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Panther Takes the Stage: Theater Offers Haven for Community Groups Shut Out Due to Covid

Earlier this year real estate investment and asset management firm, Blue Ocean, announced the acquisition of the former North Carroll High School. The campus is part of Blue Ocean’s growing portfolio of sports complexes.  Rebranded as Panther Performance Center, the group is working to transform the 50-acre property at 1400 Panther Drive into a thriving sports, arts, and performance complex, featuring several courts. gymnasiums, multi-purpose fields, practice and performance rooms in addition to its signature theater.

The property, divided into four sections, boasts just under 300,000 square feet of multipurpose space, with the performing arts center offering a seating capacity of more than 800. For many in the performing arts community displaced by continued COVID precautions and the closures of their venues amidst the rise of Omicron, the privately-owned Panther Performance Center has kept its act alive by providing a second home.

panther theatre cast members acting

Panther Theater is Uniquely Capable of Supporting Large-Scale Productions and Groups

As the only privately owned theater in Carroll County with the ability to accommodate audiences of more than 800 people, Panther Theater is a unique venue. The only other theaters that may be capable of seating this many people are in more populous areas such as Frederick, Baltimore, DC, and Columbia. This means local dance studios and performing arts groups have historically needed to travel up to 40 miles for recitals and performances. The groups tried to use local public schools for their shows and soon found that distance wasn’t the only obstacle in the way. Public schools offered very limited availability for outside organizations, with their own school activities taking priority.

The Panther stage features massive wing space that allows larger set pieces and props to be stored, and a tall ceiling to allow for fly systems to be added. A fly system, or theatrical rigging system, is a system of rope lines, blocks, counterweights, and related devices within a theater that enables a stage crew to fly components quickly, quietly, and safely across the stage, including curtains, lights, scenery, stage effects and, sometimes, people. This capacity is a huge draw and is very useful for theater productions and many other forms of entertainment as well.

The use of Panther Theater allows groups to rehearse on the same stage they will be performing. Panther is an affordable option that offers a multitude of rooms for rehearsal and storage.

Panther Theater is Bringing Performers Together from all Around the State

One group that now calls this venue home is the Small Town Stars Theater Company, run by Miranda Secula. Prior to Panther, Small Town Stars had no reliable place to rehearse. The troupe moved between spaces, including a barn, a backyard, a recreational center, an extra building on a piece of property, and the Carroll Community College. The troupe shares the space with Players on Air, Inc, a group that had been between locations since it was founded in 2017.

The theater groups benefiting from Panther’s reopening come from all over the state, with groups such as Bais Yaakov High School relocating their performances from as far away as Towson’s Goucher College following the shutdowns. Other schools, including Pikesville’s Bnos Yisroel and Ohr Chadash, are also considering moving future performances and events to Panther.

For many groups like these, Panther is a reliable new home with accommodations for changing rooms, gathering rooms, choir practice space, costume, and prop storage. A converted art space is currently slated for use as a dance studio.

Jess Etzel, co-creator of D&J’s Dynamite Dance Company representing North Carroll Dance, Inc., is feeling relieved that dance shows can resume in Carroll County.  “The reopening of the North Carroll Auditorium has been a tremendous help & a breath of fresh air to the North Carroll Dance Studio. They opened their doors to our dancers and their families last spring, allowing live performances to take place once again in our local community. It was a heartwarming feeling to be able to present several shows in a safe environment, especially in a place that felt like ‘home.’ We are confident that we’ll have long-term cooperation with the folks who were able to reopen the doors to us & so many others. On a larger scale, it is amazing to witness our small community helping the arts thrive once more!”

Rob Miller of Westminster’s dance training and artist development program, Project C Studios, is beyond thrilled at the opportunity for his team, and others like his, to perform at this venue. “I am so excited to be able to have a place like Panter to perform. It gives us so many more options when it comes to staging a show. It also opens it up to be able to expose more people in the county to theater and the arts.”

Panther is Building Community Bridges and Partnerships

Not only is Panther opening new opportunities for the performing arts, but it’s also bringing the entire community together.

“It’s such a good feeling to give back to the community,” Blue Ocean CEO Jonathan Ehrenfeld explains. “The response has been overwhelming. While Panther Performance Center has been able to act as a temporary home for these groups, we have every hope of making the home permanent to our current partners and many future friends.”