The Maryland Theatre gets a new chief

April 06, 2008

Her father was an opera singer, her mother a newspaper entertainment editor. And when she was in middle school, she was one of the many citizens who joined in the clean-up after the lobby of The Maryland Theatre burned.

Given her family's background in the arts and her own affection for the theater, it's not a big surprise that Jenni Hatcher accepted the interim director's job after Brian Sullivan's abrupt resignation.

What prompted his exit is something no one on the board wants to talk about.

"We're moving forward today and not criticizing the past," said Ron Bower, president of the theater's board of directors.

Bowers asked me to meet with Hatcher after my March 30 column, in which I suggested that Sullivan's departure provided a good chance to do some things differently.

Some of what I suggested - such more aggressive fundraising, packages that would combine theater tickets with bus tours and a way for people to become annual supporting members of the theater - is already in progress.


Hatcher, who worked as special events coordinator for the Mike Call Stadium Committee, is obviously no novice when it comes to fundraising.

Hatcher said they've already launched the "Have a Seat" campaign in which theater supporters can purchase an engraved plaque for the seat of their choice, for a cost ranging form $250 to $500, depending on its location.

If you "purchase" a seat, you will get a one-week advanced notice of ticket sales, so that you can purchase them first and sit in your favorite seat, she said.

The theater is also offering naming rights to various features inside. COPT - Corporate Office Properties Trust, developers of the old Fort Ritchie Army base - have already bought naming rights for the concession stand.

If you want to purchase an annual membership, Hatcher said you will be able to do that soon on the Internet, when the theater launches an update of its Web site.

If you'd rather support the theater with an outdoor activity, the theater is having its own golf tournament - "Mulligans for the Maryland" on Friday, Sept. 12, at the Black Rock Golf Course.

The gala I suggested is already being planned "and will probably happen later in the fall," she said.

And about those bus tours, in which a visit to the county would be combined with a night at the theater, Hatcher said she's already talked about the with Betsy DeVore, of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Putting together an endowment will be tougher, according to Malcolm "Mac" Davis, vice president of the board. Davis said that with a staff of three and money being so tight, there's juts not enough cash to launch such a campaign now.

To compensate for the theater's lack of personnel, Hatcher said the group of volunteers is being reorganized as the "Circle of Friends."

Hatcher said that "they're going to help plan and facilitate these events, so that the burden isn't so heavy on any one person," she said.

But Hatcher, who has been the theater's director of development and marketing since September 2007, has taken on quite a burden herself. She's talked to many civic and professional groups, including service clubs such as Exchange and Rotary and the Greater Hagerstown Committee.

"This is the community's theater and I want to communicate and build on those relationships," she said.

Part of that communication will be getting out the word when a very special production is coming. Sometimes even that doesn't do the trick, Hatcher said.

When Mel Johnson Jr. did his one-man show on African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, she contacted 90 organizations, yet only 200 attended.

Hatcher said she anticipates collaborating with the Washington County Public Schools, when the theater has scheduled a performance that could add depth to what she said is the school system's "excellent curriculum."

The best news the theater received recently is that it was successful in getting a $125,000 state bond bill that will be used to fix some problems with the stage and other areas.

Bowers and Davis gave the credit for that success to Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington and state Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington.

There is a lot more in store for the theater - sponsored summer concerts in the theater's courtyard beginning in May, an appearance by the Glen Miller Orchestra sponsored by the Joint Veterans Council of Washington County on May 27, the Theater Works children's series on May 29 and a free Christmas event for children on the last Saturday before Christmas.

Find out about all these and more by going to theater's Web site at

One you shouldn't miss the Washington County "Teen Idol" contest, which will be held at theater at 7 p.m. this coming Saturday, April 12. I recently interviewed Lawren Hill, the 2007 winner.

It was the crowd, she said, that helped her do her best. Please don't let this year's batch of contestants sing to an empty house. And don't let Hatcher and her board beat their brains out with no success. They can only do so much; the rest is really up to the community.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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