The arts community in Baltimore is showing just how resilient and resourceful it can be during a time of crisis. While the onset of COVID-19 caused many theaters to physically close their doors in Baltimore, many have sprung to online platforms to continue to entertain audiences. One theater, Baltimore Center Stage (BCS), has led the forefront with its creative online content and innovative access to resources. Baltimore OUTloud recently chatted with Baltimore Center Stage’s Director of Artistic Partnerships & Innovation, Annalisa Dias, who talked about what BCS has to offer to the Baltimore community both online and offline.

Frankie Kujawa: Baltimore Center Stage’s website says that “Our Building is Closed, But We Are Open For Storytelling” Could you explain for our readers what that means?

Annalisa Dias: Given the important and necessary governmental limitations on gathering in response to Covid-19, BCS is physically closed. However, that doesn’t mean (by a long stretch) that we’ve stopped operations. Baltimore Center Stage is still open – with all manner of virtual programs, at-home theatrical experiences, and civic participation.

FK: Could you share with our readers some of the great resources CenterStage has online for those at home during this time?

AD: Absolutely! We have a bunch of different ways people can engage with BCS. There is: BCS Camp at Home, Play at Home, a Virtual Student Matinee of Where We Stand, a number of one-off events like Open Mics that we’ve been doing in partnership with the Black Arts District (check our social media for those announcements), our Baltimore Butterfly Sessions civic dialogues, and our annual Gala is coming up on May 30th, this year virtually! We’re also starting to think about what our summer programming offerings will look like (typically we host a camp for young people), so stay tuned for that transformation!

FK: With schools shut down, your BCS Camp At Home is open for students! Could you describe the camp and activities for our readers? Is this free and open to anyone?

AD: Sure! The first offering from BCS Camp at Home is a virtual DIY version of our “Stories Make the World” curriculum. It’s a series of activities designed to be completed at home (with the support of a caregiver or by enterprising self-directed young people) that culminates in a participant telling and sharing their own story. The “Stories Make the World” curriculum is free and accessible via our website or the special BCS Camp at Home Facebook group.

Like I mentioned, we’re also in the process of reimagining what shape our summer learning programs will take – so stay tuned to BCS social media or sign up for our mailing lists to get more information about additional learning opportunities throughout the summer.

FK: Could you tell our readers a bit more about “Play At Home”?

AD: Play at Home (www.playathome.org) started as a partnership between BCS and 5 sibling-theatres with the goal of getting a little money into playwrights pockets (particularly those who had lost work because of the crisis) and the goal of creating opportunities for audiences, friends, staff, anyone who is quarantined at home to do some theatre-making of their own while all our buildings are closed. The partnership has grown quite a bit and now includes over 100 new plays commissioned by theatres all over the country. Anyone can go to playathome.org to browse the plays and perform them from your own home! They are all free to download and come from some of the most exciting playwrights in the American theatre.

FK: It seems that you guys are definitely doing a lot for the Baltimore community, even though your building isn’t physically open. Why is this so important? What does community mean to you guys at Baltimore CenterStage?

AD: Yes! In addition to the arts and learning opportunities we’re continuing to offer, our production staff has been fabricating masks, face shields, and other personal protective equipment for local hospitals; we’ve recently started writing letters of care by hand to residents of the Weinberg Village (one of our Mobile Unit partners) who we’ve learned are quarantined in a senior facility and mostly without access to personal computers; and we’ve been in conversation with local elected officials and partner organizations about the role the art (and specifically theatres) can play in creating more just, caring, and vibrant society. The arts, after all, don’t just exist in a vacuum. I tend to think that arts institutions are at their best when they are centering people and relationships over all else – meaning when they are creating pathways for accountability, care, and solidarity.

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Frankie Kujawa
Frankie Kujawa
Since 2011, arts writer Frankie Kujawa has covered a wide scope of entertainment stories and celebrity interviews. From the late Carrie Fisher and LGBTQ icon George Takei to comedians Lily Tomlin and Kathy Griffin to performer Idina Menzel, Kujawa’s candid interview ability brings readers past the byline and into the heart of the story. His unbiased previews of Baltimore-Washington’s theatre scene have allowed readers an inside glimpse of today’s most popular local and national performances. A Baltimore-native, Kujawa is proud to call Charm City his home.