+ By Zoë Nardo
Standing on Taylor Avenue near Westgate Circle, imagine staring at a 65,000 square foot glass building with a sign that reads Maryland Theatre for the Performing Arts (MTPA). Its towering glass walls allow you to peer into the lobby and see the large staircase leading to the third floor. Annapolis is a historic city, drenched with colonial architecture, but what you’re staring at doesn’t conform. Moreover, the multi-use entertainment venue is surrounded by Park Place’s off-white beaux-arts stonework. Somehow, the two styles mesh. The light pouring onto the sidewalk from inside the building’s glass atrium acts as a lighthouse, navigating the visitor through the entrance.
In this nautical town, it makes sense to take imagery from lanterns on boats and lighthouses for inspiration. Gary Martinez, president of Martinez+Johnson Architecture, was doing that when he designed the $45 million theatre. He uses light metaphorically, to show how this first-class performing arts hall will put a new shine on the city. Martinez, who has designed theatres all over the world, lives nearby and frequents Annapolis. “This is in my backyard,” he says. “I couldn’t let anyone else do it.”
Martinez’s attention to detail, from sizing and placement to installing light-emitting diode (LED) screens facing Taylor Avenue and inside Park Place, was particularly apparent in the theatre’s fourth major design alteration. LED screens will allow broadcasts from MTPA’s stage or any stage around the world. Martinez knows that the middle of row six in the 1,000-seat soundproof theatre is the sweet spot. Like an instrument, the entire hall can be fine-tuned for each specific genre, adjusting to best present for ballet, symphony orchestra, musical, or any other performance type.
Imagine walking up the massive staircase that bends along the central curved zone housing the main theatre—the glowing nucleus of MTPA. Reaching the third floor and turning right, follow the glass handrail that sweeps left, to one of two identical jutting atriums. Its glass walls and ceiling frame the current exhibition. Sauntering by the displays and viewing the art on the wall, your eyes then wander past the glass to watch the people down below on the streets along Park Place.
The 1,200-space parking garage underneath MTPA must almost be at capacity, for it is a bustling scene. You overhear someone in the atrium saying that he is in town for a banquet being held in the main theatre hall. This sounds like an awkward place to hold a banquet; does everyone sit in their seats with plates in their laps, facing forward? It doesn’t make sense until you check it out.
While going through its alterations, MTPA changed from being solely a theatre for the arts to a multi-use entertainment venue. When completed, the four-story orchestra pit can be lowered, the plush seats slid into the pit, and within two hours, the hall will be transformed into a flat area for large conferences or banquets, giving Annapolis its first large conference space. Jeff Voigt, the president of MTPA, sees the theatre’s adaptability as a way to keep the hall in use for as many as 250 days a year. One of the three atriums will be open for conferences or expositions. Voigt aims to counterbalance the lull in tourism during what he calls “the four to five months out of the year that you can roll the sidewalk up.”
The theatre will not only help Annapolis economically, but also enhance what already exists in the community. “We have a wonderful resource in the city right now and it’s Maryland Hall [for the Creative Arts],” says Voigt. “We have no intention of taking that away or competing with it. We want to complement it.” MTPA will not offer the classroom education that Maryland Hall provides, but will afford new cultural experiences for students through shows never before seen in Annapolis. When global acts come to town, Voigt says, “[they are] enhancing the community, not diluting it.”
Imagination will become realization in 2020, when MTPA opens its doors. Kathleen Terlizzese, MTPA’s director of development, teamed up with Annapolis musician and artist Jimi Davies (who is also the publisher and creative director of Up.St.Art Annapolis) to create the “Building the Theatre, One Note at a Time” campaign. Its first event, in March, raised over $100,000. Those who donate any amount, large or small, are considered “One Notes,” and those who donate $10,000 or more are “Whole Notes.” Together, they create the melody that is MTPA, which will be embodied in an installation piece crafted by Davies and based on all the personalized musical notes of thanks that each One Noter will receive. “The theming of this fundraising is that it’s inclusive,” Terlizzese says. “Everybody can be represented. We want this to be everyone’s theatre.” █