By Shaela Foster,
Special to the AFRO

Baltimore Center Stage (BCS)  kicks off the first ever Locally Grown Festival this weekend, Oct. 21 to Oct. 22, highlighting over 150 local creatives. 

The festival is taking place at Baltimore Center Stage at 700 N Calvert St. as a way to bring together local artists, performers and makers. Tickets are still available featuring a $25 single day pass or a weekend pass for $40.

“The Locally Grown Festival is a real investment in the local arts ecology and the local arts community,” said Annalisa Dias, director of artistic partnerships and innovation at Baltimore Center Stage. “That’s a real strategy—taking a large regional theater like Baltimore Center Stage and really being intentional about where we’re putting our resources.”

The idea to create the festival didn’t just arise. According to Bridgette Burton, Associate Line Producer at BCS, this has been in the works for about two years. With the right funding by the National Endowment for the Arts, BCS was able to bring this two year brainchild to life. 

“I think with the festival it’s really just honing in, why do people love the city of Baltimore, why artists are here in the city and why they get a chance to explore the arts,” Burton said.

When selecting the creatives to participate, Burton says BCS used aesthetic perspectives and thought about “what makes this project locally grown?”

Nate Couser, visual and performance artist, submitted an application and was selected to be one of the 150 creatives on display. He spoke with the AFRO regarding his decision to participate. 

“For me it was about the change that has started at Center Stage where it feels more community driven, more community focused,” he said. “When they said they were doing a festival I wanted to be a part of it because it’s not often that we have festivals like this in the city, specifically at our theaters. It was definitely me jumping into it and wanting to represent my form of art in their festival.”

At the event, Couser is directing the play “Bootprints” written by Dr. Latonia-Valincia Moss. 

“Bootprints” is a “captivating and poignant play that follows one woman’s emotional journey to lay her grandmother to rest. What begins as an emotional trip home soon spirals into a remarkable exploration of family secrets, long-buried trauma and cherished memories of Southern life.” 

He says it’s a connector, a universal story. The production will be held on Sunday, Oct. 22 at 5:30 p.m. in the Smith Studio.

Couser has had connections with BCS since middle school. He says he practically grew up watching plays at BCS and have been able to go back almost every season to watch more.

“I’m very excited because I’ve been going to Center Stage for years, wishing I could create something there whether it be an actor on stage or a director,” he said. “I’ve done some work there in terms of programming, but this is my first time directing something and I’ve been wanting to do this for years.”

Along with Couser, Mecca Verdell, an actor in “Bootprints” as Gingel, Sanahara Ama Chandra as Myeshia, and Ama Y. Brown as Gmama, have all seen firsthand the impact BCS has on the community especially with the emergence of the festival. 

“I think centerstage is consistently uplifting local artists and it gives me the opportunity to be a part of this project,” Verdell said. “It’s always a great feeling knowing I’ve given enough to the community to be asked to join such a personable play like Bootprints and so glad we get to be a continued example on why artists like these are chosen to be apart of these spaces.”

Ama Chandra is a well known and beloved Baltimore-based artist. She also joins the others to participate in the festival. As a seasoned vet of Baltimore stages, she shared her thoughts on this event.

“Being a member of a vibrant arts community in the city I call home is powerful. Artists express real life and imbue their offering with their own healing frequency,” said Ama Chandra. “Having the support of anchoring institutions that value art and artists is a potent relationship that, when fostered, can transform the lives of all who experience the art.”

Ama Brown is another artist that will take the stage this weekend.  Brown says she’s looking forward to reading a piece by Dr. Latonia-Valincia Moss at the festival.

“I have been a part of the art scene in Baltimore for close to two decades,” she said. “It has always been a place where your ideas can find an audience. I love that Center Stage is connecting to that root of the tree.”

With the recent change of the mission statement at BCS, Dias says this festival is the perfect opportunity to show up for the city, contributing a positive narrative around Baltimore. 

“If we are out here as one of the largest theaters in Baltimore, should we not put the Baltimore in Baltimore Center Stage?” she said. “That’s what feels really exciting about it to me.”

BCS has hopes of the festival becoming a biannual event. 

Couser advises anyone thinking about coming to the festival to not hesitate and attend. He states there are different works being displayed from visual arts, music, dance and theater, that no one should miss out on. 

“Baltimore has so many hidden gems and often we get overshadowed by the big flashy commercial things that happen in the city,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity and I hope that many of the other creative spaces, beyond the theaters, look at this. I just don’t want the city to waste the opportunity to come see the magic that is in this city.”

Shaela Foster is an AFRO Intern from the University of Maryland, College Park.