For nearly two decades, the Mosesian Center for the Arts and the New Repertory Theatre went together hand in hand, but that relationship comes to an end this year after New Rep’s announcement that it will be closing.
Since the Mosesian Center opened its doors in 2005 — known then as the Arsenal Center for the Arts — New Rep has been the primary user of the stages at the arts facility located in the Arsenal on the Charles.
“They were the resident theater company . They have been since the Arts Center opened in September 2005 — an 18-year history,” said Mosesian Arts’ Executive Director Darren Farrington.
The company had a 30 year lease at the Mosesian Center, and as the primary tenant they got some perks.
“As the resident company they got preferred rates, a lot more than anyone who came in for just a week,” Farrington said. “They were like staff (at the Mosesian Center), too. Before the pandemic they were here a lot.”
The COVID shutdown hurt New Rep, the company reopened after a nine-month suspension of operations in 2021 and 2022, but they could not keep going.
“After 40 seasons, over 300 productions, and a smash 2023 season, New Repertory Theatre’s Board of Trustees has determined that it is not possible to sustain the company going forward,” said the announcement sent out last week by New Rep.
In a public statement from New Rep, Chair of the Board, Chris Jones added:
“On behalf of the entire Board and organization, I express our deepest gratitude to our patrons and donors, to the artists whose work we have been privileged to share with this community, and to an amazing staff that consistently made it all happen.”
New Rep was not the only theater company for whom the Pandemic was a hindrance, Farrington said.
“This is nationwide. There was a study done by the National Endowment for the Arts that found that fewer people are going out to live entertainment, with exception of huge events, such as Taylor Swift and Beyonce,” he said. “And when they do (go to smaller events) they are buying tickets later. That hurts us, too.”
When as many as 90 percent of the tickets are not sold until the final two or three days, Farrington said, it makes it difficult for an arts center to plan and not knowing whether people will show at the last minute they sometimes need to consider cancelling the event.
Prior to the Pandemic, arts organizations provided a significant boost to the local economy, Farrington said. In 2015, the Arts & Economic Prosperity III study found that in Massachusetts, $29.7 million people attended arts and culture events and contributed $879.59 million in spending on top of the cost of the event. That worked out to $27.32 per attendee.
Farrington said he and others at the Mosesian Center were aware of the challenges facing New Rep.
“They’ve done some performances over the past two years — some single night or single weekend, performances of music or dance or other things, but they just never came back at the level prior (to the Pandemic) when they were doing a full season of five or six productions each,” he said.
Other groups regularly use the Mosesian Center’s 339-seat Main Stage, or the smaller Black Box Theater, including the Watertown Children’s Theatre (whose performances are produced by the Mosesian Center), a jazz series featuring faculty from the Berklee College of Music, and The Briar and Rusty Show, a drag variety show. The MCA has also started hosting comedy events, including one recently held in the gallery space in the lobby of the building.
A combination of those and a full New Rep season kept the center pretty busy, Farrington said.
“(New Rep’s season) had been, I think, 30 weeks a year — that was pre-pandemic,” he said. “When you factor in our eight Children’s shows and summer which we dedicate to the children’s summer program, there wasn’t too much extra time we had to fill.”
The Mosesian Center has started the search to fill the open dates, with one or more resident companies.
“What we may do is work with two or three companies, or we could partner with another company that would fill the calendar with several performances,” said Farrington, who said there are several theater companies in the Boston area that do not have a permanent home and that some preliminary conversations have already begun.
Meanwhile, the Mosesian Center is looking for new users, such as businesses and organizations looking for a place to hold an event for staff.
“We are usually wide open during the day for possible corporate meetings or events, or team-building workshops, like improv or painting classes, or a business to bring in a team for fun,” Farrington said. “Mornings are available for corporate meetings, weeknights — usually early in the week — are open for business who would like to have events here, or if anyone wants to bring in a team for a class.”