Baltimore Center Stage is one of the most prestigious regional performing arts companies in the U.S., a forefather of independent theater that presents innovative productions of classical and contemporary works. Concurrent with a major revitalization and renaming of the theater, Pentagram has designed a new brand identity, program of environmental graphics and website that captures the dynamic spirit of the institution and highlights its Baltimore roots.
Founded in 1963, Baltimore Center Stage became a leader in the regional theater movement and was designated the official State Theater of Maryland in 1978. Its adventurous programming includes new works commissioned by the theater, as well as interpretations of established works. The new branding creates a distinctive look on par with its productions, helping it stand out in the cultural landscape and attract new audiences.
The new identity centered on renaming the theater as Baltimore Center Stage. Although it is well-known and influential, there are now multiple unaffiliated Center Stage theaters in other U.S. cities, and the institution wanted to set itself apart. It is closely aligned with the rebirth of the city and its works are increasingly being presented internationally, all reasons to differentiate through the inclusion of "Baltimore" as a key component of the institutional name. Pentagram worked closely on the project with Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE (who is departing this spring for the Young Vic) and Managing Director Michael Ross.
“This is an exciting time to be in Baltimore, a city in the midst of its own Renaissance, and as this city transforms, so does Baltimore Center Stage,” says Kwei-Armah. “The changes to our building and our new look reflect our commitment to innovation and accessibility and the positive impact the arts can have on this community, rooted in Baltimore but spreading throughout Maryland, to the national stage, and around the world.”
The identity spotlights the updated name in three flexible forms that can be configured in different ways––stacked, in a single line, or in a variety of shapes. The three-part construction highlights "Baltimore" alongside the original name “Center Stage” and also suggests the three individual stages at the theater. Originally inspired by the tape marks of performers on stage, the logo evokes marquee signage, banners and celebratory confetti. The shapes can be used as the basis for graphic patterns and to create logos for affiliated programs like the Mobile Unit and Young Playwrights Festival, recognizably branding them as part of BCS.
The logotype is set in Ano (designed by Gareth Hague), a monoline sans serif with a wide-ranging family of fonts. The identity employs the entire suite of variations, using them as a flexible toolkit for various components of the branding and the individual productions. The primary color of the identity is a rich, distinctive red, a reference to the color of the theater interior that is further set off by a black background.
The major renovation by architects Cho Benn Holback & Associates, with theater design by Charcoalblue, encompassed refurbishments of the building’s two existing theaters and the creation of the Third Space, a new smaller experimental theater; new lobbies, box office, café, bar and lounge; a new education center; and revamped back of house production areas, including rehearsal spaces and a new costume workshop.
The environmental graphics have been integrated with the new architecture to actively engage with and perform in the space. The centerpiece of the renovated main lobby is a perforated steel wall that frames the entrance of the Pearlstone and features notable quotations from plays, many from productions mounted at the theater. The lines appear with no attribution, inviting visitors to discuss and guess their source. Set in Ano Stencil, the type is cut through the steel and dramatically backlit to glow in the space. Theater identification signage is dimensional, forming mini-marquees within the building. Large-scale typography identifies the new bar on the fourth floor, and a quote by playwright Tom Stoppard runs around the perimeter of the ceiling.
The identity provides a cohesive framework where the various programs and performances can shine within the institution. Promotional graphics such as posters, ads and banners establish an individual look for each production using different cuts of the Ano type family and strong photography by Dean Alexander, a longstanding BCS collaborator. These mini-campaigns shine in the clean, streamlined design of the new website.
“It’s hard to find a superlative that adequately describes the power of the work Pentagram did for Baltimore Center Stage,” Kwei-Armah says. “They captured the essence of our ambitions and made them into the stuff dreams are made of.”