Vagabond Players celebrate 100 years

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Carol Sorgen

All My Sons, opening Sept. 9, kicks off the Vagabond Players’ 100th season. Carol Evans, Jeff Murray, Sean Kelly and Rachel Roth star in the wrenching family drama by Arthur Miller. Vagabond will hold a gala on Oct. 16 to celebrate its centennial.
Photo by Tessa Sollway

Baltimore’s Vagabond Players, “America’s Oldest Little Theatre,” may be celebrating the past 100 years, but it has its sights set firmly on upcoming seasons.

With renovated space, a new season beginning Sept. 9, and an upcoming gala party on Oct. 16, it’s a time to give thanks for the past but also look to the future, say longtime board members Carol and Tim Evans.

“We’re very proud of what we do here,” said Carol, who manages publicity for the theater.

The Vagabond Players was established in 1916 during the popular Little Theatre Movement, and quickly established itself as an important part of theater history. The first play produced by the Vagabond was The Artist, an original piece submitted by the “Sage of Baltimore” himself, H.L. Mencken. 

The Vagabond also encouraged and produced the writings of a young and, at the time, unknown Eugene O’Neill, as well as by Arthur Schnitzler, and introduced to Baltimore new works by August Strindberg and Maurice Maeterlinck. 

During the 1920s, this “little theater” retained its amateur status despite urgings for it to turn professional. Perhaps as a result, the Vagabond Players has outlived the Provincetown Playhouse in Massachusetts and the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, both of which were little theaters that turned professional and shortly thereafter dissolved.

The Vagabond has a “solid” subscriber base, said the Evanses, and a diverse audience ranging from young downtown hipsters to retirement community residents. The intimate auditorium seats just 98. “The audience enjoys being so close to the actors,” said Carol.

Bargain-priced tickets

And because, as a nonprofit community theatre, actors and directors do not get paid, subscription prices are reasonable. The six-performance season is $84. (Single ticket prices for seniors (65+), students and military range from $10 to $22, depending on day of the week and whether a play or a musical. Musicals are more expensive because of higher royalty and musicians’ fees.)

Attendance in the spring of 2015 declined because of Baltimore’s riots, but ticket sales have rebounded, for which the Evanses are grateful.

“It’s important to have live theater in a community, and to strive to represent that community,” said Tim, who handles “everything electronic,” from online ticket sales to social media.

Vagabond’s actors and directors have various reasons for participating in productions that take hours of effort but pay nothing. Jeff Murray says, “I’ve always loved to act. Now that I’m retired, I can afford to indulge my ego.”

The way Sean Kelly puts it is, “When you find what makes you feel alive, the experience is all you look for.”

Carol Evans adds, “No one would mind being paid, but it would not make acting any more fulfilling.”

The 2016-17 season

Last year’s season reprised many of the Vagabond’s popular shows from the past, such as Our Town and Moon Over Buffalo.

This coming season begins with Arthur Miller’s All My Sons (“Bring the tissues,” Carol advised). All My Sons runs through Oct. 2 and centers on the all-American dream of success, which is about to be shattered when questions arise regarding a successful businessman’s role in a wartime manufacturing scandal that has sent his business partner to prison and led to hundreds of pilot fatalities. 

The remainder of the season includes:

Oct. 21 to Nov. 20: Avenue Q, winner of the Tony “Triple Crown” for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. The show tells the story of a recent college graduate who moves to a surprising neighborhood where newfound friends struggle to find jobs, dates, and their ever elusive purpose in life.

Jan. 6, 2017 to Feb. 5, 2017: The Complete History of America. Who really discovered America? Why did Abe Lincoln free the slaves? How many Democrats does it take to screw in a lightbulb? From Washington to Watergate, from the Bering Straits to Baghdad, this is an entertaining look at 600 years of history in 6,000 seconds.

Feb. 24, 2017 to March 19, 2017: Motherhood Out Loud, celebrates the experiences of motherhood that span and unite generations.

April 7, 2017 to May 7, 2017: The Odd Couple, the always popular story of neurotic neat-freak Felix Unger who moves into sarcastic and sloppy Oscar Madison’s shambles of an apartment.

May 26, 2017 to June 25, 2017: See How They Run, a comical farce set in a conservative post-war English village, complete with an unconventional American actress, the local vicar, a ditsy maid, a nosy spinster, an escaped German POW, and a portly bishop.

To cap off the 100th anniversary celebration, the Vagabond is hosting a gala rooftop party at the Admiral Fell Inn, on Sunday, Oct. 16, from 6 to 9 p.m. The special event will include a buffet dinner, photos and other memorabilia, musical performances, and the opportunity to re-unite with actors, directors, designers and crew from the hundreds of productions the theater has presented to Baltimore audiences over the past century.

“We wanted to do something nice — and affordable — for our supporters,” said Carol, with Tim adding, “This is not a fundraiser. It’s a celebration and a thank-you to everyone who is a part of us.”

As excited as the Evanses are about the theater’s anniversary and its celebration gala — “We made it to 100!” — they’re equally excited about what lies ahead. “Our future is the important thing.”

For more information about the Vagabond Players, to buy tickets, memberships, or make a donation, call (410) 563-9135 or visit their website, www.vagabondplayers.org.

The Vagabond Players is located at the foot of Fells Point at 806 S. Broadway.

Gala tickets are $50 per person until Sept. 30; $65 per person thereafter. Tickets must be purchased in advance, no later than Oct. 9, and are now on sale on their website. You can also order your tickets by mail. Include a check and mail your order to: Vagabond Players, Attn: Bruce Levy, 806 S. Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21231.