Mission & Story
Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is the leading classical theatre company in Maryland, offering vibrant performances that blow the dust off of Shakespeare and delight its patrons. One of the six largest theatre companies in the state, CSC serves diverse audiences with funny, moving, rousing mainstage seasons, a vigorous education program that serves over 16,000 students annually in both theatre and the classroom, and a growing community engagement effort.
The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has three venues. Its indoor performances are presented at the stunning, award-winning 266-seat Chesapeake Shakespeare Company Theatre, with a thrust stage uniquely designed for CSC performances. Next door to the theatre and linked are its administrative offices and The Studio at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, which serves as a classroom, rehearsal space, and alternative performance area. CSC’s summertime outdoor home is in nearby Ellicott City and features performances and education programming at the PFI Historic Park, a gorgeous spot for picnicking and watching Shakespeare under the stars.
Chesapeake Shakespeare Company brings great classic theatre to Baltimore, Howard County, the state of Maryland, and beyond. We offer performances of Shakespeare and other plays of classic stature that are unforgettable and create experiences that are engaging and exciting, challenging and innovative. We perform without curtains and without barriers in settings that are both beautiful and informal and we’re proud to bring a Baltimore flavor to our work. As a dynamic educational resource, we introduce Shakespeare to schoolchildren with vigorous, relevant programming. We bring delight and enlightenment to audiences new and old and we invite our patrons, our students, and our neighbors to become part of our family and part of the creative collaboration that generates powerful, magical theatre and a more purposeful, more engaged, and more connected community
Chesapeake Shakespeare Company began in 2002 with a single production of Twelfth Night mounted in a small black box theatre in Ellicott City, Maryland directed by Chesapeake Shakespeare Company Founder Ian Gallanar. Fewer than one hundred people showed up for that first production, but the group of artists clicked and were determined to make classic theatre that was fresh, vigorous, and boldly connected to its audiences.
The next summer saw our unseasoned company performing in a underused Howard County Park with the unlovely name of the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, which contained the remains of a 19th century boarding school. The evocative ruins, verdant old trees, and the remarkable acoustics of the stone walls meant that Chesapeake Shakespeare Company had found a home for outdoor Shakespeare that still serves our happy audiences today.
Over the next decade, we would continue to perform annually at PFI Historic Park, expanding to two productions each summer and one in the fall in a wildly popular “movable” format in which the audience (limited to about one hundred patrons) follows the actors about the Ruins. With the advent of free admission outdoors for children and students under 18, families became a central part of CSC’s character as everyone discovered that even four-year-olds could become enraptured by Shakespeare.
At the same time, our roster of company members and artists was growing as we were recognized for our energetic, intelligent work and commitment to professional artist development.
We became known for both our stage combat and our stage comedy.
We built an education program which included camps and school residencies and, eventually, the occasional school tour of Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet.
We produced non-Shakespeare plays, too, like Dog in the Manger, The Country Wife, Our Town, and The Front Page.
During Washington, DC’s prestigious Shakespeare in Washington Festival in 2007, CSC was the only theatre from Maryland invited to participate in programming.
Our production of Macbeth toured to the Patuxent Institution, a maximum-security prison.
And we became closely involved with the Shakespeare Theatre Association.
For many years, CSC performed indoors at the Howard County Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre. (In fact, our offices were located from 2005-2014, supported by the Howard County Arts Council.) Other makeshift indoor venues included Oliver’s Carriage House and the Other Barn in Columbia. Over time, the organization knew it needed to expand past the limitations of these spaces, including limited indoor capacity and our outdoor performances (and revenue) at the mercy of summer thunderstorms.
After completing a strategic plan in 2011, CSC began earnestly looking for a way to create an indoor space that had enough flair to complement our beautiful outdoor venue, that was under our control, and that we could design for our aesthetics and values. We were so fortunate to find The Mercantile Trust and Deposit Building—a landmark 1886 bank-turned-nightclub complete with columns and a painted ceiling that reminded us of Shakespeare’s Globe—in Downtown Baltimore, just three blocks from the harbor. We fell in love.
A $4.6 million capital campaign was led by the Helm Foundation (which purchased the building) and was supported enthusiastically by the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore, local foundations and corporations, and devoted and generous individuals. After a two-year design and construction process, we began our next chapter.
