Baltimore's A&E scene bursting with new projects

Hurry up and finish, willya?

That's becoming almost a rallying cry on the Baltimore arts and entertainment scene, as filmgoers, theater lovers, lounge lizards, even merry-go-round riders wait eagerly for new and refurbished venues to open.

Some projects appear to be on schedule, even if fans might think they're taking forever. Others have endured a delay or two — like North Baltimore's Senator Theatre, which the new owners had hoped to have reopened earlier this year — leaving fans champing at the bit.

What follows is an update on eight Baltimore-area projects where the finish line is clearly visible or has just been crossed. The list is by no means exhaustive — the Baltimore Museum of Art, for instance, will be announcing plans Tuesday for the next phase of its continuing $24 million renovation project, while the Maryland Film Festival's plans for the long-empty Parkway Theatre on North Avenue are still in the earliest of phases, with any opening at least two years off.

The Chicken Box

1 W. North Ave.

At its best, the fried chicken takeout joint at North Avenue and North Charles Street was hardly a gem in the cityscape. It was worse after the business closed a few years ago, leaving a grim vacancy. But the lights are back on, the doors back open, and the grease has given way to greasepaint. Baltimore Annex Theater has taken up residence in what has been dubbed The Chicken Box.

The new space is welcome news in the neighborhood, especially after the art-and-theater building Load of Fun a few blocks away shut down in 2012. "There's also a new music venue coming" to the area, said Ben Stone, executive director of Station North Arts & Entertainment Inc., which spearheaded the renovation of The Chicken Box.

Annex Theater gave The Chicken Box a soft opening in May with a gender-bending production of Shakespeare's "Macbeth." With only about 40 seats, things were decidedly intimate for performers and audiences alike.

"I didn't know how the company was going to pull that off, since there really is no backstage area, but they're very creative," Stone said. "North Avenue became their backstage, with the actors going outside."

The facility, which cost about $30,000 (plus lots of in-kind services) and includes office and gallery space, is "certainly a work-in-progress," Stone said. The Chicken Box will get a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony with the mayor on June 26.

Tim Smith

The National Aquarium's Blacktip Reef exhibit

601 E. Pratt St.

A 260,000-gallon coral reef exhibit, which aquarium officials promise will make visitors feel as though they are inside an actual reef, is scheduled for a July 10 opening.

The new blacktip reef habitat, a re-creation of an Indo-Pacific reef that replaces the popular "Wings in the Water" exhibit, will include a school of sleek and fast-moving wingtip sharks. Also included in the $12.5 million exhibit will be 15 other marine species and more than 60 varieties of fish.

The tank is in place and has been filled with saltwater, said Jack Cover, the aquarium's general curator. Workers are making sure the exhibit's life-support systems are functioning properly, Cover said — think of setting up a fish tank in your home, but on a massive scale — and are adjusting the lighting.

The exhibit will offer views both above the reef and below the waterline.