NAUGATUCK — The Phoenix Stage Company is preparing to take flight.
The community theater will be closing its doors at its current location, 686 Rubber Ave., at the end of March.
Phoenix Stage Company Managing Director Ed Bassett said the theater is moving because of financial reasons. He said the theater’s landlord kept its current rent as long as possible, but has to raise the rent to keep up with property taxes in the borough.
“They needed to get someone in here who could pay a higher rent to help them pay those higher taxes,” Bassett said.
Bassett added the theater has 70 seats and is one of the most produced community theaters in the state right now.
“So, if you look at the number of seats we have, the cost of the production, and the cost of the facility, it just couldn’t come together anymore,” he said. “We’re working and working and working, and we can’t do anymore shows because we’re already doing 10 a year.”
Bassett said the theater plans to move into the Clockwork Repertory Theater in Oakville for the summer as the search for a new home continues. He said there’s a space in Watertown the theater is looking at, but staying in Naugatuck hasn’t been ruled out.
“We haven’t given up on Naugatuck,” he said. “We’re still looking, we’re still waiting.”
Bassett said the current landlord offered the theater the ability to carry on with its productions while the space is marketed. However, this could mean that another company wants the property right before a production was slated to take place.
“The problem with that is, as a theater, you have to reserve the show and pay your royalties in advance. You are applying for the right to do a show at a particular location,” Basset said “So for us to plan a season for a year, put out all of our royalties, print up all of our brochures, get all of our directors in line, and then have a knock on the door that says we found a renter, as happy as I would be for them, it would put us in a huge bind.”
Bassett has already canceled the theater’s licenses for the rest of the year and reapplied for them at the temporary location in Oakville.
Bassett said the process of finding a new space is difficult. If the building is not already a theater, the company needs to submit zoning plans and request a change of use. In addition, the company would need to hire an electrician to install the specialty theater lights.
“There’s a lot to it and it takes time. So we’re hoping to find a space we can say is our new home in June, and that will give us July and August to work on the space and get it ready,” Bassett said.
The theater company has set up a GoFundMe page and is hoping to raise $10,000 to help offset the cost of moving and renovations to a new location. The page can be found at www.gofundme.com/lxq9qg.
Bassett is hopeful the theater can stay in Naugatuck and wants to ensure it remains as local as possible.
“I wish we could stay in Naugatuck. But the truth of it is it is very difficult because anything that’s open is retail and that’s a higher market value per square foot,” Bassett said.
Bassett said the theater company has to also consider that many of its actors are from New Haven and that it has built a fan base.
“It’s taken us four years to build up a Naugatuck audience base. For the first couple of years people in Naugatuck didn’t know what we were. They thought we were a stage supply company. It took some time for word to get out. Now we have a good strong base and we want to keep that base, so we don’t want to go too far away and move away from the people who have supported us for the four years we were here,” Bassett said.
Bassett opened the theater in July 2010 with two partners, Agnes Dann and Sharon Wilcox. The theater quickly found a foothold in the borough and began to grow into a nationally recognized community theater.
On Feb. 14 the theater opened the play “Secondary Cause of Death.” It was the theater’s 50th opening night.
“It’s a milestone for us,” Bassett said.
The theater’s final play in its current location will be “Almost Maine,” which will open on March 14.
Bassett wants to make sure the company brings the sense of community it has built to wherever the theater ends up.
“The most important thing is carrying on the sense of belonging. We have actors and patrons who walk in here and say they feel like they are walking into their own living room. That’s so important,” Bassett said. “It’s so welcoming and so warm. That’s what I think is most important for us to bring with us. It doesn’t matter where we end up, how large we are, or what kind of space we’re in, if we can keep that feeling I think that is the most important thing.”
Donna Storms, who is directing “Almost Maine,” echoed Bassett’s sentiments about the theater being a strong community.
“This is a wonderful place to work, whether you are volunteering to pass out popcorn, directing a play, or starring in a play. It’s a very friendly homey atmosphere,” Storms said.
Storms said she plans on continuing to work with the theater after it moves.
Regardless of where the Phoenix Stage Company finally calls home, Bassett wants the borough to know that it was the theater’s first home and the reason the theater survived and grew.
“On behalf of the organization I want to say thank you to Naugatuck for watching us grow and helping us grow the last five years. And hopefully we can stay a part of this community and stay in Naugatuck. If we can’t, I hope they follow us and continue to be a part of the family. … We couldn’t have done it had Naugatuck not supported us,” Bassett said.