Maryland's Olney Theatre Center begins its fourth annual Free Summer Shakespeare Festival July 14, but that's not the biggest news. The theatre has just received roughly half the funding needed to start Phase I of its three-part renovation and expansion plan.
Governor Parris N. Glendening approved a $1.975 million grant for the company in the `99 budget, with the City Council kicking in another million. Where will the money go? Olney will build a $4 million, 450 seat, state-of-the-art theatre before the year 2,000. Also, the Center hopes to spend a further $1.5 million to renovate its existing theatre, not to mention keep up the landscaping and operations of its 12-acre grounds. The Robert Lamb Hart architectural firm will helm the project, which will include "a tree-filled, plaza-like setting" connecting all the Olney Center's buildings.
Later in the season, the Olney will announce plans for a capital campaign to add "private and public sector support for the project."
Reached July 13, spokesperson Amy K. Harbison told Playbill On-Line, "We need another million for phase one of our goal, so in the fall we'll hire someone to handle the capital campaign. It's a $14 million project in total, but the primary goal is doing that state-of-the-art mainstage. At that point, our current stage will house musical theatre and alternative theatre, as well as dance."
Continued Harbison, "We also hope to build a 150-seat black box theatre for rehearsal and educational uses, as well as for our "Potomac Theatre Project" of experimental work. So by the end of Phase I we should have three performance spaces available for use, instead of using one space for a dozen different projects, as we're doing now." As for this season's Summer Shakespeare Festival (July 14-26), artistic director Jim Petosa will stage a 1950s version of the Bard's A Comedy of Errors, featuring members of the Olney Center's touring company. Designing the show is Daniel Conway.
For information on A Comedy of Errors and other events at the Olney Theatre Center, call (301) 924-3400.
-- By David Lefkowitz