“Beguile the Time: A Benefit” to celebrate Baltimore Shakespeare Factory will be held Saturday, September 21, 2019, from 7-10 PM with an Afterparty from 9pm-12am at 3900 Roland Avenue, Baltimore MD 21211. The proceeds will benefit the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory. It also will be the first public viewing of their new, exciting renovations done by woodwright, Thomas Brown.
The BSF produces five shows a year at the Great Hall at St. Mary’s in Hampden. They also offer educational programs for local students and lectures for all ages. Their unique performances are known for universal lighting, audience interaction, genderless casting which is constant with Elizabethan times. They also stay true to Shakespearean language, sets, costuming and music.
Their new season begins with “Cymbeline” and includes more venerated plays like “Hamlet” and “Romeo and Juliet.”
This is BSF’s description of the Gala,
“Party like it’s 1599! Join fellow Shakespeare fans for an evening of Elizabethan delights. Enjoy themed food and drink, carnivalesque entertainment, and silent auction while celebrating the inauguration of BSF’s one-of-a-kind early modern stage in the heart of Hampden. Guests are encouraged to dress in black tie or their Elizabethan finest.
Entertainment includes: Elizabethan caricatures, intuitive tarot readings, mead tastings by Orchid Cellar Meads, live art carving by Lorraine Imwold, sword swallowing by world record holder Dai Andrew (Kings of Swords), Elizabethan games, a Shakespearean photo booth, a silent auction, open bar, and festival fare by Jay’s Catering. The evening culminates in the inauguration of the stage, with a mead toast provided by Orchid Cellar and the official reveal of the new name (a closely guarded secret!) for the theatre. We’re also gearing up to make some big announcements: BSF’s new mission statement and some exciting plans for our future in Baltimore.
The Afterparty is all bawdy good fun: immersive mischief by Les S. Moore, Comedy Cutpurse, burlesque by the Ambassador of Skin, Cherie Sweetbottom, and Bawdy Trivia with prizes.”
The BSF performs in a historical church with stained glass and tall ceilings. About a year ago Thomas Brown, a local woodwright and Shakespeare buff offered to spruce up the theatre for no charge. He had previously helped to build what was supposed to be a temporary thrust stage. He started with some gold embellishments and then suddenly there were heavens, a thatched roof, reproductions of period art, iron hinges to mirror those in Shakespeare’s home in Warwickshire, Tudor beams that match those in Anne Hathaway’s home in Stratford-on Avon, stone lions, bay windows with leaded glass, backdrops and more. You will have a chance to see his creation at the Gala. However, if you would like to see the pictures of his work go online.
I had a chance to interview Thomas Brown about himself and his work.
Thomas Brown, Baltimore native, owns a woodshop and is responsible for the ongoing improvements to BSF’s stage. He also provides for the Company’s use his early spelling scripts, known as the “Fearelesse Folio Actors’ Editions,” which he developed in conjunction with his friend and mentor Lewis Shaw specifically to facilitate Early Practice and Original Pronunciation productions.
A student of Early American and Renaissance English history, his first woodworking job was an apprenticeship with local craftsman James Cox making renaissance and medieval stringed instruments. Then after switching between seven Majors (one being Theatre) in various colleges all over America he finally completed a degree in Creative Anachronism at Stevenson University. Shortly after marrying his very bright and patient wife Kathleen and settling down in Ruxton, he founded Thomas Brown, Woodwright LLC in 1991. Tom has appeared locally in a few roles with the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival and at Performance Workshop Theatre, and a couple of dinner theatre shows in Napa Valley.
- What made you want to take on these renovations for BSF?
In short, BSF.
Lewis Shaw and I (and a small handful of other local folks) became fascinated by Early Practices and Original Pronunciation some twenty years ago. We put up the bones of the current stage, which was only supposed to be used for “a couple years,” as an attempt to jump-start Early Practices Shakespeare in Baltimore. It failed to do so, pretty much, and we got nowhere advocating for Original Pronunciation. Then the Company using it folded, and the stage was subsequently pilfered and damaged and was never really finished anyway.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, a company focused on Early Practices, that mounts entire productions every year in OP! Literally, a dream resurrected.
My wife and I attended their performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and it struck me hard: these folks were joyfully using our stage in its embarrassingly (to me) ratty condition. In a flash, I realized that I, due to my owning a woodshop that makes historic architectural millwork, could provide these bold and adventurous souls with a magnificent (dare I say ‘world-class?’) stage, building on the original framework. At no cost to the Company! So, we did, in 5 phases, between their productions over 18 months.
