It may not be 'curtains' for 'Cabaret' just yet

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BELLOWS FALLS — Work started Friday on dismantling Main Street Arts' "Cabaret" set and stage, but the work was mysteriously put on hold.

A planned demonstration outside the Rockingham Town Hall slated for Sunday morning, designed to show support for the non-profit arts organization, was also cancelled.

Maryann McArdle, a board member of Main Street Arts, said Sunday that a member of the Rockingham Select Board reached out after the 4-1 vote last week, which ordered that the Cabaret set be removed.

"Basically all we can say is that a member of the select board contacted MSA and asked us to suspend the strike while they potentially revisit the decision. I'm not sure that this will even happen and I don't know what the next steps are for MSA at this point," McArdle said.

McArdle declined to identify the member of the select board who was working to find a middle path.

The decision prompted a backlash from many in the community, who said the decision was both anti-business for the downtown merchants and restaurants, as well as anti-arts, and people vowed to work to oust the three board members who are up for re-election in March. Those include Chairman Gaetano Putignano and board members Stefan Golec and Ben Masure. Masure made the motion to order MSA to remove its set, and all three, along with board member Peter Golec, voted to have the set removed. Only select board member Susan Hammond voted against the motion.

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Putignano said Sunday that he did not contact Main Street Arts, but that about half of the set was dismantled on Friday. He was unaware that work had stopped.

He said there would have to be another meeting and vote to change the decision made last week, when MSA was given two weeks to remove the set.

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During an at-times contentious meeting last week, select board member Peter Golec proposed a temporary solution: that the set remain in place for another three months, with the issue being revisited at that time. Golec couldn't be reached for comment on Sunday.

Main Street Arts members said its finances are precarious at best, but they said they would remove the set if the town booked another act that needed the Opera House. They said they would remove the lights which may be blocking the movie screen from the balcony seats.

David Stern, MSA's artistic director and the director of "Cabaret" production, and Gavy Kessler, co-chair of the MSA board, both pleaded with the select board to allow them to keep the set in place, so that they could eventually put on the show once coronavirus restrictions loosen up. They said the organization wouldn't have the money to rebuild the set once it was removed.

But the board was adamant that storing the set wasn't in the cards, and it said the town needed to reopen the movie theater and start making money.

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The board voted to have Main Street Arts remove its set for Cabaret within two weeks, saying the Bellows Falls Opera House wasn't a storage facility.

The Saxtons River based arts group was on the verge of opening night in March, when the coronavirus pandemic struck, prompting the cancellation of the performance out of public health concerns. Since then, the set and lights have remained in place. In fact, the Opera House, which is owned by the town of Rockingham, runs a movie theater in the Opera House; its operation closed a few days after the "Cabaret" decision and has not reopened. It had operated with the Cabaret set in place.

Over the years, the town has struggled to utilize the Opera House to its full potential as a performing arts venue, and Main Street Arts was one of its biggest customers, putting on two shows a year.

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