This London-born playwright, director and actor arrived at Maryland’s state theater just three years ago, but he’s already transformed it into a buzz-worthy destination. Named an OBE by the queen in 2012, Kwei-Armah wins applause this side of the Atlantic too.
When you moved to Baltimore, what did you find surprising?
How quickly you can leave the city and find natural beauty. The surrounding area’s really green. I found that breathtaking.
Describe what’s special about the city’s arts scene.
Several people here have international reputations as leaders of arts organizations, such as Marin Alsop at the BSO and Julia Marciari-Alexander at the Walters. We’re all relatively new and came to Baltimore because of its great artistic energy. Everyone has a mission bigger than just looking out for his or her individual institution. We all want to make the world know Baltimore the way that we know it.
What keeps you here?
I love this job, I love this theater, and I love going down to the harbor. The environment here is the opposite of “bling”; people don’t show off their wealth. On the whole, the city is free of pretension and vacuousness. There is a sense of community support and pride.
What does it mean to be a “Baltimorean”?
I don’t know yet, but I do know that there is such a thing. And it links in part to how deep your roots are in this great city. I will be really pleased the day someone says to me, “You’re now an honorary Baltimorean.” I’ll feel as if I achieved something.
What city accomplishments make you proud?
I love the way Baltimore’s negotiating its path from being an industrial to a post-industrial city. I look at Harbor East as a physical manifestation of this change. This progressive city is not resting on its laurels. And its citizens invest in Baltimore. That’s very important for me, that the sense of philanthropy is high here.
Where do you take visitors?
The American Visionary Arts Museum and Harbor East. When my Caribbean friends come over, I take them to the West Indian restaurants in Park Heights, because we can get the food that we’re used to. [Kwei-Armah’s parents were born in Grenada.]
Does your family follow any Baltimore traditions?
Where’s the most beautiful vista in the city?
I recommend looking out at the harbor from the top of one of the buildings along Market Place. And from Federal Hill, the view is beautiful.
MY PERFECT DAY
Breakfast: From the Griddle
We’d go to Miss Shirley’s in Roland Park [also at Inner Harbor]. It’s always jumping, and the pancakes are just top of the tree!
Morning: Quirky Creativity
The works at the American Visionary Arts Museum stretch my mind and let me see the world through another lens. A visit there is challenging but has a real spiritual quality.
Lunch: Buon Appetito!
Sotto Sopra is really classy, and the food is great—the best Italian.
Afternoon: Family Affair
We love the Walters, particularly on Sunday when it’s filled with families taking in the art in an interactive way, something that all arts organizations want to achieve. After that, we’d go duckpin bowling at Patterson Bowling Center in Canton, because I’m rubbish at it, and I like to see other people who are good!
Dinner: Mediterranean Style
Pazo is where I take people to show off. It’s so stylish, with beautiful food.
Evening: Curtain Call
Time to check on the latest show at Center Stage. I want it to be everything I’ve said about these other places all at once.