The past nine months haven’t been easy for Aynne Ames and the Belfast Maskers, since they were forced out of their theater on Front Street to make way for Belfast’s ongoing development of the waterfront. The show must go on, of course. But what Ames and company really want right now is a van.
“It would be so nice to have a big van for us to schlep all our stuff around in,” said Ames, Maskers artistic director. “We’ve got set pieces and costumes and all kinds of stuff that we have to put up and take down constantly. I never thought I’d say this, but a van would be a gift from the heavens.”
After all, the Maskers have had to take their show on the road — literally, since they currently have no base from which to rehearse or perform. Case in point: their upcoming production of “Steel Magnolias,” which opens at 7 p.m. Friday at the Waldo County Shrine Club on Northport Avenue in Belfast, before moving the following weekend to Union Hall in Searsport. The 2012 season is the Maskers’ 25th season, and it’s the company’s most challenging one yet.
Fortunately, the Maskers have had some help in transitioning from having a permanent home to being an itinerant company. Community members have helped them hold costumes sales and move out of the Front Street theater, and last week, Matthews Brothers in Belfast opened up the doors to one of their Spring Street warehouses for the Maskers to use as storage and as a scene shop.
“The community has been extraordinarily supportive in helping us make this season happen and work with what we’ve got,” said Ames, who also has staged works at the First Church in Belfast and at Belfast Dance Studio. “The town of Searsport has also bent over backwards to help us perform there. I won’t pretend it hasn’t been a challenge, but you don’t back down from a challenge. Nothing’s going to stop us if we’ve made it 25 years so far.”
The season kicked off last month with staged readings of several plays written by Maine playwrights. “Steel Magnolias” is the first full production of the season, which Ames chose in part because of its entirely female cast — the Maskers have an abundance of talented actresses, all of whom live locally.
“It’s really a beloved show,” Ames said. “I like to do shows that people will like to see and also perform in. I believe we have an obligation to entertain our audience, and that’s what we try to do with every show.”
After that, there’s a break in May and June before the Maskers come back with their extremely busy summer schedule, including a theater camp July 2-13, the annual USO tribute show on the Fourth of July, a dinner theatre performance on July 20 as part of the Belfast Celtic Celebration and their annual outdoor production in late July and early August, this year set to be the classic musical “Brigadoon.”
“‘Brigadoon’ is one of those musicals that I think a lot of people remember from their childhood,” Ames said. “It ties in really well with the Celtic celebration, too, and it’s a really nice show that we can bring lots of people on board with. The summer show is all about bringing the community together to experience theater. It’s a joy.”
Working with the Maskers’ unorthodox performance schedule — here one week, there the next — has meant Ames and company have had to get very creative about staging. What works in Searsport’s Union Hall will not work at the Belfast Dance Studio. What Ames longs for — and what she and others in the community believe would be an important addition to Belfast’s arts scene — is a year-round performance space.
“We desperately need a space not just for the Maskers, but for music, for dance, for all kinds of events,” said Ames, who believes there are a number of unused buildings in downtown Belfast that would fit the bill. “Nothing too big. Just something that everyone can use. The creative people in this vital, artistic town deserve a home.”
For now, Ames just wants that van.
“By the end of this year we’re all going to be experts at moving stuff,” she said.
“Steel Magnolias” is set for 7 p.m. April 20-21, and 2 p.m. April 22, at the Waldo County Shrine Club on Northport Avenue in Belfast, and at 7 p.m. April 26-28, and 2 p.m. April 29, at Union Hall in Searsport. Tickets are $15 adults, $10 teens and $5 children. For information, visit belfastmaskers.com.