Brunswick youth theater faces loss of rehearsal space
BRUNSWICK — A theater that never says no to a child who wants to perform is at risk of losing its primary rehearsal space.
That's why the Midcoast Youth Theater is now going out to the community to raise money to pay rent on its 4 Pleasant St. building. The former Methodist church is where the nonprofit holds most of its rehearsals for productions that star children of all ages (and sometimes adults).
For a theater group that already deals with logistical issues cause by space constraints, the loss of the the building could mean even greater difficulties in the future.
The fundraising drive kicked off last week during Brunswick's Artwalk program. A silent auction will be held on Nov. 16 at 155 Park Row.
Despite its financial difficulties, the theater's acting president on Tuesday said he has great ambitions for the performing arts group, including a larger space where full performances can be held.
The Midcoast Youth Theater cannot have more than 50 people in the Pleasant Street space until up to $30,000 worth of renovations are completed to bring the building into compliance with fire codes, Courtney Babbidge said.
Babbidge, who is also the theater's music director, said when the group first signed a lease for the space in 2007, it didn't realize that it would have to deal with so many extra costs to get more use from the building.
"We were counting on the money that we were paying for rent to be a hedge against having to go out and secure another venue and add those costs," he said. "... We had a reasonable expectation that it would be used as such, which is why we went forward with it, and then when the reality hit us, we kind of kicked ourselves for being too eager to do it and not thinking it through."
That lack of foresight means most performances must be held at other locations, like the Orion Performing Arts Center in Topsham and Brunswick High School's Crooker Theater, because Midcoast Youth Theater productions typically exceed the 50-person threshold.
If the theater group is able to raise more than $10,000 to cover the final year of the lease, Babbidge said, it could then consider either renovating the 4 Pleasant St. building or moving into a new venue.
For the immediate future, Babbidge said, he hopes the theater can raise enough funds in the next two months to cover its rent.
"We have money in our coffers now. It's not a lot, but we have a couple months of rent we can pay for sure," he said. "After that, things start looking a little grim."
Babbidge said morale sunk on the board of directors when the theater group learned about the high cost of renovations, which led to organizational issues.
"We got into a situation where we thought we were going to make a big step forward," Babbidge said, "and then when we came up against the barriers. It just kind of crushed us in a way. Not only monetarily, but it crushed the spirit a little bit, too."
To take a step forward, he said the group recently changed its organizational structure, with Babbidge becoming the acting president. That's where the idea for fundraising also originated.
"It just hit a point where we realized that what we do is too important to the kids that we serve and the community that's grown up around it," he said.
Babbidge said the fact that 90 people showed up to audition for the theater's spring 2013 production of "The Wiz" is a testament to that community.
As part of the theater's all-inclusive philosophy, no one is ever turned away, which means the theater not only has to deal with the logistics of finding rehearsal space for scenes with the entire ensemble, but also the financial demands of supporting such a large group.
For that reason, Babbidge said, the Midcoast Youth Theater relies on $60 fees from parents to keep productions afloat. Otherwise, the program would be difficult to sustain with required costs for costumes, set designs, venue rentals and licensing fees.
"The initial cost is a lot and we try and take care of that through troupe fees," Babbidge said. "That way ... we don't have to charge ridiculous ticket prices for amateur shows, and you're not going to make a lot of money doing shows. That's just kind of how it goes."
The theater group will present an all-ages production of "The King and I" at the high school's Crooker Theater Dec. 5-7 at 7 p.m., and Dec. 8 at 2 p.m.