On April 14, the Maine State Music Theatre announced the sad news: MSMT’s entire summer season would be canceled due to the coronavirus. No one felt worse about that decision than Curt Dale Clark, MSMT’s Artistic Director. “I know it was the right decision,” he says, “ but canceling the season still felt like a failure. It’s been hard to shake that feeling.”

Happily, Curt and MSMT have received an outpouring of support from subscribers and the Midcoast community since the decision was announced. Thirty-six percent of the subscribers chose not to request a refund, thereby reducing MSMT’s potential loss of $3 million. Many donors have stepped up to contribute to MSMT’s Lifeline Fund to preserve the theater’s financial health going into the 2021 season. Curt, himself, has received scores of emails, calls and letters expressing support and encouragement. “One lady at Hannaford told me she couldn’t imagine a summer without seeing my smiling face, and that felt good.”

Regular MSMT theatergoers know that Curt Dale Clark is passionate about putting on musicals of Broadway-quality summer after summer. They know that he serves as a great warm-up act when he welcomes the audience before every show. They know that he, himself, is a superb performer, having shined as Professor Harold Hill in MSMT’s production of the Music Man in 2015. And they know that he’s a great ambassador for MSMT, greeting those who recognize him on the street with a warm smile.

They might not know, however, that Curt is equally dedicated to preserving the financial health of MSMT. “Until eight years ago when I became Artistic Director, MSMT had never been profitable for three straight years. We’ve now been profitable for eight straight years.”

The long record of profitability will end this year because of the cancellation of the 2020 season. There will be no revenue from ticket sales, but actors must still be paid because of Actors’ Equity Association rules. MSMT laid off no full-time staff, although everyone (including Curt Dale Clark) has had to take a pay cut. Tough times call for painful sacrifices.

Past profitability stems in part from a sizable loyal subscriber base. In fact, subscribers account for 73% of ticket sales, one of the highest rates among regional theaters in the nation. Curt Dale Clark’s upbeat, can-do spirit has been instrumental in increasing MSMT’s support among donors and advertisers. MSMT has wisely invested in facilities to house actors, technical staff and other professionals brought to Brunswick in the summer, thereby saving on housing costs. Finally, MSMT has a conservative approach to staffing. As Curt notes, “Everyone on our staff does multiple jobs.”

But what about next summer? First of all, MSMT can’t just carry this summer’s planned schedule over to next year because of rights agreements. Curt and Stephanie Dupal, MSMT’s Managing Director, worked hard to line up new shows, and the schedule will be announced in August. All new casts must be chosen in addition to tackling numerous other behind-the-scenes tasks: e.g. hiring interns; making housing assignments; preparing publicity; making decisions on costuming; lining up sponsors, advertisers and volunteers; and on and on. And, oh yes, the challenge of fundraising never ends.

I’m confident that Curt Dale Clark and his talented professional staff will do their part to make the 2021 season the best ever. Let’s all do our part to support this magnificent community treasure. (For more information on the Lifeline Fund and other ways to support MSMT, go to www.msmt.org.)

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]

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