Jessica Green, executive director of The Maryland Theatre, talks about the role the newly renovated venue will play in Hagerstown.
By Mike Lewis
The Maryland Theatre is a performing arts center, a nonprofit organization and a key economic driver in downtown Hagerstown, Md.
Jessica Green, the theater’s executive director, understands the connection. She hopes the theater can be “a hub of all things arts, entertainment, education and business happenings for Western Maryland.”
The main theater auditorium was built in 1915 and can seat 1,300. It draws people downtown for stage shows and concerts.
Thanks to some major construction, the facility has other spaces that can host smaller performances, meetings and events such as weddings and dinners.
The $15 million construction project, which was finished last month, replaced the old plaza in front of the theater with performance, event, office and meeting space, as well as a new box office and concession area. The 30,000-square-foot addition has returned the theater to its original size before a fire destroyed the front portion of the building in 1974.
The theater work is part of the nearly $40 million Urban Improvement Project, which includes classroom space adjacent to the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, and new programming and classroom space for the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown. The work is the result of partnerships that include state and local government funding, as well as private investment.
Green said board members, architects, contractors and others helped the theater staff through the construction.
“We’ve had a really great team,” she said.
Green came to the organization as operations manager. After being on the staff for a couple of years, she was named executive director.
“They were looking for someone to run the theater like a business. … Now I’ve been here for going on eight years,” said Green, who also has worked at for-profit companies.
Those business sensibilities come out as Green discusses the theater.
“We cover just about 80% of our budget through ticket sales and venue rentals,” she said.
“It’s a very different business model (for nonprofits). … I consider us lucky to have that opportunity.”
Donations and sponsorships cover a relatively small part of the annual operating budget, she said, although the theater has depended on donations and sponsorships for capital campaigns.
She said she also considers herself lucky to be able to interact with theater-goers.
“They come to make memories with friends and family,” she said.
To help make those memories, and to help fulfill its role as an economic driver, Green said the theater tries to work closely with restaurants and others businesses.
“We want (theater-goers) to visit the arts council shop,” she said. “We want them to eat out locally. … We are looking at the community as a whole, not just our budget.”
The theatre now has more meeting/performance spaces and can serve more needs. Given the theatre’s new potential and capabilities, how will your role change?
This question makes me laugh, because my role has changed every year since I started at the theater eight years ago. We have made significant changes operationally, created many new partnerships, and completed a variety of capital projects, both large and small. I guess what I’m saying is that I enjoy and am motivated by change. We have a theater staff that is also incredibly loyal and determined. Between these continued changes and each performance/event being so different, our work is never boring.
It must have been a challenge to juggle your normal theater work along with the challenges posed by the renovation and expansion. What lessons did you learn along the way?
Yes, there were certainly days when I would “start” my theatre work day around 4 p.m. after a full day of construction meetings and tasks. But we had a great construction committee made up of current theater board members and community volunteers. There were many very experienced folks helping with this project. Beyond this, we received significant support and in-kind services from several of the subcontractors on the job as well as the general contractor, Morgan-Keller Construction. Additionally we had support from board members working behind the scenes on tasks such as the fundraising and financing plus much support from our local government and state representatives and staff.
What surprises turned up during the construction?
To be honest, surprisingly, not too many considering we were “marrying” a historic structure with a brand-new, five-level performing arts center. We did find an abandoned oil tank underneath the former courtyard and some major issues with our existing plumbing, but nothing that wasn’t able to be addressed during construction and most importantly, nothing that caused us to go over budget. I believe our biggest challenge was really in the design of making this new structure work in our downtown, landlocked environment. Kudos to our architectural and engineering teams under the leadership of Grimm & Parker Architects.
What will be the biggest challenges and opportunities for the theatre in the next five years or so?
Our biggest challenge is the same as our biggest opportunity. Now that we have this amazing facility, we need to use it and, one in the same, we need to cover our operational expenses. One of the goals in creating all of these new spaces within the performing arts center was to create additional revenue streams in order to support the new center and the historic landmark that is The Maryland Theatre. So far, reservations and contracts are coming in faster than anticipated, and we are booking through 2023. Many dates in 2019 and 2020 are already booked for two or three simultaneous events occurring in one day. Our staff and volunteers are up for the challenge, although we have a big learning curve ahead of us.
What role would you like the theater to play in downtown Hagerstown?
I would like to see the theater stand out as a destination even more than we have all hoped. I would like to see it be the catalyst that we thought it would be for downtown revitalization, so that our leadership can plan for our second century in existence. I would like to see our donors and supporters thrilled with the results. We hope to be a hub of all things arts, entertainment, education and business happenings for Western Maryland. I would like to see the theater continue to be a local amenity and our community continue to enjoy their experiences and make memories at The Maryland Theatre Performing Arts Center.
Outside of work, what are your ambitions and aspirations?
My aspirations are to raise my family to be happy, healthy and successful members of society. Maintaining a healthy work/life balance allowing me to support my husband in his growing business, all while spending time with family and friends.