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April 6, 2011

Baltimore Shakespeare Festival shuts down after 17 seasons

 The Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, a significant force in the local theatrical community, is closing after 17 seasons.

"This is a very difficult decision that was made by our Board," marketing and development director Chris Pfingsten wrote in an email I received Wednesday. "Needless to say, [artistic director] Michael [Carleton] and I are very disappointed. ... Neither Michael nor I will be making any official statement regarding this decision other than to say we are very sad, but also extremely proud of the work that was created by our artists on the BSF stage."

In addition to presenting works by Shakespeare and others outdoors in the Meadow at the Evergreen Museum and Library, the company, one of three Equity theaters in Baltimore, staged works at St. Mary's in Roland Park, most recently an imaginative production of "Richard III" last November.

For an update on the company's financial problems, despite a $1 million anonymous donation in 2007, check out a story filed later in the day on the Sun's Web site.

In a press release, board president Peter Toran said: 

“The Baltimore Shakespeare Festival has played a leading role in the growth and vitality of the local theater scene. The theater’s legacy will live on in the hundreds of careers that have been launched and nurtured on our stages, as well as in the literally thousands of area schoolchildren whose first exposure to theater and to Shakespeare came as a result of BSF’s educational programming.

I speak for the entire Board in expressing our gratitude to BSF’s generous supporters and loyal audience. We applaud the talented, dedicated theater artists who made the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival an enduring part of our cultural landscape.”

Pictured: Kim Schraf in Baltimore Shakespeare Festival's production of "Mrs. Kemble's Tempest"

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:44 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Drama Queens



Money? Leadership change?

Will post more details as I get them. TS

Looks like it was Not To Be

They've been heading for this for years.

Didn't we all read in the Sun that a mystery donor handed these folks at the BSF a shockingly high, million dollar cash donation, not that long ago? The impression at the time was that the unprecedented economic donor support for the organization was a huge windfall, to serve as a substantial endowment to ensure its longevity. Any follow-up on that?

Good question. Will seek more info. TS

We were so sad to hear about this development! We hope that the community will seek out other companies offering Shakespeare in Baltimore and the surrounding area (there are many of us!) Shakespeare has survived so long because every production can be approached so many different ways. Similarly every company in our area brings a unique perspective to period theater. Here's hoping the rest of the theater community receives a much needed boost from the BSF's unfortunate decision!

A city that is predominantly black and lower middle class, plus a growing number of "young" white urbanites fused to their IPODS and Facebook is not going to support a Shakespeare Festival. Other institutions like the wonderful Symphony should be worried. As the literate base of citizens ages in the white community, and let's be blunt, the WASP and Jewish communities predominantly, good culture will suffer. And yes, not all culture is equal. But the Hippodrome will do just fine. The Lion King and West Side Story for the umpteenth time anyone? And of course those classy clubs where you can be stabbed by the inhabitants who wouldn't know who Samuel Coleridge Taylor was and wouldn't care if they did. One decent thing about the Mayor is that she is a well-versed woman in traditional culture, and she should speak out on it and be more visible in fundraising in the African American community. I wouldn't put too much stock in the 20 and 30 something drunks, albeit financial planners-accountants-hitech-intellectual wouldbes-lawyers etc- who are flocking to Canton, Federal Hill and Fells Point.

Apparently James Kinstle spent ALL of the funds given by the million dollar donor. The Chairman of the Board needs to answer some hard questions about dissolving the theatre.

There's only one person to blame: Miss Management. BSF's poor management and backstage dramas have been Baltimore's worst kept theater secret for the last ten years.

"didactic1" speaks the honest truth!!!

RE: Hart Rodgers - James Kinstle resigned in 2008 when there was still ample funds in the endowment. Please don't make huge insinuations on topics on which you have no knowledge.

