BATH — The fifth Hot Chocolate Jubilee fundraiser next week comes at a crucial time for the financially strapped Chocolate Church Arts Center, where the impending layoff of Executive Director Roo Dunn was announced last week.
Michael Barndollar, president of the center’s board of directors, called the decision to dismiss Dunn “financial.” He said the Chocolate Church has “been struggling for quite some time, and I recognized that we had to make some changes for our long-term survival.”
Barndollar said “we’re going to take some time, and think this through,” and ultimately seek a replacement with significant fundraising experience.
In the meantime, after Dunn’s departure, the center will “look toward getting a couple of consultants in on a temporary basis,” Barndollar said; one to help book next year’s series of shows, and another to aid in management and fundraising issues.
“Even with this decision we’ve got debts that we’ve got to take care of and things we have to do between now and the end of the year,” he said. “Get through that way, and at the same time look at revamping the (director) job description and where we need to go in the future.”
There is extensive renovation work to be done on both the 1840s church building and its annex, the latter of which is the primary goal, Barndollar said. The art gallery in the center’s nearby Steego building is to be moved to the annex, and the Steego building will be sold.
He said the gallery actually began in the annex, “so it’s kind of moving back to our roots, and decreasing our footprint, and saving us some money all at the same time.”
The final day for Dunn, who has been with the center for 2 1/2 years, will be April 19, Barndollar said. His departure will follow the performance of “Enter the Haggis” on April 18, Marcia Ball on April 4 and, before that, the Hot Chocolate Jubilee.
This installment of the community variety show is called “Around the World in 80 Days” and features singing, dancing, humor, a pit band, chorus numbers and volunteers from more than a dozen communities. The international flavor is peppered with acts inspired by California, Australia, Austria, Cuba, England, France, Greece, Jamaica, Japan, Russia, Scotland, Spain, West Africa and others.
Martha Mayo plays several roles in the production: director, producer, performer – and catalyst.
“I’m really looking to have some people that I can hand it onto,” Mayo said. “I think it’s a great concept. But it’s very exhausting. Even though there are tremendous people working on it, you have to oversee the whole thing and make sure you’ve got it, so there’s a lot to think about.”
Mayo said everyone involved with the show does it as a volunteer. “There’s some good, professional-level acts, so it’s a big gift,” she said.
This year’s program has advertisements, so that should help to bring in revenue. Mayo said she gauges the show’s success in terms of seats filled.
The jubilee is split into two acts, with 26 performances between start to finish. These include Mid East Belly Dance, “Men on the Run,” the Mud Boots Medley, the Blue Dan Group, Salsa and Zumba, and performances such as “Let it Be Me.”
The jubilee chorus is comprised of more than 40 people, ranging in age from 12 to 82 and opening the first and second acts respectively with “Joy to the World” and “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.”
The Tambourine Group performs “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and is comprised of community leaders and legislators. “It’s meant to be coordinated in precision,” she said. “And the audience likes it better when people mess up. But they don’t try to mess up.”
According to Mayo, the first jubilee was held in 1997 and celebrated the first 20 years of the Chocolate Church Arts Center. “The Magic of Music” followed in 1999, and then “Fools Follies” in 2005 and “Have Your Fun on US Route One” in 2007. The jubilee hearkens back in part to a show called “Hot Chocolate Follies,” held in 1984 as a fundraiser for the church, which was undergoing renovation at the time.
Mayo, who has performed in variety shows since high school, was also involved in that production.