GROTON — Despite growing competition from other theaters over the past several years, supporters still would like the Performing Arts Center at the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District’s Middle School South to remain at the heart of community life.
To that end, school officials and concerned residents have banded together to infuse new life into the center via a reconfigured Groton-Dunstable Performing Arts Facilities Advisory Committee. The committee will try to bring more high-caliber talent to the Nashoba Valley area.
According to school Superintendent Alan Genovese, there was an advisory committee at one time. With the retirement of the school’s theater manager, it was determined that the time was right to reconstitute the advisory committee to oversee both the Performing Arts Center and the high school’s Black Box Theater.
Genovese said one of the main tasks of the committee will be fund-raising, to help pay for upgrades and technical equipment that are not covered in the district’s budget.
“It’s a wonderful facility and it is our hope that we can increase its use by private groups in an effort to bring some additional revenue into the district,” Genovese said.
One member of the new committee will be Jane Bouvier, who has had a long-term connection to the Performing Arts Center.
“It was originally built as part of the brand new Middle School South building in the early 1990s,” said Bouvier. “John Barranco was the school superintendent at the time and he put together a group of community members to oversee the Performing Arts Center, which was built not only as a school auditorium but also as a business within the school district.”
Bouvier said the intention had always been to have the Performing Arts Center “earn its keep” by having private dance and theater groups use the stage as a permanent venue for their performances.
“The Performing Arts Center was basically a different organization with different outside groups, such as the Indian Hill dance company based there,” said Bouvier. “Plus, we as a group did outside fund-raisers to help maintain the center and to purchase equipment. So, it was a fairly large group, but we’re bringing it down in size now.”
Some of that downsizing, however, was forced on the school district by a tight financial climate that has seen declining revenues for both Groton and Dunstable. As a result, cuts in the school district budget have affected operation of the Performing Arts Center.
“Recently, the theater manager’s job was cut and temporarily Karen Toomey is filling in as interim manager, while Jake Fink is doing the tech stuff,” said Bouvier. “I’m in there because I was on the committee previously. We need to spiff things up a bit and bring them back to where they were and to make sure the center remains in good condition. We’re also overseeing the Black Box Theater at the high school, which will be a new responsibility for us. Of course, that’s a wonderful space. It’s going to be hard work and we want to make sure we get in there and just keep it alive.
“I’m going to help market the theaters and start to reach out to other groups who might want to use them,” said Bouvier.
Supporters aim to continue and reinforce the tradition of enriching residents with performance art, and deepening civic involvement by hosting town meetings.
“We do town meetings there and it’s certainly available for other functions,” said Bouvier. “There’s a nonprofit rate as opposed to a for-profit rate. It’s definitely available for anyone who wants to use it. Although the Performing Arts Center can be an expensive place to run, especially with custodians, we definitely want to keep it affordable.”
Many of the groups who could use the space are either small businesses or start up theater organizations. The cost of using the facility is important.
“In addition to it being used by the town, the Performing Arts Center is also used by many dance groups throughout the area,” said Bouvier. “At the moment that’s it, but it can be a wonderful space for anything like the Judy Collins concert we held during the town’s 350th anniversary. We’re in a position to draw from Nashua or anywhere in the southern New Hampshire area. I think we haven’t really tapped that market yet.”
She said the stage itself is state-of-the-art and has a full array of lighting and sound equipment, and “even has very good dressing rooms.”
Groups that have taken advantage of the 800-seat facility in the past include the Village Theater Project, the Upsidedown Theater, and local school theater groups.
“The Performing Arts Center is very versatile,” said Bouvier. “It might not be big enough for acts like James Taylor, but for someone like Judy Collins it was absolutely perfect. And the good thing about the Black Box Theater is that it’s perfect for smaller events.”
According to Toomey, upcoming events scheduled for the Performing Arts Center include a Middle School production of the popular High School Musical and the Center Stage Dance Academy has a recital scheduled for later this month. A number of school events and functions are planned over the winter and next spring as well.
“The Performing Arts Center certainly was a mainstay in the community for a long time, before other smaller theaters began to open,” said Bouvier. “But it’s still the largest theater around that you can have a performance in and I think it plays an important role in the life of the local community.”