Baltimore Center Stage: Company History

Company History


Company History

Launched in 1963 by an ambitious community drama group, Baltimore Center Stage soon became a leader in the regional theater movement, working to produce first-rate professional theater in communities across America. Along with theaters like The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Arena Stage in Washington, and Alley Theatre in Houston, Baltimore Center Stage changed the way Americans experience serious theater.

The guiding force behind Baltimore Center Stage’s growth and development in these early years came from the inspirational spirit of Managing Director Peter Culman. In his 33 seasons at Baltimore Center Stage (1966–2000), his creative integrity and devotion to the arts fostered an environment of diversity. It is his legacy that has enabled Baltimore Center Stage to maintain the high production quality that sets it apart.

In the years since its founding, Baltimore Center Stage has not only survived its growing pains—including a potentially disastrous arson fire in 1974—it has become Baltimore’s leading professional producing theater, welcoming nearly 100,000 people each season to its award-winning facility in Baltimore’s historic Mt. Vernon Cultural District, where it's been since 1975.

The 20-year tenure of Artistic Director Irene Lewis was one of explosive growth. Creative work—whether classics, new plays, or musical theater pieces—involves collaborative teams of emerging and established artists who create theater that confronts the universal and often difficult questions we all face. Recognizing that a broadly representative audience of diverse individuals heightens the experience of theater, Lewis made diversity on stage, on the staff, and in the audience a central institutional priority.

The 2011/12 Season marked the arrival of Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah, an internationally recognized playwright, director, and arts advocate. Even in periods of economic downturn, Baltimore Center Stage maintained a record of break-even or better operation, and its future is as inspiring as our past. 

In 2015, Baltimore Center Stage embarked on a capital campaign to renovate its historic building. In 2017, the theater completed the $28 million building renovation that created more opportunities for art making and community building, with new public spaces to gather before and after shows and state-of-the-art performance spaces with the best in theater design and technology. This season also welcomed back Managing Director Michael Ross who served in the same role from 2002 to 2008 and returned  upon the retirement of Managing Director Stephen Richard (2012­–16).

Under the leadership of Kwame Kwei-Armah and Michael Ross, Baltimore Center Stage continues to offer challenging, bold work onstage, enhanced by extensive community engagement to ensure its position as Baltimore’s preeminent professional theater company and its role as the State Theater of Maryland.