New Century Theatre cancels 2018 season

  • A July 2015 cast shot of New Century Theatre’s presentation of “Luna Gale,” by Rebecca Gilman.

  • Sam Rush, playing "Rick," rehearses a scene from "Building the Wall" Sept. 7, 2017, at the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — After more than a quarter-century of staging summer theater in the Valley, New Century Theatre, a staple of the Valley’s arts scene, will not be offering any productions this summer.

In a post on the NCT website, Sam Rush, the group’s co-founder and longtime artistic director, said the theater group would be “on hiatus” for the summer of 2018, in what would have been the group’s 28th season since forming in Northampton in 1991.

“At this point the future plans of the company remain unclear,” Rush added. “No one could be more disappointed than I am that we are unable to present a 28th season this year. However, this is the most responsible course of action at this time.”

The announcement comes in the wake of Rush’s dismissal last November from his position at Smith College as the theater department’s program and publicity manager. Smith officials at the time said Rush had been terminated following an investigation of “allegations of serious violations” of the school’s sexual misconduct policy.

Rush’s firing from Smith had raised questions about whether he would continue as NCT’s director. At the time, in response to follow-up inquiries from the Gazette, several members of the group’s board of directors either declined to comment on the matter or did not respond to phone calls and emails.

Rush did not respond to an email Monday seeking comment, including whether he is still serving as NCT’s director.

NCT board member William Dwight, a Northampton city councilor, said Monday the board is in the process of dissolving. The board voted to pursue this action because it couldn’t maintain its viability as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. 

Dwight said he is the last member of the board.

“Right now, I’m the only board member who hasn’t resigned. There’s no one to resign to,” Dwight said.

Former NCT board member Harley Erdman, a theater professor at the University of Massachusetts and a librettist and playwright, said he had left NCT because of the group’s uncertain future and its relationship with Rush.

“I felt that New Century Theatre, for a variety of reasons, including the situation we were put in due to Sam’s being dismissed from Smith, was really in an unviable position, and I couldn’t support it or be a part of it any longer,” said Erdman, who resigned in the wake of Smith College firing Rush.

When it let Rush go, Smith College declined to respond to Gazette inquiries other than to release a statement saying the college had “offered support to the individual involved” in the investigation of Rush’s violation of the school’s sexual misconduct policy.

Also at that time, Smith President Kathleen McCartney sent out an all-campus email that specified the college forbids any sexual relationship or romantic involvement between faculty/staff and students.

In early fall 2016, Smith also severed its relationship with NCT, which since its formation had staged plays at Smith and used college rehearsal space. The college cited what it called “undisputed policy and contract violations” on the theater group’s part, though it declined to offer specifics.

Rush, though, characterized that split as “an amicable divorce” that was partly a function of NCT pushing up against physical and logistical barriers at Smith. The group had been searching for a new permanent home during the past year and a half; it staged last year’s shows at the Academy of Music and the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School in South Hadley.

In his note on the NCT website, Rush urged supporters of the group to seek out other theater and art offerings this summer in the Valley’s “rich landscape of vibrant cultural organizations … I will do my very best to keep you updated on any new developments in the coming year.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.