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Shea Theater sets proposal search

TURNERS FALLS — The Board of Selectmen has opted to issue a request for proposals for the future direction of the Shea Theater, and former director Debra J’Anthony may be asked to lead the process.

Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio said the Board of Selectmen voted at Monday’s meeting to move forward with a request for proposals for the town-owned theater. The current lease holder, nonprofit Shea Community Theater Inc., unwittingly allowed its 10-year lease to lapse this year. The Board of Selectmen voted in July to extend the lease to the end of 2015, with the understanding that the town may be required under state law to put the lease out to public bid.

Abbondanzio said the town has not yet received the result of the appraisal commissioned to confirm the lease’s value puts it above the threshold, but voted to begin the process as a foregone conclusion.

“Every-body kind of knows intuitively that it’ll easily exceed the $35,000 threshold in value for a 10-year lease that triggers the need for (a request for proposals) in the first place,” Abbondanzio said.

Abbondanzio said he has recommended that J’Anthony be brought in as a facilitator, to be paid from a small grant or by the town.

J’Anthony is executive director of the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton, having taken the post in 2008 after 16 years as executive director of the Shea.

The Shea’s role in the community has been a recently controversial topic, with supporters championing the current board of directors and questioning the need for a public bid process and detractors painting the institution as out of touch with community needs.

Abbondanzio said J’Anthony would be paid to offer recommendations for the request for proposals document and facilitate public forums in search of a consensus on what people would like to see in the theater.

“She has credibility as a former director, she currently runs the Academy down in Northampton, she is very familiar with the cultural scene here in the Valley, knows what’s doable, so I think she’s the ideal person,” Abbondanzio said.

Current Shea Theater director Michael Glazier said he spoke with J’Anthony Tuesday morning and has been in touch with her a few times through the process and would welcome her voice at the table.

“I don’t know if she necessarily has time for it. She is busy running her own organization, but she is at least somebody who is familiar with this kind of a venue and the kind of work that needs to get done and the logistics behind it all. She’s almost like a voice of reason if she’s willing and able to do it.”

Glazier said he expects the Shea Community Theater nonprofit will apply through the request for proposals.

“I don’t know if there’s anybody else going to apply or what the guidelines for that will be. We’re just kind of waiting in the wings and eventually hoping to get some kind of answer,” Glazier said. Glazier and other members of the volunteer board and its supporters have said it is difficult to rent the theater out for performances without a long-term lease. Glazier has said the board’s primary responsibility is to keep the theater running on its shoestring budget, and the community theater and family-oriented productions do that. The board also hopes to increase musical and comedy performances. Detractors see communication problems and a lack of music and comedy.

Theater use is expected to continue and money is not likely to be a consideration, with the future lease likely to continue with a nominal fee, Abbondanzio said. The current lease is $1 per year.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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