'Naked Shakespeare' gets reprieve, but Portland council says bars still have to keep their distance

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PORTLAND — The City Council voted Monday night to amend an ordinance that had resulted in the banishment of Shakespeare performances from a local bar.

The council did not, however, support a proposal by Councilor David Marshall to eventually do away with the requirement that bars with entertainment license in the Old Port and downtown be at least 100 feet apart.

The “Naked Shakespeare” performances by Acorn Productions came under scrutiny in August after the city determined that the production – during which actors perform lines without costumes or props – is considered entertainment and was being performed at a bar without an entertainment license.

The Wine Bar was ordered to stop the performances.

The council on Monday voted 8-1, with Mayor Jill Duson opposed, to amend the entertainment overlay zone ordinance to exempt non-amplified entertainment from the 100-foot rule.

“I don’t feel public safety is being affected by ‘Naked Shakespeare,'” Police Cmdr. Michael Sauschuck told councilors. Sauschuck went on to say that the Police Department did not support the proposed sunset provision for the 100-foot law. He said that while the department does not credit the law with the reduced calls for service they have seen in the Old Port, it does contribute to the trend.

Councilors Cheryl Leeman, Nick Mavodones, Dory Waxman, John Coyne and Duson voted against a Sept. 1, 2010, sunset provision for the so-called dispersal rule. Councilors John Anton, Kevin Donoghue, Dan Skolnik and Marshall voted to do away with the rule.

The minority councilors said they based their decision on a separate order, approved unanimously Monday by the council, that requires servers of alcohol in local restaurants and bars to have special training. The state Legislature passed a server training law last session that will go in to effect in September 2010. The law requires municipalities to pass an ordinance imposing the requirement.

Donoghue said he does not agree with the city using entertainment licenses as a way to control bars. He said the issue has to do with over-serving of alcohol.

“This is collective punishment,” he said, referring to the dispersal requirement. The city can control entertainment licenses, but the state controls liquor licenses.

But other councilors, some of whom voted to create the dispersal requirement in 2006, said doing away with it would reverse the better-behavior trend on Wharf Street.

“This was put in place for a reason,” Leeman said. “There was an outcry from the business community in the Old Port.”

She went on to say the ordinance did what it was intended to do by improving safety in the Old Port and “it would be a huge step backwards at this point to repeal.”

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net