Maine State Music Theatre Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark walks through the costume room. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

After a challenging season relocated and cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick is looking ahead to the costume sale fundraiser scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

The sale is an annual event but was canceled last year due to the pandemic. According to Maine State Music Theatre Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark, in past years the sale has brought in as much as $15,000 for the theatre and serves as a great way for staff to interact with the public.

Costumes that are for sale are pulled from the theatre’s reserves collected during previous shows. The event draws people from other theaters as well as locals looking for Halloween outfits. Examples of available items include gowns, shoes, hats, fabrics, modern clothing, historical replicas, masks, accessories, men’s wear, vintage clothing, furs and wigs.

Tickets must be purchased in advance and are limited to 20 people per hour.

The return of the costume sale offers a hint of normalcy for the theatre, which faced a handful of pandemic-related challenges during the 2021 production season. According to Clark, it was the worst-selling season in the nine years that he has served as artistic director.

The Maine State Music Theatre canceled three productions scheduled for the Westbrook Performing Arts Center this season. The theatre typically holds productions at Bowdoin College’s Pickard Theatre during the summer months when students are away, but switched to Westbrook to extend the season, since work on productions was delayed due to public health guidelines.

The theatre was still able to produce “Jersey Boys” in Westbrook, as well as a concert series and a handful of other performances at the Pickard. The theatre’s fiscal year ends Oct. 31, and ultimately Clark is expecting a “significant loss.”

Maine State Music Theatre Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark in the room where the costume sale is scheduled to take place on Friday and Saturday. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

“’Jersey Boys’ closed as the worst selling show since I’ve been at the theatre,” Clark said. “It’s a combination of people that are afraid of COVID, people that were mad because we required proof of vaccination and people who did not want to travel to Westbrook.”

Clark said he and box office staff “endured just disgusting displays of humanity,” and he “was threatened multiple times” by people upset with the COVID-19 guidelines.

In a normal year, the theatre usually comes out ahead by a couple hundred thousand dollars, Clark said, but after the announcement that proof of vaccination would be required at “Jersey Boys,” the theatre processed $36,000 in ticket returns in three days.

“Not selling a ticket is bad, having a ticket that you’ve sold be returned is worse,” Clark said. “Because you planned on having that money, and then you don’t.”

The Maine State Music Theatre canceled the 2020 season in April of last year, The Times Record reported. It was the first time any show was canceled in the theatre’s 62-year history. Clark said this year was worst than the last, due to the expenses associated with the performances that never happened.

Despite these challenges, Mike Backes, the performer who played Norm Waxman in “Jersey Boys,” said it was great to be on stage again, and theatre did a good job at keeping patrons and staff safe.

“They were small but mighty crowds,” said Backes.  “‘Jersey Boys’ is one of those shows that people just get lost in it, and they still responded in a really positive way.”

David Treadwell, a Brunswick resident, columnist for The Times Record and longtime fan of the Maine State Music Theatre, ultimately believes that the strong fanbase will pull through for the theatre. Treadwell said he is already subscribed for the next season and is confident the theatre will do fine in the long run.

“I guess I just love the energy and enthusiasm of the actors and the dancers,” said Treadwell. “I’m a sucker for the dancers, they can put on the phone book, and I would cheer.”

Treadwell said he agreed with the theatre’s decision to require proof of vaccination at “Jersey Boys,” despite the pushback from some customers.

Staffing at the theatre fluctuates between 15 and 170 throughout the season. Clark said staff — including himself — may need to cut hours to save money, although he does believe the theatre would be able to survive one more off year, but perhaps not two.

Despite the uncertainties, productions are scheduled to return to the Pickard in 2022. The lineup includes “The Sound of Music,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “The Color Purple” and “Kinky Boots.”

“We will have as normal of a season next year as COVID will allow us to,” Clark said.

For more information on the costume sale, visit msmt.org.

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