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Focus on a 'jewel' interview with Maryland Theatre's new director

August 15, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

You could say it was love at first sight for Jay C. Constantz, when he left Georgia to visit The Maryland Theatre as a potential candidate for the full-time executive director position he now holds.

Now, Constantz, 54, is settling into his role as executive director of The Maryland Theatre, which seats more than 1,300. His top priorities for the theater: restoration, restoration, restoration.

"When I first walked on the stage down here and walked into the house and looked up into the stage and looked at the rafters up there, I got goose bumps, because you don't get to see antique theaters like this that are still preserved and still in existence," Constantz said.

Constantz said in his 30 years in theater administration - from a repertory theater in St. Louis to venues large and small in Atlanta and Northern Georgia - he's learned it's all about leaving a good impression. It's a philosophy he picked up as a child growing up in Arlington, Va., where his mother, the late Betty Constantz, exposed him to theater, music and visual arts in the D.C. metro region.

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The Maryland Theatre has been without a full-time executive director since the resignation of Brian Sullivan in March 2008. Jenni Hatcher served as interim executive director until Constantz was hired in June 2009. Constantz was selected out of a pool of 133 applicants.

Where he's coming from

Constantz, who is divorced and has no children, comes to Hagerstown from Georgia, but he has many family members in Northern Virginia, where he grew up. He has four brothers, one who lives in Manassas, Va., and another in Arlington.

As a teenager during the 1970s, Constantz - a self-described hippie - remembered visiting Washington County, going to the C&O Canal and hanging out in Hagerstown.

His first time on stage was at age 9 or 10, when he was cast as Rolf in a children's theater production of "The Sound of Music" at a rec center in Arlington.

"That's back in the days you think Christmas will never get here, and nowadays it comes way too fast," he said. "But I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the attention that I got from that. I continued through high school."

For college, Constantz attended Webster University's theater conservatory in St. Louis. But he adjusted his dreams of becoming an actor, deciding to pursue theater administration instead.

"As I got older, I guess I got more self-conscious about it," he said. "It was fun, but as I got older, there were more people to pick from for different roles and I never felt I was that good for an actor."

Where his career has taken him

After college, Constantz landed a job as a plant and operations manager at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and later house manager of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

At the time he was hired by The Maryland Theatre, Constantz was only a few months into his new position as executive director at The Historic Holly Theatre, in Dahlonega, Ga.

"I took that on with the expectation that it would not last, that it would last long enough to set things in the proper sort of track and then move on," Constantz said. "Holly Theatre is a community theater and it's not really my forte, but management is. So I was able to bring in line the budget. We were able to secure a line of credit to pay off debts."

Prior to Holly Theatre, Constantz was the director of the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Institute of Technology, a post he held for six years.

His longest stretch was as assistant general manager at Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

"The Fox Theatre, when I began there in 1983, was in a similar situation to The Maryland Theatre in that it was operating pretty much hand to mouth," Constantz said. "Any revenue that was generated was being put right back into the theater, and it was in need of some major renovation and restoration, which is how I see Maryland."

Constantz said that during his time at Fox, he was able to generate positive revenue, returning an average of $1 million a year toward restoring the building.

A rare gem

According to the Maryland Historical Trust, The Maryland Theatre is one of the few remaining neoclassical 20th-century theaters in the state.

"It's a community jewel," Constantz said.

But the theater, which opened in 1915, is in need of repair.

Though $150,000 was spent repairing the auditorium roof, Constantz said there were parts of the theater where the plaster has buckled due to old leaks from the roof and drains, and has caused the paint to peel.

There also are longer-range plans to update the theater's outdated HVAC system, whose parts - aside from the air filters - date back to the 1920s, '30s and '40s.

The heating system, which can make a clapping sound, dumps heat into dressing rooms, while parts of the lobby remain cold.

There also are plans to replace what Constantz characterized as 1970s-era red carpeting in the theater isles and concession area. The theater has already spent $28,680 to replace the same commercial-grade carpet in the lobby with decorative tile.

His motivation for renovating? Keeping the theater beautiful and its balance sheet strong. Culture is something that should be preserved, he said, so that it can be passed on to the next generation of audiences.

"I believe that one of our objectives should be to create our place in history," Constantz said. "If it had not been for the people who had stewardship of this theater since 1915, we would not be sitting here."

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