Baltimore Improv Group Raising Funds to Renovate New Space in Station North

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Photo via Baltimore Improv Group/Kickstarter

What’s a theater without lights, a lobby or even a green room?

Baltimore Improv Group, a troupe of talented creatives who’ve produced on-the-spot comedy for Baltimore since 2004, is making its second move in two years next month, leasing out the vacant former Everyman Theatre space at 1727 N. Charles Street. The group will be leaving behind its rented spot at the Single Carrot Theater in Remington.

BIG, as it’s called, is currently eyeing a soft opening of Oct. 6 to coincide with Free Fall Baltimore, offering its “Unscripted” show that Friday and a performance of “The Movement” with The Collective dance organization the following night.

While the space will remain as is — which is to say, pretty no-frills — for those shows, the improv group’s leaders hope to make some significant upgrades this fall to their new theater, which has been used only sporadically for performances, exhibitions and meetings since Everyman Theatre left it behind in 2012.

Kat Martineau, a spokeswoman for the group, wrote in an email that the move will largely benefit BIG by giving its members a central location to hold classes and performances. “This move will help us build a more direct connection between our students and performers and cultivate the talented performers in our classes,” she said, and “it would help create a more permanent arts community to have people see each other repeatedly at one space.”

At Single Carrot Theater presently, the group has had to sacrifice any control over a lobby depending on whether the Single Carrot folks are performing that evening, she said.

In a statement, BIG board president Patrick Byrne said the group is “in excellent financial
shape, but we are asking for help, through a crowdsourcing campaign, to prepare this new space.
We really want this to be a gathering space for the Baltimore comedy community and for Station

As explained in a short, informative parody of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the space adjacent to The Charles theater lacks a green room, stage lights, a speaker system and a lobby. Member Nate notes in the below video that the lack of a green room oftentimes means performers get to warm up for shows out on sidewalks or in alleys.

The group has published a more detailed list of the necessary renovations online. Unsurprisingly, there are some expensive, but necessary fixes, including $1,500 in HVAC repairs, a $2,000 wheelchair ramp and another $2,000 combined for insurance and moving truck rental. As for the fun stuff inside — improvements to the theater, lighting and sound equipment, a functioning green room and lobby and additional seating — that all rings up at nearly $15,000. The list goes on.

So far BIG members have performed about 90 percent of the work themselves, with contractors completing specialized tasks like carpentry and lighting, Martineau said. Volunteer members have handled the painting, some flat construction, glue-scraping from the carpet and moving.

The completed space will have room for “60-70 people on an average night,” according to BIG managing director Terry Withers. Ideally, they’ll be able to up that to 100 seats or more “if sales support such an increase,” he said.

Another planned bonus: a door to Sofi’s Crepe’s next door. The adjacent eatery already has a door inside leading to their new space, Martineau said; it’s on BIG to knock down the separating wall.

BIG offers classes around the city to newcomers to the improv scene. Presently members teach out of a rented space in the Bolton Street Synagogue on W. Cold Spring Lane. The so-called BIG Theater in Station North has some educational classroom space, according to a release, but leaders are hoping to build out additional instruction room.

Since launching a Kickstarter campaign on Thursday, Sept. 21, BIG has collected almost $9,500 from 90 backers. The fundraiser page also says they’ve received a generous (and separate) $10,000 donation from Alison and Fred Lohr. Martineau said that money will go toward the “immediate lobby and raw theatre space setup.”

The group has 20 days left to meet its $25,000 goal.

They’re not the only Baltimore theater group seeking to put some roots down and make a new space their own. The similarly nomadic Baltimore Rock Opera Society is nine months into its “Forever Home” campaign to craft its own full-fledged headquarters. So far, BROS members have raised more than $56,000 of their $75,000 goal, according to their Crowdrise page.

BIG and BROS are keeping their ambitions high in a tough year for Baltimore’s DIY arts scene. Time will tell if the city can help them get where they want to be.

This story has been updated with comment from Baltimore Improv Group.

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