New Century Theatre closes down after 28-year run

  • David Mason and Jean-Pierre Frost perform in New Century Theatre’s production of “Clybourne Park” in July 2014. FILE PHOTO

  • From left, Justin Fuller, Keith Langsdale, Myka Plunkett, Kyle Boatwright and B. Brian Argotsinger perform in “Seminar” at New Century Theatre in June 2015. FILE PHOTO

  • New Century Theatre presented “Luna Gale,” a new play by Rebecca Gilman, in July 2015. FILE PHOTO

  • Sam Rush, co-founder and producing director of New Century Theatre, rehearses a scene from “Building the Wall” Sept. 7, 2017, at the Academy of Music in Northampton. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 01, 2020

NORTHAMPTON — After close to three decades of bringing live summer theater productions to the Pioneer Valley, New Century Theatre announced Monday that it’s curtain call for good because of the persistent COVID-19 pandemic.

In a written notice posted on New Century Theatre’s website, co-founder Sam Rush explained that 2020 has been a challenging year for the theater company. The decision to end productions at New Century Theatre came about after the “realistic likelihood that it will be at least another six months before we will be able to gather safely.”

“It has been an honor to serve the Western Massachusetts community for the 28 years we have been in operation,” Rush wrote. “Everyone who has ever been involved in our shows — onstage and off — has put their hearts and souls into our summer productions. I will be forever grateful for their hard work and dedication. I thank each of you for your patronage year after year.”

Rush, producing director and chair of the New Century board of directors, co-founded the company alongside Jack Neary in 1991. Rush told the Gazette on Tuesday that they founded the theater company during a recession and they named the nonprofit arts group in the hopes that it would survive until the year 2000.

“To be starting a theater company during a recession seemed like just the most stupid thing you could possibly do,” he said. “If we were able to make it to the year 2000, it would be a miracle. That was our carrot on a stick, to call it the New Century Theatre.”

But New Century Theatre ended up continuing well beyond Rush and Neary’s hopes for 2000. For Rush, the theater company has been a large part of his life.

“Letting something like this go is kind of heartbreaking,” he said. “It’s very sad to realize that we’ve come to the end of a very long journey.

“It is no small feat to run a nonprofit organization for multiple years, let alone the 28 years we’ve been hanging in there. It’s a very difficult thing to do because of the moniker of nonprofits. No one’s getting rich doing this.”

Rush credits the 1,000-plus patrons of the theater company who’ve supported and attended performances over the years for the decades of theater with New Century.

New Century Theatre was a mainstay at Smith College for decades, before moving out of Smith in the fall of 2016 after the college cited “undisputed policy and contract violations.” The following year also proved difficult, when Rush was temporarily dismissed from his position in the fall of 2017 for violating Smith’s school policy in regards to a relationship between himself and a student.

In 2018, New Century Theatre closed its doors with an extended yearlong hiatus. The company returned in 2019, staging summer productions of Edward Albee’s classic “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in June 2019 at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, as well as “A Walk in the Woods” by Lee Blessing in August 2019 at Eastworks in Easthampton.

Chris Rohmann, a longtime theater writer for the Valley Advocate since 1986, said he thinks New Century Theatre has been “the tentpole theater in the Valley for almost 30 years,” which has brought high production contemporary American theater as well experimental theater to the Valley for decades.

“In one way, they were an equity company and they did work that was right up to the professional standard with the ‘big kids in the Berkshires,’” Rohmann said. “But they were also really connected to the community.”

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.