City’s ‘Young Vic’ turns 50, more relevant than ever
The Young Victorian Theatre Company celebrated its 50th anniversary this month, making it Baltimore’s longest-running musical theater group, and I’ve been there for most of it, managing the business and production aspects of the theater for the past 46 years.
While I’ve seen much over these five decades, I’m confident that the work this group does in bringing people together through uplifting performances is more critical to our collective well-being than ever, as we contend with the embers of both a pandemic — one that delayed our 50th celebration by two years — and deepening divisions in our society.
“Young Vic” has performed the musical works of Gilbert & Sullivan since its founding in 1971 as the Gilman Summer Theater, with Baltimore native and future prominent actress Bess Armstrong in the cast.
As an 8th-grade student at Gilman at the time, I remember a buzz on campus. A school long dedicated to academics and athletics was branching out into a musical theater production, after so many years of “straight plays” in its drama regimen.
Today, the theater group has grown to be a true Baltimore institution, featuring an annual budget of $200,000 for a single production, two permanent endowments valued at $500,000, conservatory-trained young professional singers and a full 25-piece orchestra.
We are proudest of two traditions at Young Vic, however. They are especially meaningful now.
The first tradition is a generational “passing down” of the love of high-quality musical theater. Daughters and sons who were in Young Vic audiences in the late 1970s now open their children’s eyes and ears to live performance.
The second tradition is one of community service, particularly to the underrepresented in our city. In recent summers, Young Vic has collaborated with the Bridges at Gilman Summer Institute Program to expose light operetta music to a group of public-school students in grades 4 through 6. Few things in my time with the theater group have been more gratifying than seeing the joy on the children’s faces when this form of culture enters their lives.
We love the kids’ enthusiasm when they hear the powerful, solo voice from each of the select singers we brought to Bridges to teach these young people about G&S and expose them to this beautiful music celebrated in everything from “Hamilton” to classic episodes of the White House drama “West Wing.”
Their foresight was masterful: Gilbert & Sullivan’s satire of class structure, forbidden love, and political buffoonery hold true today.
What they could not know was the threat that modern technologies pose on live performance. This danger confronts anyone who values the arts. Simultaneously, most of us have experienced another troubling fallout of the pandemic: isolation. Too often we miss out on human interaction.
Live musical theater reminds us of its value — and its magic.