Maine State Music Theatre’s 2016 production of “Mamma Mia!” The show is scheduled to return this summer but theatre officials are uncertain what the season will look like during the pandemic. Courtesy photo by Roger S. Duncan

BRUNSWICK — Under normal circumstances, Maine State Music Theatre would be gearing up to welcome the actors, dancers, choreographers, directors and stagehands for the theatre’s upcoming season, which artistic director Curt Dale Clark said was poised to be among the best in its 62-year history. 

But these are not normal circumstances, and instead, theatre officials are trying to envision how the season might move forward, if at all. 

“We don’t really get to make this decision,” Clark said. “We are going to let these other, larger conversations at the national, state and collegiate level dictate our decision.” 

Officials running The Bowdoin International Music Festival, slated to begin June 27, have been in similar conversations, and announced Monday that for the first time since it started in 1964, the festival will not be held as scheduled. 

“While we are saddened that we will not have the opportunity to share beautiful music and provide transformative education. … We know that this is the right thing to do,” festival leadership said in a letter to the community. 

David and Phillip Ying, on cello and viola, are co-artistic directors of the Bowdoin International Music Festival and members of the Ying quartet. Tim Greenway/Portland Press Herald

The music festival draws 250 students from more than 20 countries to Brunswick each year to study with faculty and guest artists and across the state, more than 30,000 people attend the summer’s 200-plus events and concerts conducted in halls, museums, classrooms, breweries, churches, libraries and other locations. This summer, the festival was preparing for “an absolutely thrilling season,” with applications at an all-time high, according to an update from organizers last month.  Ultimately, the decision was made for the safety of the students, faculty, staff and audience members, according to the letter.

Maine State Music Theatre also canceled an upcoming joint show with The Public Theatre of Lewiston, but the main stage and children’s shows are at this point still continuing. 

The first show of the season, “Titanic,” is scheduled to kick off June 3, followed by “Mamma Mia!,” “The Sound of Music” and “Something Rotten.” 

The theatre brings 240 people to Brunswick each year to create the shows, something that cannot happen while maintaining social distancing. Normally, they would start arriving in three weeks. Clark already knows that won’t be happening. 

While Maine State Music Theatre is an established theater company, “it’s still very volatile.”

“If this season doesn’t happen … there will be no money,” he said. “That’s very scary for us. There’s been a lot of lost sleep and a lot of planning … knowing that a lot of (the plans) will never see the light of day.” 

The only other interruption to the regular season in the organization’s 62-year history was 20 years ago when the Pickard was remodeled and the shows were performed at Brunswick High School. In their business, the show must go on, and Clark said the company is committed to doing as much of the season as possible. 

“We made the decision that if push came to shove… people would forgive a lack of our usual opulence,” he said. 

A typical show cost between $600,000 and $800,000 to put together but could be more for a really big show. If there were a reduction in the number of shows or the size of the audience (and the shows are already almost all sold out), then cuts would need to be made. 

As it is, “we’ve already spent an insane amount of money to bring these shows to Brunswick,” he said, and much of the design work is already done. 

Big name shows like “Mamma Mia!” and “The Sound of Music” bring people to the shows, but they also breed certain expectations.

“They go in expecting to love it, so the production quality has to be over the top to give them something even better than what they thought,” Clark said. 

Then there’s the local economic impact. The theatre brings people to Brunswick in the summer, helping fill hotels with guests, restaurants with diners and stores with shoppers. 

“We are an economic driver unlike any other in the town for the summer season,” he said. “We have a ton of advertisers and sponsors we feel responsible to.”

Bowdoin International Music Festival organizers are also concerned about the financial impact on the organization’s budget. With no revenue from ticket sales and tuition deposits to reimburse, the change presents a heavy economic burden on the nonprofit festival’s $1.75 million budget. Officials are asking audience members to donate what they would have spent on tickets (or more if they are able) to the organization’s annual fund so that the festival can continue as planned next year. 

That money will also not go to waste. Despite no in-person performances, according to chair Elliot Rosen and directors David and Phillip Ying and Daniel Nitsch, the “season will not be entirely lost.”

Performances, masterclasses and talks will still be hosted online, with some new performances live-streamed and past concerts rebroadcast. Many details are still being worked out. 

“We know that these will not be the same as being together on campus,” David Ying, Phillip Ying Rosen and Nitsch wrote, “but we still want to be with you in whatever way we can.” 

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