Ashley McBreairty, center, performs in a 2018 production of “Mary Poppins” at Schoolhouse Arts Center. The 17-year-old said the theater’s closure would be “absolutely devastating to me.” Contributed / Cristina McBreairty

STANDISH — Schoolhouse Arts Center, a stalwart of the Lakes Region community since 1988, is in danger of shutting down because of the pandemic, but the theater’s administrators say they’re not going down without a fight.

Board President Cristina McBreairty estimates that the theater has lost 90-95% of its income and needs at least $2,000 a month to remain open.

“It’s a community,” McBreairty said. Her entire family from her father, Neil, to her daughter, Ashley, is involved with Schoolhouse.

“A lot of people go to church because of the community,” McBreairty said. “Schoolhouse is a community for a lot of people, a home away from home. (It’s) a labor of love, truly.”

The theater was forced to close its doors last March along with much of the country, the day before their annual “Truly Talented Kids” show, she said.

“We literally had to walk into their dressing room to tell them it had to be canceled because of COVID,” McBreairty said.


Schoolhouse canceled all in-person shows for the 2020 season and held a limited kids’ summer camp program in July, but without funding from ticket sales and tuition from other educational programs, revenues are down by about 90-95%.

Artistic Director Zachariah Stearn said the major financial hit hasn’t stopped them from planning for the 2021 season.

“We fully anticipate having a season this year with performances that audiences can attend,” Stearn said Tuesday.

That plan is flexible, however, because of how fast the situation can change, he said.

Ashley McBreairty and a group of friends have been working to prepare the building for opening day. From left to right: Rachel Lehouillier, Nick Cohen, Zoe Peters, Ray Woodworth, Ashley McBreairty, Riley Webster and Colby Cormier. Contributed / Ashley McBreairty

But Schoolhouse’s biggest challenge is getting through the winter months. There’s a “monstrous cost” attached to keeping the 100-year-old Old Standish High School building running through the winter months, McBreairty said.

Even with the building completely “buttoned up” with blankets over the windows and the heat on the lowest setting, a single propane tank refill costs $800 alone, she said. In order to keep their insurance, the theater has to make sure their driveway is plowed and has been looking for volunteers to help with that.


The theater renegotiated their mortgage with Norway Savings Bank, but Central Maine Power shut off their electricity until they paid an overdue balance and refused to work out a payment plan, McBreairty said.

All in all, it costs $2,500-3,000 a month to keep things running at a bare minimum, not including the costs of putting on a show, Stearn said.

McBreairity said it is difficult to estimate the theater’s yearly expenses and revenues because those depend on which shows they present and how many people come through their doors.

She started a GoFundMe in November that has raised nearly $4,000 so far and is “helping us hang in there,” she said.

Her daughter Ashley was working inside the cold theater this week with some friends. The 17-year-old said they have masked up – and bundled up – once or twice a week over the last few months to clean, paint and do any other prep work before the season.

The younger McBreairty made her stage debut at Schoolhouse at age 5 and has spent “two to three days a week acting, teaching, running the box office or concessions,” at the theater ever since.

“The thought of not having this place to come home to is really scary and really upsetting,” said Ashley McBreairty, who is in her second year of an early enrollment program at the University of Southern Maine.

“I’ll go down with the ship if I have to, but I really hope it doesn’t come to that,” she said.

To learn more about Schoolhouse Arts Center and how to help, visit

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