We opened our beautiful new building in September 2014 and garnered universal acclaim for our modern 21st-century theatre, housed in a 19th-century Victorian building, and inspired by 16th-century theatre architecture. Awards for the architecture soon followed, and patrons raved about the intimacy, beauty, and comfort of the building, where different seating areas offered different audience experiences.
The Studio at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company—the home of our acting courses and workshops for adults and youth—opened in 2017 next door to the theatre at 206 E. Redwood Street, in the historic Merchants Club building. CSC offers acting, theatre craft and design disciplines, critical analysis of plays, and day camp programs. The Studio also allows for rehearsals while performances are taking place. In 2019, with support from local foundations and state and city government, we were able to link the two buildings with a pedestrian bridge and creating a Cultural Campus that encompasses both performance and education.
Our work strives to make Shakespeare and other classics accessible and enjoyable to both lovers of Shakespeare and to those who have not yet found a reason to like Shakespeare. Our lively and innovative approach to the performance and teaching of Shakespeare is at the center of all we do. Our theater, our classroom spaces and our outdoor performance area are all designed to facilitate CSC's unique approach. Our thrust stage and three audience levels in our unique indoor theater allows the audience to be an active and highly visible participant in CSC performances. The space enforces a vertical set design, but our designers employ enormous creativity and variety within those constraints. Our period costumes are a technical hallmark, exhibiting historical research, craftsmanship, and theatrical flair.
Since its founding, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has thrived on its collaborative approach and company model. CSC's executive leadership has remained largely unchanged since its beginning. Under the artistic vision of Artistic Director Ian Gallanar and the singularly personal approach of management and fundraising by Managing Director Lesley Malin, CSC has developed a following in the region among audiences and artists alike. We are proud that our company members are entirely local. Some have been with us since 2002. Some have gone to work in other states, in New York City, and on Broadway. Some started performing with us as children and now perform as adults. Generally, half to two-thirds of our casts are composed of company members, with newcomers and interns rounding out our rosters. CSC’s professional artists—a number of whom are members of Actor's Equity Association—also work with other local theatre companies including Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Folger, Synetic Theater, Everyman Theatre, Taffety Punk, Rep Stage, WSC Avant Bard, Gala Hispanic, the American Shakespeare Center, the Bay Theatre Company, and with local film and TV projects. Having diverse casts that reflect our diverse city is always a priority for CSC.
Approximately half of our productions are directed by Founding Artistic Director Ian Gallanar. Our guest directors are either CSC Company Members, local directors, or directors with a national reputation.
Our seasons generally consist of:
- three or four indoor productions, with at least half by Shakespeare, and other works considered "Shakespeare-adjacent" or classic plays;
- an annual production of A Christmas Carol, set in 19th century Baltimore;
- an outdoor summertime production at PFI Historic Park in Ellicott City, with a biannual "Movable" Performance around the Ruins;
- and our two educational productions—Macbeth in the fall and Romeo and Juliet in the spring—produced specifically for students and presented during the school day
Our robust educational program has grown exponentially since 2014, serving over 16,000 schoolchildren annually and bringing them a deeper and more vibrant Shakespeare experience. Our school matinees perform for weeks, serving youth from Maryland and across the Mid-Atlantic region. We also take our residency programs into the schools, with extensively trained teaching artists who use their theatre training to enlighten an academic introduction to Shakespeare.
We also take pride in our skillful artistic and organizational management. More than 50 artists and a dedicated staff, led by Founding Artistic Director Ian Gallanar, Managing Director Lesley Malin, and a vigorous Board of Trustees, are the major forces behind CSC’s success. Their collaboration is the foundation on which this arts organization has built its popularity and attracted the attention of media from around the country including CNN, Money Magazine, American Theater Magazine, Arrive Magazine, Southern Living Magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Baltimore Sun.
CSC is now the third largest theatre in the city of Baltimore, the sixth largest theatre in Maryland, and the fifteenth largest Shakespeare theatre in America. We are a Folger Shakespeare Library affiliate theatre and a member of the Shakespeare Theatre Association (STA), the international organization for professional Shakespeare theatres.
In warmly welcoming our audiences and our neighbors into our spaces, in reaching out to serve our communities in places outside our doors, we aim to connect to everyone. Because we believe Shakespeare is for everyone. Especially for you!