The cast of Maine State Music Theatre’s recent production of “The Wizard of Oz.” The theater company has canceled its 2020 summer season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Roger S. Duncan photo

BRUNSWICK — Maine State Music Theatre’s entire summer season is canceled due to coronavirus concerns, theater officials announced Tuesday. 

It’s a “devastating” move that Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark said carries a potential $4 million loss that the organization cannot sustain. This is the first time any show, let alone four, has been canceled in the theatre’s 62-year history, and the blow comes ahead of what promised to be the organization’s best-attended season. 

“We are the current shepherds of MSMT and are responsible for protecting all that has transpired in the past,” Clark said in a video message. “That said, we also have a responsibility to the present and the future. There is simply no path to safely execute our season while protecting our patrons, employees and the Brunswick community.”

This year’s main stage lineup included “Titanic,” “Mamma Mia!”  “The Sound of Music,” and “Something Rotten.” 

Now officials are going into “emergency mode,” Clark said in an interview, trying to make up enough of the lost revenue to not only pay needed workers, but also enough to prepare for next season and protect the future of the company. 

“This could be a potential $4 million loss and we can’t sustain that,” Clark said. “I know people think of us as well run, and we are, but the reality is that this is a potential number that could be devastating.” 

Ticket sales make up for 80% of Maine State Music Theatre’s almost $5 million annual budget. The other 20% comes from donations, but during a time of financial hardship for businesses across the board, Clark said many won’t be able to donate the same amount they typically would. 

To compound matters, the organization also operates a costume rental company that makes and rents costumes for productions across the country. 

Those theaters also are canceling their seasons, discontinuing the theatre’s main source of income during the offseason.  

It costs between $600,000 and $800,000 to put on each show, and while the scheduled June 3 premiere is still nearly two months away, preparation began nearly 10 months ago and much of the work is completed. Some of the groundwork has already been laid for the 2021 season. 

“It’s a dangerous position to be in (as) the type of business that needs to advance order everything,” Clark said. 

Procuring the rights to a show is not as simple as some may think, he said, and other theaters have already obtained those for this season’s shows, meaning they cannot just shift this season’s lineup to next year. 

Furthermore, Maine State only has access to Bowdoin College’s Pickard Theater from June through August, so postponing the season to the fall, as other theaters have done, is not an option.

Instead, he said, the theater will try to bring “Titanic,” “Mamma Mia!” “The Sound of Music” and “Something Rotten” to the stage for the 2022 season. 

“We know we want to bring all these shows back,” Clark said, not only because they have already invested so much time and money into the productions, but also because the shows proved to be so popular. 

Officials hope to announce next season’s lineup by late June. 

The theater is holding off on releasing a fundraising goal, as the number depends on how many subscribers keep their already purchased tickets as donations. National data suggests about 30% of ticket holders do so, Clark said, though he expects, in this case, the percentage will be higher. Many have already chosen to do so, but he knows many may no longer be the same position they were a few months or weeks ago. Information on the theater’s Lifeline Fund is available on its website. 

In the meantime, the theater is working to sew masks for Mid Coast Hospital’s CHANS Home Health and Hospice patients as well as other service agencies. They will continue to make them for as long as they are needed, and plan to dedicate at least two employees and volunteers to making the masks three days per week. 

“Mid Coast Hospital is and always has been one of our best sponsors and we’re thrilled to be able to help them,” Clark said. 

Debora King, executive director of the Brunswick Downtown Association said the decision was the right one. 

“Nobody could possibly argue against that,” she said. Nevertheless, it will still have an impact on the downtown. 

“It will impact our restaurants, our shops, out hotels and the transportation systems,” she said. “Folks rely on the increased number of people in our community in the theater season.”

As the downtown businesses continue to weather the impacts of the current pandemic, King said the Brunswick Downtown Association is “reading the writing on the wall” and doing whatever it can to mitigate the negative impact of the increasing closures and cancellations. 

The same concerns have moved other performances and events across the region and state to cancel. 

Earlier this month, the Bowdoin International Music Festival announced the cancellation of its summer festival. The Saint Andrew’s Society of Maine recently canceled the Annual Maine Highland Games and Scottish Festival, planned for Aug. 15 at the Topsham Fairgrounds. 

According to the Portland Press Herald, the Celebration Barn in South Paris, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture have also canceled events. The Ogunquit Playhouse has suspended ticket sales and delayed the start of its season, which extends into October. 

King said the events committee will be meeting in the coming days to talk about some of the events in June, such as the community barbecue and the start of the Music on the Mall concert series. 

Once restrictions loosen, she said the association hopes to be able to offer some additional outdoor events for people, but those conversations are still in the works.

“There’s nothing in place right now, but we’re certainly keeping our finger on the pulse of things,” she said, adding, “People need something to look forward to.”

 


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