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Potomac Playmakers say Academy Theater owners acted in bad faith

Attorney: Stage rented out to other groups for dates conflicting with those already reserved

April 06, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • A poster on the front window of the Academy Theater in Hagerstown promotes St. Maria Goretti High School's production of "The Pirates of Penzance" this weekend at the theater. A Potomac Playmakers spokeswoman said the local theater group had planned to use the theater space this weekend for rehearsals and set construction.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

Relations have turned sour between the owners of the Academy Theater in Hagerstown and its resident theater company, The Potomac Playmakers, according to representatives of the theater company.

Jim Johnson, the theater company's attorney, said last week that the Academy Theater's owners have rented out the stage to other groups for dates that conflict with those already reserved for The Potomac Playmakers.

"We believe that the landlord is not living up to his end of the bargain," Johnson said. "We are to have exclusive use of the first-floor theater at certain times, and he's scheduling other uses that conflict with the schedule we provided him last July."

Milton N. Stamper and Michael L. Guessford, who own the Academy Theater Banquet & Conference Center on East Washington Street through their limited liability corporation, City Theater LLC, did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment left on three different days. Their attorney, John Burns, also did not respond to e-mails.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court records show City Theater LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Dec. 1, a move that forestalled a foreclosure auction that had been scheduled for the theater building Dec. 2.

A list of the City Theater's debts filed Dec. 16 in the bankruptcy case includes a $556,107.76 mortgage debt.

Officials with the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development have said previously that the loan was through the department's Neighborhood Business Works Program, which provides financing for revitalization projects.

Johnson said officials with The Potomac Playmakers decided to speak publicly about the situation in response to accusations from some in the community that the group was trying to block other groups from using the theater.

The playmakers recently learned that St. Maria Goretti High School was scheduled to put on a play at the Academy Theater during dates on which the theater group had planned to use the space for rehearsals and set construction, said Lynn Rial, a Potomac Playmakers board member and spokeswoman.

With less than a month's notice, the playmakers were unable to have someone available during the high school's production to work the theater's light and sound systems, which are owned by the playmakers and are not to be used by anyone else, Rial said.

The playmakers have agreed to remove their lighting and audio systems during St. Maria Goretti's show, Johnson said.

"What is upsetting to us, though, is that we keep hearing people say that we're blockading or keeping the production from St. Maria Goretti from going forward, without any recognition" of the full situation, he said.

Rial said critics might not realize that The Potomac Playmakers collaborated with the building's owners to outfit the theater, and that the organization owns most of the lighting and wiring and has a lease granting it priority use of the space.

Rial said Wednesday that she recently received an emailed-schedule that includes more bookings that conflict with the playmakers' rehearsal schedule, including a children's theater group booked to use the stage starting Monday.

Rial said that when the playmakers' stance interferes with children's and adolescent theater productions, the company might come across looking like bullies, but their grievance is not with other theater groups.

St. Maria Goretti's show, "The Pirates of Penzance," is scheduled to go on as planned Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Academy Theater, with performances at 7:30 p.m. each day, Principal Richard E. Fairley said.

Fairley declined to comment on the situation with the playmakers.

"I'm just happy that all the work that the kids have put in is going to come to fruition, and they're going to be able to have the play," he said.

St. Maria Goretti has previously held its performances at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, which is in the midst of renovation work, Fairley said.

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