Officials Hear About Importance Of Supports Culture

OCEAN CITY — Expanding art and culture in Ocean City has always come with challenges, but those barriers are coming down little by little thanks in part to a mobile, diverse theater troupe formed and led by a resort native.

For the last few years, Brown Box Theatre has produced several classic plays and other performances in the resort area from its popular Shakespeare in the Park offerings to other performances and the Art League of Ocean City and beyond. Created by Ocean City local Kyler Taustin, the Brown Box Theatre’s mission is to bring high-quality cultural experiences to communities that otherwise lack access to the performing arts. Brown Box’s constant goal is to break down the barriers that separate potential audiences from live theater and to introduce the performing arts to the widest audience possible.

To that end, Taustin and Brown Box have brought several high-quality performances to Ocean City, starting with a free production in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in 2011. In the years since, Brown Box has produced and performed several other Shakespeare plays and other performances in the resort and at venues across Delmarva, bringing professional live performing arts to communities that otherwise might not get the experience without traveling to traditional cultural hubs.

This year, Brown Box will bring Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Ocean City, along with, for the first time, the musical production Songs for a New World, but Taustin sees plenty of room for potential growth in the performing arts in Ocean City. On Monday, he made a presentation to the Tourism Commission seeking the town’s support for not only Brown Box Theatre specifically, but arts and culture in general in the resort and across the region.

“There is a lot of potential for arts and culture as a means of growth in the tourism sector,” he said. “Ocean City has an opportunity to expand its cultural offerings and the key is to treat the arts as part of the resort economy.”

Of course, there has been a steady growth in the cultural offerings in the resort, largely known heretofore for its beach and Boardwalk and other nightly entertainment options throughout the summer, but Taustin believes there is room for improvement. The new Arts League of Ocean City at 94th Street is thriving and just two years ago the city opened its new Performing Arts Center in the Roland E. Powell Convention Center.

Brown Box Theatre and other performers have been utilizing Sunset Park along the bay downtown and there have been discussions about developing an amphitheater at Northside Park to accommodate live performances. A new stage at Caroline Street has also shown great promise, but by and large, the town’s cultural venues thus far are not living up to their potential. Taustin told the Tourism Commission on Monday it is Brown Box Theatre’s mission to tap that potential and urged commission members to consider including the arts in its marketing strategy.

“I think there is an opportunity to incorporate arts and cultural events in the marketing,” he said. “It can expand and enhance the visitor experience and perhaps change the perception of Ocean City. What does Rodney do when the sun goes down or when it rains?”

Changing the perception of Ocean City as a cultural hub will come with challenges, but Taustin said there is an economic benefit as well and the numbers appear to bear that out. He pointed to a recent report that pointed out 76 percent of all leisure travelers in the U.S. seek out cultural activities and they typically spend more than conventional leisure travelers. The same report asserts cultural tourists spend roughly 60 percent more than other domestic leisure travelers.

“Cultural visitors tend to stay longer and spend more money,” he said. “Arts enthusiasts tend to make a night out of it. They go to dinner before and meet afterwards to discuss the performance. We know that 50 percent of the guests at our Art League performances go to the neighboring restaurants before or after or both.”

Taustin on Monday was seeking the support of the Tourism Commission and ultimately the Mayor and Council to increase its support not only for Brown Box Theatre but all of the performing arts in the resort. He was not seeking a specific financial investment, but rather an expansion of the arts in the town’s tourism marketing, seeking available grants for performing arts and promoting the various venues.

“We’re asking Ocean City to invest in us,” he said. We’re taking off and we’re inviting you to join us, but we need the support of the town.”

For her part, Art League Director Rina Thaler said the Tourism Commission was the perfect venue for launching the effort because most of the players were in the room.

“We are very fortunate to have this as an amenity for visitors to our town,” she said. “The best part is they are free. This can be another free offering for the town of Ocean City. There is no income for the Art League and no income for Brown Box. We just have an opportunity to make these offerings accessible to more people.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.