SKOWHEGAN — Concert and theater performances will return to the historic Skowhegan Opera House stage this fall with an agreement approved tonight between selectmen and a new nonprofit group.

The group — Skowhegan Performing Arts — will produce shows at the 851-seat opera house and pay the town $2 for every ticket sold — with no more prohibitive leasing agreements and no more ink-heavy contracts, said group co-founder Don Skillings.

“We pay the $2 per ticket to the town — we’re done,” said Skillings. “What we want is art for the town of Skowhegan in the venue of theater, music and anything that people support and attend.”

Selectmen voted 5–0 in favor of the agreement.

“It’s really a positive thing for the town,” Chairwoman Betty Austin said. “It will certainly affect more than just the opera house.” Austin is an employee at State Farm, the Donald Skillings Insurance Agency.

The plan for the coming winter season — September to May — is to have three theatrical performances and three musical events, according to Skillings, who is chairman of the Skowhegan Planning Board. He said shows at the opera house will generate business for Skowhegan restaurants, hotels and retail stores.

The idea was unveiled two weeks ago when group founders Jeff Johnson, Bill Finley and Skillings met with selectmen and Town Manager John Doucette Jr. to discuss the options.

Plans to use town insurance for the performances were scrapped immediately, as was a plan to take $10,000 from the downtown tax increment financing, or TIF district.

“What were going to do is a trial basis for nine months at $2 a ticket for us, the town,” Doucette said before tonight’s meeting. “The reason we are giving them this opportunity is that they are a non-profit.”

Skillings said initial financing for the shows will come with seed money from himself, Finley and Johnson.

The group will retain proceeds from the shows to pay the performers and cover expenses, with any money left over going to a contingency fund to support the opera house. The town’s proceeds from the shows will go into another account to pay for lights, heat and general upkeep.

A seven-member board of directors to include executive directors of Main Street Skowhegan and the Chamber of Commerce will be formed to manage functions and to make decisions on issues such as security.

Doucette said the expense of hiring a police officer for a show might be avoided if the committee agrees that a security detail is not needed, depending on the anticipated crowd. Group members also will be afforded access to the opera house without a town employee having to be present, also saving money.

Cara Mason, Doucette’s administrative assistant, will stay on as opera house manager and regular shows, such as dance recitals and shows by comedian Bob Marley, will continue. Any new performers coming to the venue will be handled by the new committee.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
dharlow@centralmaine.com