Main Street Arts announces hiatus

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SAXTONS RIVER — Main Street Arts, the small community arts organization that dreams big, announced Monday it would suspend all operations as of July 7.

The cause? The economic paralysis caused by the coronavirus, according to Gavy Kessler, co-chairman of the MSA Board of Directors.

Kessler said the decision was made with the goal of eventually reopening, probably in a revamped form. "We need to get our expenses down to a minimum," he said.

Kessler, who acted last fall in MSA's production of "The Secret Garden," said the timing of the coronavirus and the state mandated shutdown could not have been worse: Main Street Arts was about to open "Cabaret" in mid-March and was counting on those ticket sales to make its budget.

Main Street Arts operates with an annual budget of between $250,000 and $300,000, he said. The building, which underwent a renovation and expansion a few years ago, will be closed, he said.

David Stern, the artistic director of Main Street Arts, said that for weeks they hoped they would eventually get to debut "Cabaret," but as the weeks and two months went by it became clear the crowd-pleasing show wouldn't debut any time soon.

Stern, the director of "Cabaret," said he didn't know what he would be doing after July 7, the date set for suspending its already reduced operations. But he pledged he would return to help get "Cabaret" performed, once that is possible.

"All our sets are still in the Opera House," said Stern, referring to the Bellows Falls Opera House, where MSA's large productions are held, rather than its Main Street home in Saxtons River.

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"David has committed he would help put the show on in the future, whether it's three months or six months ... we just don't know," Kessler said.

The finances of an ambitious undertaking such as "Cabaret" are calculated on the number of tickets that can be sold at the Bellows Falls Opera House, he said. Without close to capacity, Kessler said he doesn't know what the finances will mean.

Kessler said MSA was able to secure the federal paycheck protection grant to cover its payroll, but that money runs out on July 9, hence the suspension date. Since the shut down, Stern has been teaching an online writing class and a photography class, and brainstorming about the future, he said. The general manager, Heather Godfrey, has been working with other arts administrators, to come up with ideas and strategies, he said.

Kessler said the directors decided to reserve funding, so that MSA would have the financial resources to reopen, once that is possible.

He said the community reaction on Monday was very supportive, with people donating funds, and foregoing their refunds on the "Cabaret" tickets to help shore up MSA's finances.

The organization puts on several theater performances in a year as well as offering classes in everything from yoga to landscape painting.

Stern said he was "mildly apprehensive" about what he will do after July 9. "I've worked so hard for so long, I've never had a pause," said Stern, who said he was approaching his 60th birthday. "I may take a few months off to think," he said. "I trust the universe will find something. I like being creative. It's such a lovely community, a creative community, to make things together."

Kessler said once the community arts organization reopens, he said a fund drive may be undertaken. "There's been a lot of outpouring of love," he said.

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