8.STANDISH — Since the Schoolhouse Arts Center at Sebago Lake first opened its doors in the spring of 1988, the small, nonprofit community theater has produced over 50 musicals, hosted countless performances and educated hundreds.

The theater, housed in the historic Old Standish High School on Richville Road, began this year by opening its new black box space and sold out all three shows of the first production.

“It looked like the year was going to be a great year and (we were) all revved up,” said Zachariah Stearn, the artistic director.

Then the coronavirus hit and suddenly Schoolhouse was forced to cancel all spring and summer productions. Now, Stearn said, it’s beginning to look more and more likely their fall show will be canceled as well.

Despite the setbacks on stage, Stearn, who joined Schoolhouse in 2018, said he and the Board of Directors decided to keep their 31-year history of educational offerings alive through the pandemic.

“We decided we could run our summer programs for kids with rigorous changes … We are fortunate in that our facility is massive. Two performance spaces, three classrooms, a large parking lot, a dance room. We’ve got the space to hold small groups of people for extended periods of time safely,” he said.

In a typical year, Stearn said there could easily be 30 kids in each of their productions, in addition to the adult actors and production crews, and up to 20 kids enrolled in classes. They usually offer about five different programs each year for elementary, middle and high school-aged students.

Monday was the first day of the Princess and Pirate Camp for four “amazing little children,” which kicked off eight weeks of programming. Stearn said all classes have been moved outside to the parking lot, where tents have been place. Everyone is also required to wear a face mask, but “mask-free activities” have been added so campers can safely take a breather.

Emily Lemont, 14, from Gorham, has been attending programs at Schoolhouse for about five years and regularly volunteers as a counselor for the younger age groups. She’s back this year as a counselor for the Princess and Pirate Camp, where she said she feels “very safe … with all of the procedures we have in place to make sure that safety is our first priority.”

It’s obviously different, she said, but “I feel like Schoolhouse has a really great community of people and it’s a really great place to learn.”

Stearn said if there’s one thing he could communicate to the community, it’s the impact that Schoolhouse has on the people who come through its doors.

“For 31 years we have seen kids come in as toddlers and leave as adults. We’ve seen them grow up in this program … The impact transcends theater. It’s not about theater, it’s about the experience.”

Financially, he said, “we’re hanging on,” but said the best way to support them and other local nonprofit theaters is to donate and “buy tickets and support the arts, even if they can’t go. That’s how we pay our light bill, our trash removal. A lot of it is overhead just to run the organization.”

While there will be no in-person performances for the time being, Schoolhouse is hosting a virtual cabaret performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 24. Tickets for the performance can be found on the Schoolhouse’s Facebook page.

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