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Attendance lagged in Maine summer theater for second season

A ritual for many visitors and residents alike — summer music theater — is facing uncertainty. Season ticketholders often sustain summer theaters but the pandemic has put a dent in that membership. Maine State Music Theater Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark said COVID has cost them close to 3,000 subscribers.

"We sold at like 88% capacity but we're used to selling out and when you have great shows and great reviews and you don't sell out...the only thing left is COVID that still scaring people from coming to the theater," Clark said.

Clark said the normal attrition of 6 to 10% of subscribers a year is usually easily replaced but hasn't been due to the pandemic shutting the theater down in 2020 and forcing it to close its season early in 2021. Clark is currently evaluating his budget for next year based on subscriptions.

And some summer theaters in rural Maine are struggling to fill the house this season, in part, due to fears over COVID, and high gas prices patrons must pay to get to them.

Dawn McAndrews, Producing Artistic Director for the Monmouth Theater, said one strategy is to bring the show on the road. She said two tours travel the state to schools and community centers, and this year schools are more open to having a theater company come in to perform.

"Our fall tour of "As You Like It" is selling really well. Because I think the other venues across the state think if they bring in product and have students come, they're supporting two things....an arts organization and young people in their community," McAndrews said.

McAndrews said the theater's major donors told her this year they couldn't give at the same levels, but she hopes the tours and end of year giving from patrons will carry the season through.