WATERVILLE — A local group that has performed small stage theater on Main Street for nearly two decades announced Monday it will shutter its doors because it cannot afford the higher rent at The Center sought by a new cultural arts consortium that now manages the space.

Aqua City Actors Theater, an all-volunteer theater group, put on four performances a season in the 62-seat Studio Theater on the first floor of The Center. It started in 1998 and put on 72 performances during its 17-year run.

Evan Sposato, president of the group’s board of directors, said Monday that the organization, which relies exclusively on ticket sales, couldn’t afford the rent now being asked by the consortium Waterville Creates! The groups have been negotiating a lease since March.

“Without a performance space, our future as an organization is uncertain,” Sposato said in a written statement. “We wanted to thank our friends and fans of local theater and we wish Waterville Creates! all the best in their goal of enhancing and strengthening the vitality of the arts in Waterville. We only wish we could afford to be part of it.”

The Center was previously owned by the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center, which reorganized last year under the auspices of Waterville Creates!.

Dick Dyer, the marketing manager for Waterville Creates!, said the organization didn’t want to push any group out of the space but had to be realistic about how much it costs to operate the theater. The previous fee structure was low and was not covering the basic costs of operations, Dyer said.

“The last thing anyone wants to do is go up on the cost,” Dyer said. “Waterville Creates! is an organization that wants to promote local arts, but we are not in the fortunate position of being able to offer the space for free either.”

Under previous ownership, the Opera House leased the theater for $6,000 a year and charged the theater group $2,000 a year to use the space, Sposato said. The two groups shared the space and staff, materials, costumes and props. The theater group put on at least four shows a season and used the space for two weeks for each show, as well as rehearsing one weekend and one or two nights a week for about six weeks, said artistic director Doree Austin.

When Waterville Creates! was formed in 2014, it took over ownership of the space. The theater group recognized that there would likely be a rent increase, but they were encouraged by their early discussions with Executive Director Nate Rudy, Sposato said in an interview Monday.

“He was very positive about us staying there,” Sposato said.

But instead of $2,000 a year, Waterville Creates! asked for $500 a week for the space, doubling the annual rent on the theater group for its eight weeks of performance.

“We’re supported almost entirely by ticket sales. We just couldn’t do that,” Sposato said.

The new fee structure is $500 for a week in the theater, or $100 per day, including heat and electricity, Dyer said.

Waterville Creates! worked with Aqua City Actors Theater to pin down how they wanted to proceed before offering the space to anyone else, Dyer said. A number of other organizations have expressed interest in the theater space, but none have signed contracts.

His discussions with the theater group about the fee changes were “very clear and open and honest,” Dyer said. He learned about the decision to shutter in an email Monday morning.

“It is a reality of cost, what we’re doing,” not an attempt to eliminate or force anyone out, Dyer said.

Aqua City Actors Theater focuses on edgier, offbeat performances that might not be workable on a main stage, but could be done in a smaller, intimate space, Sposato said. The organization is all-volunteer with actors drawn from the local community.

The group hasn’t dissolved entirely and hopes to find a new venue, but theater space that matches the group’s sometimes adult-themed performances will be tough, Sposato said.

“Right now, we don’t have a new home we are in the process of moving to,” he said. “We didn’t make this decision lightly, but in the end it was what we had to do at this point. I hope you haven’t heard the last of us.”

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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