It is a very sad day in the theater community. I disagree with didactic 1 - Chicago, New York - both have very popular Shakespeare Festivals in urban - multi-ethnic communities. I have taken Shakespeare to many inner city schools where, surprisingly, they find relationships to themes in many of his stories. The major difference is funding from the local gov't. Neither of those cities pay for their venues and can offer the plays for free making it accessible to peoples of all economic levels. BSF rec'd funds from the NEA and introduced thousands of Baltimore's inner city schools to Shakespeare in a very successful outreach program. I find it insulting to the youth to imply that somehow Shakespeare is beyond them -yes, he was paid by royalty, but he wrote for the 'common man' after all.

Dear J Kinstle-
Not an insinuation. But hearsay, so I'll let it suffice that people who had day-to-day knowledge of the transition in 2007-2008 said that "all of the money was gone."
And if you believe Wikipedia:
"In 2008, the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival announced the hiring of Michael Carleton as the theatre's new Producing Artistic Director. Greeting Mr. Carleton on his arrival was a severe financial crisis left behind by the previous administration. "

With UBalt. creating an Integrated Arts major, I wonder if this is all just Mr. Toran's way of removing the Artistic leadership so it could begin anew under his direct supervision. He ain't a VP of "Planning" for nothing!

Tim- This is a big story.

Hart Rodgers is right. There is a bigger story here. There is something very fishy going on. Everyone (except for maybe the Sun) knows this. It's crazy how no one will take any responsibility for this- not the board, not the old leaders, not the new ones. Mr. Kinstel, you might want to think before you blog. Financial records of not-for-profits are public record. I have a question for anyone familiar with the Baltimore Theater scene- what does the recent demise of the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival have in common with the recent demise of the Baltimore Theater Alliance? Answer that and you might just have a better understanding of what happened here.

Politics aside, BSF was a fun tradition for many Baltimore residents and we'll miss it. Thanks for the piece, Tim.

I'll miss it, too. TIM

Hart Rodgers:

Please feel free to look at the 990's. There were substantial funds in the coffers when I left (the transition was the summer of 2008). Not everything on Wikipedia is fact you understand. Producing AEA Shakespeare is very costly. I am proud of and stand by my years of service at BSF. Mr Toran is a fantastic leader - I pursued him to bring him onto the board and to this day I call him friend. I wish it were true and he would be leading the charge on a new company.

Mr Munson,

Thank you for your insinuation that I am the center of the demise of two Baltimore Theater institutions (one of which I have not been a part of for three years and left with $700,000 in the bank). It is easy to stand on the sidelines and throw stones. If you want to make a difference, get into the community, support local theater and write a theater company a fat donation check. Happy to have a conversation about the state of theater in Baltimore, but I don't appreciate being attacked in a passive aggressive manner.

Single Carrot - thanks for the kind words. I will miss it too.

Having had a theater go dark on me ten years ago, I know how quickly things can go wrong.
I did check out the 990s (you can see them online at - free registration is required to see the forms,) and when Mr. Kinstle left BSF in the summer of 2008, the balance sheet shows net assets of $584,000 with income of around $400,000 and expenses of $500,000.
The 2009 990 (the first year after Mr. Kinstle left) the organization had income of $290,000 with expenses of $610,000 - which caused a loss of $320,000 and the balance sheet was reduced to $260,000.
This shows that Jimi Kinstle had nothing to do with the failing fortunes of BSF after his departure.
Theater is not cheap nor easy and if you don't have the support for the community in donations and ticket sales things can go bad very quickly and it is next to impossible to recover. I hope the people involved cherish the memories of the wonderful productions they created and the lives the affected.

It seems to me that BSF flourished during Mr. Kinstle's tenure.

I worked at BSF on many occasions, primarily as carpenter, and I loved every minute. I was happy to have BSF in our Theatre community, and the city is that much smaller now that BSF is gone. I am not interested in financial scandals. I am only interested in celebrating all the BLOOD, SWEAT, and TEARS that went into keeping BSF alive for as long as it was. Most companies never get even close to what BSF achieved. KUDOS, and best of luck to all BSF staff in your next endeavors!!

