Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By Bob Keyes firstname.lastname@example.org
FREEPORT – A month ago, Bud Carlson felt certain he would not be hawking tickets to an upcoming Christmas show.
Bud and Julie George-Carlson, above, in the performance space at Freeport Factory Stage on Depot Street. Next up, a holiday production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
WILL RHYS stars in a one-man version of "A Christmas Carol" at 7 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Dec. 11 at Freeport Factory Stage, 5 Depot St. Admission on Thursday is pay-what-you-can. Admission other nights is $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students.
THE FRIENDS of the Factory Stage hosts a free social mixer from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13. The event will include refreshments, including pizza and beverages. This is an opportunity to find out how to get involved with the Factory Stage, and is targeted at actors, directors, audience members and volunteers. Call 865-5505 or email email@example.com.
He and his wife, Julie George-Carlson, decided to close the 99-seat black box theater they'd been running since the spring, Freeport Factory Stage.
They had some success, and people seemed to like the shows. The last weekend of "Macbeth" sold out.
"But people can applaud you to death. We had no money left. We sunk everything we had into this place," Carlson said.
With the building lease about to expire, the Carlsons decided it was time to pull the plug on their grand experiment of bringing professional theater to Freeport. Despite their artistic success and respectable ticket sales for most of the nine shows they hosted since their May opening, they struggled to pay the bills.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the closing.
As soon as Carlson hit "send" on an email announcing the couple's intent to close Freeport Factory Stage, they were inundated with phone calls and emails from folks imploring them to give it more time.
"People said, 'No, don't. You got something good going. You've got to stay at it longer,' " Carlson said.
So instead of closing, Freeport Factory Stage is still very much open for business. It will host a one-man version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" beginning Thursday starring Broadway veteran Will Rhys, who now lives in Bridgton. There's a social mixer on tap for next week, and on New Year's Eve, the theater will present two performances of "Forbidden Broadway," a musical send-up of Broadway hits.
The survival of this small theater, tucked in the heart of a retail complex in a town best known for shopping and factory outlets, takes on a David-and-Goliath quality. The Carlsons, founders of the Freeport Shakespeare Festival, believe Freeport has a lot more going for it than retail.
And they want their theater to become a magnet for those who love theater and appreciate professional-quality shows.
They also believe they are close enough to Portland to draw audiences up I-295 and I-95, and close enough to Brunswick and the Midcoast to bring people down as well.
They just need to figure out a way to pay the bills.
Their original business plan involved taking advantage of the space, which, when they assumed the lease in the spring, had already been built out as a performance hall featuring mostly live music. They made some changes to the space to make it more theater-friendly, and began booking existing shows that did not require much artistic development on their part.
In the spring, both were focused on the summer Shakespeare festival, so they wanted to bring in ready-made shows. For the summer, their hope was to use Freeport Factory Stage as a secondary location for festival events.
That plan played out as they envisioned. The problem was, it didn't generate enough income. Ticket and concession sales did not cover their costs, and they found themselves paying rent out of their own pocket.
George-Carlson, who serves as executive and artistic director of the Shakespeare festival (presented the last two summers at L.L. Bean Discovery Park), thinks part of the reason for the misfire was the theater's lack of identity. With few exceptions, the shows they presented represented someone else's artistic vision.
"We brought in existing pieces. We had a few comedy acts, musicals and pre-set plays -- things we didn't have to think about," she said. "People asked, 'What are you? Are you a theater? Are you a comedy place?' "
Over the summer and early fall, they began to rethink their strategy.
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Julie George-Carlson in the box office at Freeport Factory Stage.
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