2013-07-19 / Front Page

Theater cozies into city

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Mad Horse Theatre Company recently completed its first season of shows at the old Hutchins School building in South Portland. After agreeing to terms of a new lease with the city, Mad Horse will remain in the Mosher Street location for at least five more years. (Jack Flagler photo) Mad Horse Theatre Company recently completed its first season of shows at the old Hutchins School building in South Portland. After agreeing to terms of a new lease with the city, Mad Horse will remain in the Mosher Street location for at least five more years. (Jack Flagler photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – David Jacobs, president of the Mad Horse Theatre Company Board of Directors, said he and the rest of the board took a “leap of faith” last year when they decided to bring the theater company from Portland to South Portland.

Members of the South Portland City Council rewarded the theater’s leap over the bridge Monday night, July 15, when they informally approved a five-year extension of the theater company’s lease of the former Hutchins School building on Mosher Street in the Ferry Village neighborhood. The new lease will extend through June 2019.

Mad Horse recently finished its 27th season of performances, the first in South Portland, when William Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” wrapped up its threeweek run in late June. The company has leased the former school from the city since 2009, but until last year used it only for wardrobe and prop storage, rehearsals and children’s’ classes.

However, last fall, Mad Horse’s previous home at Lucid Stage on Baxter Boulevard in Portland closed. Jacobs told the council although Portland has worked hard to promote its arts district in recent years, the Mad Horse board is pleased with its decision to move out of the city after a successful opening season in South Portland.

Jacobs said the first season of shows attracted a new audience from South Portland and Cape Elizabeth who expressed their gratitude not only to have theater on their side of the Casco Bay Bridge, but also to have a historic building in the hands of good stewards.

The city council also gave their thanks for the new presence in South Portland’s theater scene, which also includes Lyric Music Theatre and The Portland Players community theater, each within a mile of Mad Horse’s new location.

Councilors Jerry Jalbert and Linda Cohen both noted the move has evened the playing field in the arts scene between South Portland and Portland.

“For a long time, particularly in the 1970s and ’80s, Portland was really beating us hands down,” Jalbert said.

“I think it’s great. I don’t think Portland should have a monopoly on (the arts),” Cohen added.

Still, one issue remained for the theater company despite the initial success of the move. The original five-year lease Mad Horse signed for the former Hutchins School was set to expire within the year, at the end of April 2014. Without assurances that they could agree to terms with a city on a new lease, the Mad Horse board could not guarantee a full schedule for next year. If a deal were to fall through, the scheduled production of “Grey Gardens,” set for performances from May 29 to June 22, 2014, would be in doubt.

Mad Horse representatives met with city staff over the previous few weeks to formulate terms of a new lease. City Manager Jim Gailey presented that draft lease to the council Monday.

Under the terms of the new five-year lease, Mad Horse will pay the city $900 per month in rent payments for the first three years, then $1,000 per month over the final two years. Mad Horse officials also agreed to make repairs to the building at their own cost totaling a minimum of $3,000 annually, meaning over the entire term of the lease, the city will receive at least $71,900 in revenue.

The city council is scheduled to formally approve the terms of the lease at a Monday, July 22 meeting in what will likely be a unanimous decision. Although no official vote was taken at the workshop, each of the seven city councilors appeared receptive to the agreement.

Mayor Tom Blake broached the subject of the city selling the Hutchins School building to Mad Horse at some point in the future. Jacobs said while that is not in the theater company’s current budget, he would be interested in having the discussions before the end of the new lease.

“As long as the audience continues to come and support us, I don’t see why we would ever leave,” Jacobs said.

Mad Horse’s next season, its 28th, begins with the Maine premiere of “The School for Lies,” by David Ives, Sept. 26. For more information, visit www.madhorse.com.

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