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Money from Heaven

$1.1 million in bequests mean possibilities for Colonial ­Players and Maryland Hall

Dr. Roland Riley, a chiropractor in Annapolis for close to a half century, was a man of deep and quiet loyalties. He was also a theater lover.
    A 1942 graduate of Annapolis High School, he returned as a dedicated performance-goer after his alma mater’s transformation to Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.
    At The Colonial Players, Dr. Bob — who did not care for his given name — took a more active role. There, he was a volunteer sound technician with over 50 years of service to the theater. His life partner, H. Kelly Brandmiller Jr., sat on the Players’ board of directors in the 1960s.
    After retiring, the couple lived happily in Heritage Harbor until Brandmiller’s death in 2008 and Riley’s in 2010.
    Riley’s will has put the two arts organizations and the condominium association on the horns of a delightful dilemma: how to invest bequests of $1.1 million each.
    The gifts were unanticipated, William Mitchell, Riley’s estate executor, told Bay Weekly. “He was a quiet, humble fellow who didn’t care that much for notoriety.”
    “I used to say I did not like surprises,” said Linnell Bowen, executive director of Maryland Hall. “This wonderful unrestricted gift made me decide I like surprises.”
    At Colonial Players, a committee has been formed to look into possible uses for the money.
    “Because Colonial is the grandparent of local community theaters,” president Terry Averill said, “other theaters look to us to ask how they can become solid and successful. So looking ahead to the next 50 years, we must ask ourselves how to do the most for the community at large and Colonial simultaneously.”
    Will future audiences enjoy A Christmas Carol in a larger theater? Is theater in the round to remain Colonial’s signature stage? Will the company move to a location with better parking or cling to its historic locale? The annex at Renard Court is already full to capacity with costumes, props and a rehearsal space that is steadily booked.
    In debate is whether the mission can best be served through improving facilities, outreach and education — or both. Because Colonial Players relies on the dedication and teamwork of an extensive volunteer network that is already working at capacity, the demands of any new endeavor, even a temporary one, must be weighed.
    Maryland Hall’s board of directors voted to invest part of the bequest in its endowment and divide the rest between technology and building.
    “We’re using it for a new web site and for seed money for a new capital campaign,” Bowen said. “We plan to refurbish our 80-year-old building to the tune of $15 million.”
    Performance spaces will be transformed, with a 17-foot fly over the existing theater, new seating, a new 200-seat small theater, three elevators including one for freight, new windows and modernizing the old high-school restrooms.
    “Unrestricted money is a godsend. You can put it where you need it,” said Bowen, who promises that one of the projects will be named for Riley.