StageWest to close after 31 seasons

$700,000 deficit forces shuttering

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Another nonprofit resident theater has succumbed. Saddled with an accumulated deficit of more than $700,000, western Massachusetts’ StageWest will cease operations on May 24, the close of its current, 31st season.

The decision to close was made by StageWest’s board of directors on May 14. “This decision has been very difficult and not entered into lightly,” said board president Edward (Zeb) Hastings. “The weight of our accumulated deficit, combined with the long-term declining subscriber base and lower than projected single ticket sales, resulted in a negative cash flow situation that left us effectively no choice.”

Ironically, StageWest’s final production of its eight-attraction 1997-98 season, “Some Enchanted Evening: The Songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein,” was a success to the point of being extended for a week.

Board tries hard

Hastings added that the board did everything this season to ensure that the company’s 4,000 subscribers and its single tickets buyers would get what they paid for, “and that has happened.” Hastings also said that Albert Ihde, who came to SW three years ago as its producing director “when the theater was broke … worked very hard and creatively and gave it a great run.”

The closing of the theater will be a loss to Springfield because it brought 50,000 people to its downtown and conservative estimates of the economic spin-off for downtown businesses exceeded $5,000,000.

Originally known as the Springfield Theater Co., the SW was founded by Stephen E. Hays and for some years performed in a temporary theater in a building on Springfield’s fairgrounds.

Its first artistic director was James Cromwell, who recently was seen by moviegoers throughout the world as the leading man in the hit Australian film “Babe.” His father, movie director and actor John Cromwell, and stepmother, actress Ruth Nelson, appeared at the SW during its first season.

Subsequent artistic directors included John Ulmer, Rae Allen, Timothy Near, Gregory Boyd (current artistic director of Houston’s Alley Theater), Eric Hill and Ihde.

In 1984 a new theater was built for the SW in a downtown building. It has a mainstage seating 450 and a studio theater seating 99.

Over the weekend of May 2 and 3, Vanessa Redgrave and her mother Rachel Kempson Redgrave appeared in a Chekhov recital at StageWest as part of the fifth annual Massachussetts Intl. Festival of the Arts.