From Legion hall to performance hall

Antietam Ballet Theatre taking shape

Antietam Ballet Theatre taking shape

December 16, 2002|by MEG H. PARTINGTON

As the former American Legion in Sharpsburg continues to be transformed into a theater, owners Ray and Carolou Russell are closer to having a performing space to call home.

Ray Russell bought the yellow brick facility at 104 S. Mechanic St. during an August 2000 auction, a purchase he didn't expect to make.

"First thing I knew, I'd jumped into the bidding," Ray Russell said.

Since then, the couple, with the help of friends and students, has been renovating the 1949 building, recycling as much as possible.


"It's built like a rock, like the Alamo should have been," Ray Russell said.

The wood paneling that lines the theater's auditorium was there when the Russells purchased the facility. The windows that encircle the control room are made from glass that once was part of the legion's front doors, and the table in that room was once used as counter space by the club's servers. The legion's former bar is now the theater's refreshment center.

Not everything was recycled to help make the space a fortress for the arts.

Ray Russell said the roof had to be replaced, and truckloads of trash have been hauled from the building for more than a year.

Ken Mosher of Hedgesville, W.Va., who Ray Russell said has been a carpenter and builder for 20 years, has done extensive carpentry and electrical work. Among his many projects was building permanent, multilevel seating for about 100 people, with the help of Stephen Anaya, a fellow ballet dancer.

The booth-style seating overlooks the 30-by-45-foot stage. The floor of the performing area is made of concrete topped by a foam base, topped by plywood, topped by a dance surface designed specifically for ballet, Ray Russell said.

The intimate setting and raised seating make it easy for the audience to better see the flow of movement on the stage, Carolou Russell said.

At the back of the stage is a scrim that will eventually be suspended from the ceiling. A small stage used for rehearsals is situated behind the main stage. The two areas are separated by a wooden wall that provides crossover space if performers exit one side of the stage and have to go to the other side unnoticed, Ray Russell explained.

More rehearsal space is found on the second floor, home to the theater's dance studio.

Anaya, of Martinsburg, W.Va., said Mosher was the mastermind behind the construction projects that he helped complete.

"I've always kind of been the guy who does the labor," said Anaya, 25, who dances the principal male role of the Cavalier in "The Nutcracker," being performed this weekend and next by the Hagerstown Ballet and the West Virginia Ballet.

"It's been a lot of fun. It's been very enlightening," Anaya said. "I feel really connected to this place."

That sense of connection is just what the Russells are looking for.

After 20 years of renting the Apollo Civic Theatre in Martinsburg, Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown for performances, it was time to find a place of their own.

"We had always wanted the independence of having our own facility," Ray Russell said.

Now that the dream is coming true, Carolou Russell finds herself excited yet distracted.

"All this other work is going on around me," Carolou said. "My mind is on other things."

Carolou, who has danced since age 4, is director of the Hagerstown Ballet and the West Virginia Ballet. She has run the Hagerstown Ballet studio on Lincoln Avenue in Hagerstown since 1980 and the West Virginia Ballet studio on Martin Street in Martinsburg since 1983, and continues to operate both while working at the theater.

The two ballet companies are performing "The Nutcracker" at Antietam Ballet Theatre, marking only the second production to be staged there, the first being last December's presentation of the holiday favorite.

Carolou Russell's dream is to put on shows every six weeks, including ballets and musicals.

"We're going for it," she said.

The Russells welcome dancers who aren't part of their ballet schools to join in their shows at Antietam Ballet Theatre.

"We just want to open it up to the community," Carolou Russell said.

'The Nutcracker'

"The Nutcracker," presented by Hagerstown Ballet and West Virginia Ballet

Today and Sunday, Dec. 22, 3 p.m.; and Saturday, Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m.

Antietam Ballet Theatre

104 S. Mechanic St.


Tickets are $12. For information, call the Hagerstown Ballet at 301-582-2222 or the West Virginia Ballet at 1-304-267-7740.

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