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Performing arts and space in Easthampton topic of forum


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— The role of performing arts in the city and the possibility of creating a community performance space in the Old Town Hall will be the topic of a forum Saturday afternoon.

Arts organizations, performers, musicians, artists, businesspeople and interested community members are invited to attend from 2 to 5 p.m. in St. Philips Episcopal Church at 128 Main St.

The Future of Performing Arts in Easthampton Charette is being put on by CitySpace, the nonprofit that owns the former town hall at 43 Main St., as well as the building’s tenants and Metacomet Stage, a city performing arts organization which hopes to rent the building’s vacant second floor.

Marcia Hayden Hendrick said that while deciding on the future use of the space was the catalyst for the forum, organizers see it as an opportunity to have an important discussion about the community’s performing arts scene.

“We decided we really wanted to look at what the performing arts community in Easthampton really needs,” she said. “It’s a way to expand the conversation and create a starting point for seeing what Easthampton wants and seeing how we can get there.”

CitySpace co-founder Edward Check, who teaches in the theater department at Smith College, said that when he co-founded the organization in 2006, the first goal was to rent out the first floor to arts organizations and businesses.

The space is now occupied by the Flywheel Arts Collective, a city arts committee called Easthampton City Arts Plus, and Eastmont Custom Framing and Elusie Gallery, a business owned by Jean-Pierre Pasche.

“We got the first floor filled, so the next step is the second floor,” said Check, who lectures on set and production design at Smith College. “It’s a wonderful performance space, and we thought that before we decide what to do with it, we should hear from the community.”

Check said the event will include a presentation on the history of the building followed by a conversation about the state of performing arts in the city and the possibility of transforming the hall’s second floor into a stage for arts events such as dance, music or theater performances.

Hendrick said that Metacomet Stage is not a theater company, but an organization that wants to provide a venue and support for performances of all kinds. She hopes the forum will answer the question of whether such a venue is needed.

“We need to see if that’s something the community will get behind and support,” she said. “Theaters need audiences.”

In terms of the state of performing arts in Easthampton, Check said he sees a vibrant community, including the Pioneer Valley Ballet in Eastworks and the Flywheel, which hosts musical performances in the rear of Old Town Hall.

But he admitted the theater part of the performing arts community has not been the same since the demise of the Pioneer Arts Center of Easthampton, or PACE. In March, the organization’s former director, David Fried Oppenheim, was convicted on five counts of statutory rape for having sex with one of his acting students when she was 14 and 15 years old.

PACE dissolved earlier this year and a few of its board members formed Metacomet Stage.

Last week, a group of people put on an event at the Eastworks Building about preventing and responding to child sexual abuse that was geared toward the theater community.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why all the organizations are reaching out to the community on this,” Check said. “What happened at PACE was a real tragedy, and I think everyone wants to be really transparent about what’s going on now.”

Check said that if community members at the forum say the word, CitySpace and other partners will begin plans to renovate and update the space. It is too early in the process to estimate when it may be in working order, he said.

For more information, contact CitySpace at oldtownhalleasthampton@gmail.com.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

Comments
Legacy Comments1

I'm concerned that the very people under whose noses David was harming children are having "discussions". Especially since the board remained neutral during the entire trial. If he duped you, who is to say someone else won't do the same? What sort of authority/ checks and balances are you bringing in to make sure something like that doesn't happen again?

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