In my opinion, BSF has the makings of a nationally-significant Shakespeare company, and it is my hope that the stage we built for them will help them garner the recognition they merit.
- 2. Did you do any research on Elizabethan Theatres before you started?
My only reference book at first was “The Theatre” by H. & R. Leacroft, New York: Roy, 1958. It was a slim textbook from my wife’s first year at College. That’s where I got the idea to develop our stage following the old biological adage “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” In other words, it has elements of the earliest stages which were set up in inn-yards (the back flats are made to look like half-timbered walls with brick noggin that are older than the stage by a century or more), and then the round, open stages like the Swanand the Globe, and, lastly, the later indoor stages like Blackfriars and the Fortune. In our stage, you may find elements of all of them.
Among the relevant passages that guided us were:
“…two large columns supporting a roof covering part of the stage…”
“The ceiling…called the heavens…was brightly painted with the sun, moon and stars.”
“…the use of ladders to reach the balconies. Trap doors…to permit movement beneath.”
“…the open gallery had been re-arranged to include both a gallery and windows.” [ibid, pp. 25-29.]
In scale, it most resembles the private theatres: “small rectangular buildings, perhaps fifty by one hundred feet.” They are described in many places as being “candle-lit.” The book’s only drawings were of the Swan (VanBuchel, after DeWitt), and a modern drawing of the Second Globe, but we took cues from both.
I did research decorative and design elements of the period generally. The parquet floor is based on a Jacobean original. The arched openings are specifically Tudor arches. The diamond patterns in the timbering are from the Garrick Inn in Stratford. The stage doors are loosely based on the oldest doors at the Bodleian Library. The bay windows are based on those at Shakespeare’s birthplace. Even the shaped beam-ends are lifted from period originals.
- Have you ever done a project like this before?
No, not at this level. One day in talking to Tom Delise, the Director of the Company, I realized I have been setting up theatres or performance spaces of some kind all my life. Then, Lewis Shaw and I built the predecessor to this stage for another Company many years ago. That incarnation was interesting insofar as it was the only stage in the area built to resemble the early Elizabethan and Jacobean stages, but it was done on a limited budget and wasn’t all that impressive visually.
Professionally, I restore buildings to the way they were, or should be, historically; I have little creative leeway. I think that with this project, my pent-up desire to exercise imagination and invention burst forth as it has never been able to before.
- Would you rather act or do woodworking?
Well, I can’t not do woodworking. At least, not for quite some time. My wife is a retired English professor, so we really can’t afford it, plus— and this is the tougher problem— my shop supplies much of the historic architectural millwork in and around Baltimore and DC. Stevenson University probably had hundreds of applicants to choose from to replace Kathleen… who’s going to replace me?
Our shop is capable of reproducing pretty much anything you see made of wood, literally. Any of the building parts you see in Bolton Hill, Mount Vernon, Federal Hill, Georgetown… we can make them. I determine how we will go about making them, structurally and aesthetically, and I run the business which includes sales, accounting, estimating, purchasing, and maintaining the equipment. Perhaps I’ll find someone who can do all that someday, or be trained to, but as of now, it seems unlikely. My son Jared would have fit the bill, except for having an encyclopedic knowledge of millwork; sadly, he died prematurely just before Christmas 2018.
Acting is something that I enjoy greatly, and that challenges my abilities, but so is motorcycle riding, and writing. So “rather” doesn’t really apply. I’d rather continue to do all of it.
- I read you are a Shakespeare buff; what are some of your favorite plays of The Bard?
I don’t know if “Shakespeare buff” covers it. I use the term “bardophile.” I am seriously dedicated to the study and performance of Shakespeare. Why? Because his plays are about the difficulties and pitfalls of trying to be a good person, (A good leader, a good follower. A good friend. A good father or mother, or son, or daughter) and he does so without couching it in didacticism… showing, rather than lecturing.
There is a reason why the Bard’s plays are timeless. They will be relevant until there are no more people, or until people are perfect.
But to answer your question: Kathleen’s favorite is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” (Of the Comedies, that’s probably mine too.) Of the Histories, I’d say “Richard the Second.” Of the Tragedies, it’s a tough call, but I’ll say “King Lear.”
Thomas Brown can be contacted via his business at 330 W. 23rd Street, Baltimore, Md 21211. For more information, visit his website.
For more information on the Gala, go online. Tickets for the gala include hors d’oeuvres, open bar and entertainment. It also includes entry to the Afterparty as well as several surprises. Tickets are available for just the Afterparty at a lower cost. It sounds like a night not to be missed.
You can get more information about the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory by going to their website.
Thanks to Ann Turiano, Managing Director of Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, for her help with this article.