April 01, 2020


To be or not to be? That’s the question for theatergoers and arts supporters to answer about Penobscot Theatre, Bangor’s only professional live theater company, which is threatening to take its last bow.

Earlier this month, Mark Torres, producing artistic director at Penobscot, announced it will be curtains for the organization if he and the board of directors can’t raise $250,000 by Aug. 31, the end of the fiscal year and just months shy of the theater’s 30th anniversary. If it goes dark permanently due to a paucity of local support and the impossibility of running any theater on ticket sales alone, the loss will mean no more live stage performances downtown, no more drama workshops for more than 3,500 school children statewide, no more Maine Shakespeare Festival. It also means a vacant Opera House and more than an hour’s drive to see live shows on a regular basis.

The theater has launched a new “Extraordinary Friends” fund-raising campaign to increase the current $650,000 annual operating budget to close to $1 million, if anything a modest amount for a company that produces 100 events a year, maintains one of

Bangor’s historic architectural landmarks, keeps ticket prices under $25, and contributes dynamically to the cultural scene. It’s about quality of life – for residents and for a team of theater artists hobbled by waning input from national and local funders.

Penobscot vows to devote more time to applying for grants, developing lucrative contacts and focusing goals wisely. Mr. Torres says a new “campaign mentality” has permeated the administrative offices. He must also uphold an ongoing mission of high artistic achievement. In short, the play must still be the thing. But now the community, which raised $1.5 million last year to support the National Folk Festival, should realize it takes more than a ticket stub to make sure the local kid on the block sticks around.

Did Hamlet have to die at the end of the play? Unquestionably. That’s tragedy. Theatergoers and arts supporters should choose a more hopeful plot for Penobscot Theatre.

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