15 miles.  Transportation is convenient and close – the interstate is 2 miles away; there is a bus route immediately in front of the building; Penn Station (rail and bus connection to New York) is 2.5 miles away; and BWI is just over 10 miles.

This is a neighborhood of schools, with James McHenry Elementary, Francis M. Wood High School, Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy, Franklin Square Elementary, Steuart Hill Academic Academy, and the new Mother Mary Lange Catholic School opening in Fall 2021, among others.  Please think about what dance can do for these students.

This location also has ready access to downtown hotels, low-cost production supplies (Scrap B’more and Second Chance), and tools (Baltimore Tool Bank, Ace Hardware, Grainger Supply), drycleaning (ZIPS), printing (Work Printing and Graphics), medical supplies (Walgreens) all within one mile.

This is in City Council District 9 (John T. Bullock), State Legislative District 40 (Senator Antonio L. Hayes, Delegate Frank M. Conaway, Jr., Delegate Nick J. Mosby, and Delegate Melissa R. Wells), and Congressional District MD-7 (Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Representative Kweisi Mfume).  If you live in these districts, please do let me know.

To the south, Hollins Market.  Dancers need food, and… food is a block away.  The market also has an empty second-floor space roughly 50 x 100 feet, which could be ideal for expanded “satellite” dance space.   A bit further south (past the B&O Railroad Museum), Mobtown Ballroom ( https://mobtownballroom.com/ ) and Suspended Brewing ( https://www.suspendedbrewing.com/ ) for your after-dancing dancing-and-drinking needs.  There’s even a made-in-Baltimore contract clothing manufacturer ( https://www.fashions-unlimited.com ) if that’s something you can use…

To the east, the University of Maryland BioPark, which includes biomedical research, and the Graduate Research Innovation District (GRID), which operates as a health and social impact incubator. Just across Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard, the University of Maryland Baltimore, with schools of medicine, social work, and law.  Also, Lithuanian Hall for your massive hundreds-of-people before- and after-parties.

To the north, an $800 million many-block mixed-use development called Center\West is in progress from La Cite ( http://lacitedevelopment.com/projects/park-square-development/ ).

To the west… Grace Medical Center (with a physical therapy department and a new ER), and west Baltimore… all the way to UMBC (a little less than 6 miles to the southwest…).

Background on the Project

In 1845, this location was the site of the Newton Academy.  In 1894, Professor W. T. Auer acquires the Newton Academy building and remodels it into a dance academy, with a nearly 2000-square-foot main hall and 21-foot ceiling.  The W. T. Auer Dancing Academy suffered a fire in March 1895, but reopens and continues until September, when Professor Auer relocates a bit east to the 700 block of West Baltimore.  After this move, the building is used as an armory for several years, until it becomes the home of the National Temperance Hospital and Maryland Medical College in 1898 (this later evolves into Franklin Square Hospital).  In 1912, Pearce & Scheck Enterprises purchase the lot and announce plans for a 1700-seat vaudeville and moving picture theater (it ends up closer to 1000 seats).  The building is renovated in 1921, and 1932, and 1934, and is home to the Baltimore Film Society in the mid-1960s.  When the theater closes in the early 1970s, the space is occupied by St. Matthews Holiness Church, until it is abandoned.

In April 2019 the Southwest Partnership, a non-profit community development organization, purchased the theater for $1 million. Since then, they’ve spent another $275,000 or more stabilizing and and securing the building.  This process has removed what was the projection house.

In late February, the Southwest Partnership organized a “Visioning Session” for the theater.  About 40 people attended, including Councilman John Bullock (and maybe some of you), and after going through their process, four concepts emerged as the most popular: A “Baltimore Walk of Fame,” a “Rotating Local Makerspace, Gallery, Coffee Shop & Restaurant,” a “Dance Hub & Incubator,” and a “Resource Center for Arts, Tech & Culture.”  This was, at some point, narrowed down to three concepts, described as a “Multipurpose Cultural Arts Center with Community Access,” “Fine Arts Dance Theater,” and “Walk of Fame.”

Of these concepts, the Walk of Fame is entirely exterior to the building and therefore entirely compatible with the building use as a dance incubator (also, Baltimore has a few fame-worthy dancers to add to that project – if you’re into Baltimore dance history, please get involved with that).

A local architectural firm (Two Point Studio) has developed renderings of their concept for the space.  This concept includes a cafe, lobby, a gallery, classroom, conference room, 244-seat theater, resident housing, rehearsal studios, offices, a lounge, board room, meeting room, and office area.

I contend that a focused, specific use for the space (dance) is a much stronger proposal than a “multipurpose arts center.” Baltimore has several “multipurpose arts centers” already (e.g., Creative Alliances’ Patterson, the Downtown Cultural Arts Center [less than 2 miles away], Motorhouse, School 33…), but no theater that is well-equipped to develop dance (unless you’re in a university dance program).

One of the most important opportunities to advance that effort will happen this year (in the middle of an economic crisis and pandemic) on Saturday, August 22, 2020 at 11am (scheduled for about 2 hours).  The Southwest Partnership, owners of the Lord Baltimore Theater, are holding a public-engagement “charette” to solidify their concepts for developing the theater.  I hope all of you will turn out to support the effort, and bring friends, especially if they live or work in Baltimore or (even better) Southwest Baltimore.  That said, stay safe.  The event will be handled online (via Zoom), so please participate in a way that you feel is safe for yourself and those around you.

Some Other Things (A little background and fun)

For news coverage of the project, https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-kelly-column-lord-baltimore-20160805-column.html and https://www.southbmore.com/2019/10/01/southwest-partnership-purchases-lord-baltimore-theatre-looks-to-create-cultural-arts-center/

For a brief description, and a photo of the marquee and sign that the SWP prefers, see the 1100 block section of A Walk Down West Baltimore Street ( https://baltimoretraces.umbc.edu/files/2019/06/WWBS_edits.pdf ).

For an audio introduction to the neighborhood, check out Out of the Blocks, Hollins Market, part 1 ( https://www.wypr.org/post/hollins-market-part-1-i-ve-been-kid ) and part 2 ( https://www.wypr.org/post/hollins-market-part-2-beautiful-side-ugly ).

For some vicarious urban exploration, before it was stabilized and cleaned up a bit, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2myK9E5weU

Southwest Partnership represents seven neighborhoods (Barre Circle (!), Franklin Square, Hollins Roundhouse, Mount Clare, Pigtown, Poppleton, and Union Square).  You can see their Vision Plan here ( https://southwestpartnershipbaltimore.org/about-us/the-plan/ ).

Thanks for your attention, I hope to see you on the 22nd!

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