Anonymous donations open up new possibilities at the Firehouse in Newburyport

Newburyport, MA, – H. Jackson Brown, Jr. once said “Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.” The Firehouse Center for the Arts has had a pretty impressive dance card the last few years when it comes to theater offerings. Since the Firehouse’s inception twenty years ago the mission of the Firehouse has always been to advance the arts and humanities in the Greater Newburyport area. But demands are many and budgets are never quite enough, and so to grow a quality theater program has taken time. In the more recent past, the local arts venue has been making a concerted effort to step up the growth of Firehouse-produced theater and that effort shows in the list of theatrical events on the boards in the Arakelian Theater: Waiting for Godot, House of Gold, Boxed In, The Christina Experiment, Forbidden Newburyport, The Gin Game.

So when an anonymous donor stepped forward last year and expressed a desire to support one specific show, the Firehouse was, needless to say, thrilled at the vote of confidence. Commenting on how the Firehouse seemed to have put forth a new-found energy and rededicated itself to quality programming, the theater angel decided to make a substantial gift to last year’s production of Proof, which was already slated to be in the spring lineup. The play was staged over two weekends last March and received rave reviews on many levels: the directing, the acting, the set design and construction, the lighting. James Atkins has in fact been nominated for an Eastern Massachusetts Association of Community Theaters (EMACT) DASH Award (Distinguished Awards and Special Honors) for the category “Best Lighting Design (Play) for this production.

When the Firehouse produces a show it means that the Firehouse controls the budget. The Firehouse hires the director and then collaborates with that director on choosing the cast. Due to the ever-increasing costs of staging dramatic shows this model has always meant that only minimal sets have been possible for the local theater arts company. Another piece of the complex puzzle is that the Firehouse has always strived to keep its programming accessible to the community members it serves. The delicate balancing act of overseeing funds to provide quality programming while at the same time keeping ticket prices affordable AND ensuring the financial health of the historic theater that occupies a prominent place in our community can at times be daunting.

However, it was thanks to this particular donation for Proof that a full boxed set, something usually out of range for the Firehouse, was now possible due to the breathing room provided by the extra funds.

It was the success of Proof that led to the recommitment by the donor – this time to John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, A Parable. Headlining the fall calendar at the Firehouse, the drama will be directed by Suzanne Bryan and will star Caroline Gulde (Somerville) as Sister James, Kathy Isbell (Newburyport) as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, Kathy Ann Hart (Somerville) as Mrs. Muller and Damon Jesperson (Byfield) as Father Flynn. That the donor was willing to repeat their generosity shows that the Firehouse had been a good steward of the funds bestowed them last year. The trust in the Firehouse has not been misplaced.

“To have a moment when the focus is truly on the art and the creative community — and not solely on the bottom line — is a real luxury. What we found from Proof, is that the resulting success and energy left everyone bolstered and ready to bring this energy to everything we touch,” said Firehouse Development Director Beth Falconer as she expressed her overwhelming thanks for the generous gift.

Indeed the contribution has buoyed the little arts center that could. It is not news that many arts organizations have had to close their doors during the last few years because of difficult economic times. The Firehouse Center for the Arts has, at least for the time being, come through thanks in large part by some serious belt-tightening and the hard work of a very dedicated staff, board and the local creative community. Falconer says “…we struggle to make our beloved arts center affordable and accessible (key to our mission) and financially sound. It is work we take seriously, because we know that the joy and shared experiences at the Firehouse help build a positive, thriving community. [This] investment helps us on every level.”

For such generosity and commitment to the arts in our community we all say “Thank you”. You know who you are…