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North Shore Music Theatre to Close

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Facing insurmountable debt, the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass., announced that it would close, effective immediately. The company, which began in 1955 as a regular stop on the summer-stock circuit and evolved into the largest nonprofit producing company in New England, has $10 million in debt and its heavily-mortgaged, 22-acre site has been appraised for $5 million, according to a report in The Boston Globe.

People who have bought tickets will most likely not get their money back, the Globe added.

As recently as two weeks ago, Carol LaRosa, North Shore’s public relations manager, told Back Stage that the theater was trying to raise $2 million by July to launch a 2009 season, and that artistic director-executive producer Barry Ivan and the board were continuing with those efforts. She also explained that the company was going to do co-productions with other houses but added, “The question of momentum is one I don’t think I—or they—can fully answer.” 

Whatever forward progress was made had ground to a halt, and the theater issued a news release Tuesday stating that although more than $500,000 in pledges had been made officials could not meet their fundraising goal. “Without a season this year, we are unable to address the substantial debts of our creditors and restore the theater’s economic health,” David Fellows, chairman of the board of trustees, said in the release.

Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, told WBZ, Boston’s CBS affiliate, that mid-size theaters such as North Shore have a narrower margin for error than their various counterparts: Small theaters have little overhead while large theaters have bigger endowments, making it easier to survive.

Still, since the stock market began its long slide in mid-September, theaters of all sizes and ages have been failing: Milwaukee Shakespeare, a 9-year-old concern that was just beginning to attract national attention; Stamford Theatre Works, a 20-year-old company in Connecticut; and American Musical Theatre in San Jose, Calif., which traced its founding to the depths of the Great Depression, in 1934.

There is a slight chance that North Shore could survive. In the news release, Fellows said he and the creditors are trying to find a buyer who would lease the property back to the company. However, in speaking with the Globe, Fellows struck a tone of conciliation and finality: “There’s no doubt that the theater and myself have disappointed and angered a lot of subscribers. I apologize for that and I’m heartbroken about that. At every step of the way, we tried to do what we thought our job was.”

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