A Kennebunk-based outdoor theater group has announced it will shut down, a decision that follows the loss of its director of operations after he was caught up in a social media controversy at Kennebunk High School.

MaineStage Shakespeare, a nonprofit that staged outdoor theater productions for seven years, announced the closure Wednesday. The theater company produced 17 free shows during its seven seasons and hosted numerous summer camps and workshops for children.

The founding artistic director said the decision was made because of difficulty raising money and the recent departure of the director of operations following a controversy at Kennebunk High School.

Chiara Klein, the managing artistic director, said last summer the organization tapped Michael Herman and his wife, Rachael Yoder, as the future leaders of MaineStage.

But Herman, Yoder and the board of directors mutually decided that the couple would leave the organization after Herman lost his job at Kennebunk High School in February following an investigation into his use of a fake Facebook profile to contact students and parents in violation of school district policy, she said.

“A lot of the future rested in the assumption they were going to be around and they’d be able to carry the fundraising gauntlet,” Klein said. “When the relationship with the school eroded, those kind of fundraising prospects started to dwindle. It became impossible this late in the game to finish the fundraising for an eighth season.”


Herman did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

MaineStage was founded in 2010 by Klein, Stephanie Strohm and Meg Kiley Smith, who met the previous year while performing Shakespeare in New York. They incorporated the theater company as a nonprofit and began staging performances in Kennebunk in 2011. The theater company made its home in Lafayette Park on a stage built by the town of Kennebunk.

The theater company also offered MaineStage ShakeStars, a series of weeklong summer camps for children that focused on all aspects of theater, from playwriting to costuming to stage combat.

In 2014, the future of the theater company was uncertain because it had no funding lined up and no money in its reserves. Organizers said at the time they needed to find $25,000 to fund the next season, and supporters – including children who participated in the summer camp – found enough donations to keep the nonprofit alive.

MaineStage Shakespeare reported revenue of $51,807 and expenses totaling $53,097 in 2016, according to tax filings. The group reported an operating loss of more than $4,500 the previous year.

Klein said the decision to “move toward a graceful sunset of the company” was a difficult one that has been met with both disappointment and sadness by actors and others involved with the productions and the community. She said everyone involved with the theater company made deep connections.


“When those connections break, the emotions are very high,” she said. “At the same time, you look back at the really rich seven years that we had, which is not insignificant. We know the impact will live on, but it’s hard to think about not coming back to Kennebunk for another season.”

Ana Dinino, a Kennebunk High School senior, started participating in MaineStage ShakeStars at age 11. When the theater company was in danger of closing for lack of funding, Dinino and other young actors sent up a booth at the local farmers market and did spontaneous performances. They raised $600 in one day.

Dinino said she cried for three hours when she heard the theater company would close.

“A lot of those actors taught me so much more than acting,” she said. “They teach us how to feel accepted and they gave us a place to be accepted.”

Dinino said it was “invaluable” for herself and her peers to be around positive, inspiring adults for six years and for the community to be exposed to theater.

“It was a pivotal part of the community,” she said. “It felt like my home and it feels like it’s being ripped away.”

MaineStage Shakespeare is planning a farewell event, “Epilogue,” on Memorial Day weekend that will feature performances by alumni, workshops for children and a community celebration. Additional information will be announced on the theater company’s website.

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