BAM! Looks like Lipitz just served Hart Rodgers & Bill Munson (same person?) a big serving of STFU!

Tim - I still believe the Board should answer some questions. Mr. Kinstle points to the tax filings by the organization, and on paper there is a positive balance. But why the enormously large costs from that point forward, unless it was debt that had accumulated under the previous AD.
(Question: $36000 for rent/occupancy in 08/09- which doesn't match what St. Mary's Church was charging - roughly $2000 a month. - 12000 difference?!)
Please spare us the "AEA is costly" rhetoric. That information is readily available as well. (Roughly $500 per week - $16,000 for four AEA for 8weeks) Mr. Kinstle says he pursued Mr. Toran to serve on the Board; less than four years later the company doesn't seek more funding or alert anyone (at the Church or in the audience base) of their impending dissolution. The Board votes to dissolve the company.
Why isn't Mr. Toran talking?

All good questions. I'm actually on vacation for the month, but I'm hoping someone else at the paper may continue to look into this while I'm away. TS

I fear that those who are speaking out are missing the point. Mr. Kinstle and those surrounding him will continue to do exactly as they please and very few will speak up and say anything for fear of retribution.

I find it curious that Hart Rodgers is so vested in this conversation as I don't recall that name from the donor list at BSF. I would assume that it is because it is a surname (Hart Rodgers - Rodgers & Hart - musical theater fan perhaps?). This is the same person who constantly changed the BSF Wikipedia entry to make snide comments about my tenure while I was AD - so there is a personal vendetta here. It's too bad you don't have the courage to use your real name.

To answer your rent question: BSF rented space at two venues - SMOC and The Evergreen House - therein lies your $12,000 difference.

I left no debt. Try as you may, you will not find a different answer.

The "rhetoric" that AEA is costly is indeed fact. Your quick summation of the $16,000 price tag for actors for one show is more than many non-AEA companies annual budget and does not take into account any other costs. Unless you are willing to underwrite that "small fee" I would not brush it aside with such arrogance.

I was not there the last three years, but I can only assume that Mr Pfinkston and Mr Carleton continued to pursue funding. However, most granting organizations decreased there support over those years as the economy went south. We are lucky more companies did not go under. It is a sad to see BSF go under. I do not point fingers at my successor, nor the board, nor the community. It is what it is. And now it is no more and that is sad indeed. I fail to understand your anger and need to place blame. This is a time for healing.

You're probably interpreting my confusion and lack of complacency as anger. I would be ready to 'heal' if questions were answered about the financial decisions of the company and the board's seemingly spontaneous disbanding.
So the Evergreen House was a $12000 rental? It's an easily verified question for Johns Hopkins. A follow-up would be how they could charge such a sum to the company even as the economy went south.
BSF was listed as working through Young Audiences, so any residencies the company did would be verifiable as well. BSF cancelling the spring R&J performances (why exactly?) was most likely the straw, but could the Board tell us anything about the other weight on the camel's back?
Mr. Kinstle, I didn't change any entry on Wikipedia. There was a million dollars, and now there's none. I never donated to BSF, but saw some of their plays and liked what I saw. I'm a fan of theatre, not really of musical theatre, and see this situation with sadness.
"'tis shame for us all: so God sa' me, 'tis shame to stand still"

We at Maryland Shakespeare Festival in Frederick are also saddened to see one of our sister theatre companies close.

MSF has been asked to help fill the void, and so we will bring Shakespeare's "As You Like It" to the Meadows at Evergreen Museum, opening on June 29 and playing through July 10. In its continuing effort to make Shakespeare more accessible to audiences, and particularly families with children, a short curtain raiser, using MSF’s signature, festive style, will be performed before the show, starting at 7:15pm. We hope you, your families and friends will join us.

Visit our website: for tickets and schedule information.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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