After several years sitting dormant, the theater building on W. 25th Street in Old Goucher will soon serve two purposes.
During the day, it will be a fully functional research lab for Figure 53, a local software design company whose program QLab allows users to run audio, lights and projections for live performances on one platform.
At night, the space will become a black-box theater with seating for about 100, giving local theater companies a venue to re-mount productions.
Organizers hope to have the space, named the Voxel, up and running by 2019.
For Figure 53, the growth and development of QLab, which has been used in professional theater, from the Broadway hit “Hamilton” to local theaters such as Center Stage and Everyman Theatre, created the need for a testing ground to try out new features.
“We’re getting to the point where we just need a real theater to see how it’s working and see what’s possible,” says Chris Ashworth, the company’s founder.
That led Ashworth and Lola Pierson, a Figure 53 employee and a co-founding artistic director of the Acme Corporation, to create what they hope will be a unique space in the Baltimore arts community.
“If we put all this work into it, we didn’t want it to be closed and locked at night when so many artists in Baltimore need a venue,” says Ashworth.
Pierson hopes the Voxel will open up plays performed in smaller spaces to new audiences and, ideally, help the bottom line for theater groups–both by increasing ticket sales and getting more use out of costumes, sets and other production items.
Or, as Pierson puts it, “using all the work that’s already been done, that’s already been paid for, and doing the most lucrative part again.”
Opened as a movie theater in 1946, the building, known at various points in its history as the Playhouse Theater, has served a variety of functions, as The Sun notes, including as a venue for the Baltimore Rock Opera Society and a multi-use spaced called the Autograph Playhouse.
Figure 53 bought the building in 2015. As it sits now, the space is pretty barren and will require a “full, complete, ground-up” renovation on the inside, says Ashworth. The company projects it will cost $2.5 million. In addition to its own cash, Figure 53 has received assistance from Baltimore Arts Realty Corporation, which helped secure $200,000 in state money, and the nonprofit Reinvestment Fund.
Once completed, the Voxel’s “split mission,” as Pierson calls it, can help further advance QLab’s capabilities and teach directors and designers how to use it, as well as support artists in need of a space.
“We didn’t want to rely on artists to support this big, expensive thing,” says Pierson. “And it can be an asset and a resource that can potentially be supported by the company’s daytime activities.”