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New Century Theatre leaves Smith College

  • KEVIN GUTTINGSmith College students cross the central campus on Monday in Northampton.KEVIN GUTTINGMayor David J. Narkewicz unveiled the city’s fiscal 2016 budget Friday, which includes a payment in lieu of taxes program, or PILOT, with nonprofits in the city such as Smith College, whose central campus is shown here earlier this spring.

  • Alana Young, center, and Sam Rush, right, look at Kim Staffer during a rehearsal of Time Stands Still Wednesday, July 6, 2016 in a studio inside Mendenhall Center for Performing Arts at Smith College.

  • From left, Sam Rush talks to Alana Young, center, while Nathan Kaufman, right, sits on the edge of the couch during a rehearsal of Time Stands Still Wednesday, July 6, 2016 in a studio inside Mendenhall Center for Performing Arts at Smith College.



Staff Writer
Monday, October 03, 2016

NORTHAMPTON — New Century Theatre, a summer fixture at Smith College since 1991, is looking for a new home after the school parted ways with the company.

Although the theater has just begun looking at other possible places for future performances, artistic director and co-founder Sam Rush said he is confident the company will find a new venue (or venues) by next summer — and that it’s also making a longer-term search for a permanent location.

Rush described the move, announced late last week, as “an amicable divorce” from Smith, one that had been brewing for the past few years. The separation is due in large part, he said, to the limitations New Century faced in using the college’s Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts for 10 weeks to produce its four summer plays.

“We’d been pushing up against the boundaries for a while,” he said, noting that putting on four plays each summer allowed only nine days to rehearse each one, while turnaround time for planning and building sets was also limited.

In a statement, Smith College said, “In light of undisputed policy and contract violations, Smith College opted to discontinue its relationship with New Century Theatre, an independent organization that has contracted with the college for summer theater performance space, acting classes and related events.”

Smith spokesman Sam Masinter, asked to elaborate on these “violations,” declined further comment. In an email, he did add “Smith College’s hosting of New Century Theatre does not/did not imply any administrative oversight of the program.”

Rush, a longtime actor and producer who works at Smith during the academic year as the theater department’s production and publicity manager, also declined to get into specifics.

“I don’t want to point fingers,” he said. Smith “had a decision to make, and after 25 years, this was inevitable. And in fact we’re very grateful that they hosted us for so long.”

Rush started the company in 1991 with playwright Jack Neary, producing new plays as well as fresh interpretations of other comedies and dramas. New Century has also produced children’s theater over the past few years.

Rush added that his company has been looking for several years at ways to expand beyond producing shows only during the summer, such as adding fall productions and related activities like acting classes. He said New Century will have to find a more permanent location to do that.

One possibility might be the Northampton Community Arts Trust building under construction on Hawley Street. “I’m in line to get in there,” said Rush, though he noted the center is still some years away from completion.

He stressed that New Century wants to remain in Northampton and has already committed to staging its first 2017 production, “Life in the (413),” at the Academy of Music in late spring. “Northampton has such a vibrant arts community, and we want to remain a part of that.”

Daniel Rist, New Century’s longtime set and lighting designer (and technical director for Smith’s theater department) called the summer theater’s departure from the school a loss for the local arts community, Smith students and for the actors and other personnel involved with the company.

But, he added, “My hope is that we’ll find a new home in the area.”