SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The folks at Acadia Repertory Theatre of Somesville got a surprise around Thanksgiving when they were informed that after a 20-year tenancy, they had to clear out their 800-square-foot storage unit in Southwest Harbor by Jan. 2.
Acadia Rep directors Cheryl Willis and Andrew Mayer flew from Minneapolis right after Christmas to oversee the massive project. Over the weekend, they and volunteers sorted costumes and props for the move to a new storage space in Ellsworth.
The old storage unit is owned by Gott Bros. Leasing and is adjacent to the laundromat near the Southwest Harbor Food Mart. According to Beth Gott, they plan to extend the laundry operation into the storage space.
“This has been strictly a business decision,” Gott said. “We need to start work right away in order to be ready for the summer season.”
Rep Director Emeritus Ken Stack said he has enjoyed a good relationship with the Gotts over the years but was taken by surprise by the sudden decision.
Beth Gott said they didn’t start trying to contact their tenants until last fall and had trouble finding them.
“We tried certified letters, phone calls and finally got through with an email,” she said.
While Stack, Mayer and Willis say they recognize Gott’s right to end their decades-long business arrangement, they are not quite so understanding about the timing. “The certified letter was dated Nov. 15. and … it appears the phone calls were made to the closed theater,” Mayer said.
What needs clearing out so Gotts can get to work is decades of acquired costumes, shoes, wigs, props, set pieces and just about everything needed to put a show together, except the stage and actors.
Last weekend, costumers Marilee Marchese and Christine Dougherty, along with Tech Director Peter Miller, representing fellow theaters at MDI High School and The Grand, volunteered to help Stack, Myer and Willis move large set pieces and prop boxes to a new temporary 500-square-foot storage facility they managed to find in Ellsworth and packed up hundreds of costumes that were deemed worthy of saving.
Because of the limited time and storage space, hundreds more — mostly pre-20th century outfits such as Roman helmets, Victorian gowns, pantaloons and buckets and buckets full of shoes — ended up in two dumpster loads to be carted away.
“Don’t keep anything for kings and queens,” Willis advised the volunteers, “I just don’t foresee us going there in the near future.”
She later explained that the rule of thumb had to be based not on the value of the costume but the likeliness it would be used.
“Within five years, keep; 10 years, maybe if it’s special. 20 years? No, toss it.”
As Marchese and Dougherty sorted through the racks of clothes, it was clear from their occasional sighs and fond reminiscences about certain pieces and the shows they were used in how difficult some of those decisions were.
A representative from the Belfast Maskers who had heard of Acadia Rep’s plight spent hours by the dumpster in the frigid cold mining the rejected costumes for items her company might use.
“It such a pity there’s no time to go over these more thoughtfully,” she said as she admired the homespun-like woolen fabric of an 18th century-style skirt. “There are some great pieces here that will be lost.”
Mayer said the company faces a significant financial loss.
“Keeping a company like this going is always tenuous, and we live season to season,” he said. “Normally our big expenses are paid at the end of the performance season when we have some money. This — our air and hotel fare, hiring a truck, paying for the new unit and other moving expenses — has really set us back. We’ll be starting out next season deeply in the hole.”
He said while there are still loyal theater goers who attend their shows, the underwriting and program advertising dollars have dwindled in the past 10 years.
“I wish there was a way to make more local businesses understand that we are all in this together,” he said. “Having a vital live theater enhances the whole community, and in some cases, such as restaurants — for before-theater dinners — it’s directly related.”
Still, he and his wife, Cheryl, are determined the show will go on — at least for another year. In addition to dealing with this kerfuffle, the pair are busy reading scripts to pick next season’s plays.