The Center Stage theater company was so stoked to snag British director Kwame Kwei-Armah in 2011 that they threw him a fantastic party, which I mostly remember because it involved a dance party during which our beloved mayor got down to the camp classic “What What (In The Butt).” Lucky for us, Kwei-Armah liked it here, enough to sign a contract extending his tenure in Baltimore through June 2018. “I found Baltimore to be vivacious. I found the audiences to be intelligent and engaging,” he told NPR this week. Well, shucks. We’re blushing.
Kwei-Armah has described envisioning Center Stage as “a 21st-century forum for conversation.” So far that has included the My America project, in which Kwei-Armah got 50 of the country’s leading playwrights to create original monologues about the state of the nation for digital video. He’s also staged a play entirely within a shipping container, and put on a series of plays responding to the classic A Raisin in the Sun. PBS found that last project so intriguing that it aired a documentary about the process.
Since Kwei-Armah has been on board, Center Stage has seen its subscription revenue grow by more than 34 percent, and its contributed income rise by 15 percent. And that’s at a time when many are fretting that audiences don’t care about theater anymore.
The new extended contract means theater-loving Baltimoreans have plenty to look forward to in the coming years. And let’s hope Kwei-Armah enjoys himself, too. As he told NPR, “it just felt like it might be a really fun investigation to put all of my art and all of my ideas into one building, and I have to say, I’ve been having a great time.”