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Editorial - No red ink, but...

June 11, 1997

The long-awaited audit of the finances of Hagerstown's historic Maryland Theatre has been released, showing that the theater finished the last six months of 1996 with a $21,171 surplus. No red ink is a good thing.

But the surplus was achieved in the way made popular by corporate giants in the past 20 years - eliminating jobs and cutting salaries. Unlike the big corporations, however, whose executives must keep stockholders happy by periodically explaining their plans for the future, it's still unclear what the theater board plans for the next three months, let alone the next three years.

Will there be a capital campaign to raise money for structural repairs? Will there be a director hired to rebuild public confidence and encourage membership subscriptions? And will the theater become the cultural center of downtown again, or just another rental hall, open only when some promoter is willing to risk his own money on the outcome of a show?

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This last question may be the most important, because there are other halls, like the one at North Hagerstown High, for example, which provide free parking nearby, with none of the worries that nag those who walk downtown late at night.

To draw patrons to the Maryland Theatre, citizens have to be sold on the fact that by patronizing it, they are helping to preserve an historic treasure for themselves and their community. Unless citizens feel the same sort of pride and ownership in the theater that they do about Hagerstown's City Park and the Washington County Museum, the downtown will lose a valuable tool for revitalization.

We had high hopes that the theater board realized this when they hired Don Wiswell, whose experience in theater in this region is well-known. Unfortunately, the board immediately instituted a gag order on its new director, which made about as much sense as buying a watch dog, then ordering it not to bark.

The audit is a good first step, but if the theater board wants its stock to rise in the public's eyes, it must be more forthcoming about its plans, and more friendly toward the people who will ultimately be paying the bills.

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