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Chesapeake Shakespeare Co. raises curtain on renovations

Chesapeake Shakespeare Co.

Alicia Stanley, left and Lauren Henkel greeted guests while wearing period dress during the groundbreaking for the new downtown stage for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Co. in the old Mercantile Bank Building. (Melody Simmons/The Daily Record)

“All’s well that ends well!” shouted a crowd of nearly 150 as the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company kicked off renovations of the historic Mercantile Trust and Deposit Co. building at Calvert and Redwood streets Tuesday morning.

The title of the comedy by William Shakespeare was bellowed as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake swung a sledgehammer to help break apart a former disc jockey booth in the bank building-turned-nightclub.

The $6.5 million redevelopment of the landmark that survived the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 is expected to be completed in late 2014. Soon, the former bank lobby and dance floor will become an open theater space with two balconies, in a design by local architects at Cho Benn Holback & Associates, to be a modern version of the famous Globe Theatre in London.

The downtown theater will hold 250 seats flanking a central stage as well as two balconies to be used for dozens of performances of “Romeo and Juliet” planned for each spring so area teens who are studying the Bard in school can experience the classic drama on field trips.

Chesapeake Shakespeare Co.“Today is the day we convert ideas into action,” said Ian Gallanar, the founding artistic director of the company, now based in Ellicott City and in the middle of an outdoor summer run of “Taming of the Shrew” at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park.

Gallanar said the company is in the middle of a capital campaign for the downtown theater and has raised nearly $4 million.

“We start building a cultural center for the entire region that will endure for a long time to come,” he said.

Officials of the city’s other theaters, CenterStage, Everyman Theatre and The Hippodrome attended the celebration in support, as did officials of some of the Chesapeake Shakespeare funders, the Abell Foundation and PNC Bank.