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Opera House committee presents work plan

By Susan Mustapich | Feb 05, 2020
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Opera House Committee Chairwoman Beth O'Connor describes the work of committee members.

CAMDEN — A discussion of Camden Opera House entertainment offerings, finances and work plan took center stage at the Feb. 4 Select Board meeting.

Town-owned, the Camden Opera House contains a 500-seat auditorium, and is located in the Elm Street building shared by the Town Office.

Dave Morrison, opera house manager, introduced many Opera House Committee members in the audience.

Opera House Committee Chairwoman Beth O'Connor gave a brief overview of accomplishments over the past year. The committee supported Morrison's idea of a Community Arts Fund appeal, which finances free programming for the community, including Blue Cafe, MaineMadeMusic and the new Literary Salon, she said.

O'Connor pointed out strengths of various committee members, including fundraising, promotions, volunteering during productions and obtaining feedback from audience members and performers.

She talked about committee member Matt Brown's launch in 2019 of the new multi-day festival Jazz in June, which returns this year, June 11 to 14. A highlight of the 2020 festival is the Brubeck Brother's Quartet, celebrating the Dave Brubeck Centennial, Brown said.

Select Board Chairman Bob Falciani asked Morrison to talk about the committee's work plan.

Morrison said most of the committee's work involves programming. There are “tent pole” events that happen every year, including concerts during Winterfest, the Camden Windjammer Festival and the holiday show.

For productions, Opera House staff act as promoters and seek out acts, negotiate payment for entertainment, set ticket prices, advertise, provide staffing, arrange lodging and hospitality for the entertainers, and more.

In 2019, productions included concerts with Roger McGuinn, Byrd's frontman and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, and One Night in Memphis.

Rentals of the Opera House bring to Camden both major multi-day events, including the Camden International Film Festival and Camden Conference, as well as local dance and theater performances.

“Our goal is to bring the best of arts and entertainment to Camden and the Midcoast, and end up in the black,” Morrison wrote in a 2020 fact sheet for Select Board members.

Rentals comprise 63% of events, with productions at 9%, film at 7%, Blue Cafe at 11%, MaineMadeMusic at 5% and Jazz in June at 5%.

During a comment period Feb. 4, Alison McKellar, board vice chairwoman, said she is often in the Town Office building at off-hours and finds herself wondering if anything is going on in the Opera House, could there be something or why isn't there?

Her observation is that most rentals require a major staff component. She asked if there are opportunities for increasing low-cost rentals that don't require staffing. “What is the main obstacle to having more people here even if they are paying less?” she asked. She listed low-cost uses, such as informative speakers and showing videos.

Morrison pointed out that every event involves cleaning, setup and re-cleaning after the event and that a staff member needs to be in the building for liability purposes. “If people ask, we accommodate them,” he said.

McKellar brought up flexibility given to Morrison by Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell to negotiate rates for community use. She said that the expense of tickets is something she hears about, and brought up the idea of discounts for Camden residents, similar to Snow Bowl discounts. She spoke about discounts making town-supported facilities more accessible to residents.

Morrison said he appreciates the flexibility given to him, and has used this to bring Bay Chamber Concerts back to the Opera House, and to offer a rental for a Wayfinder School fundraiser. He pointed out that seeking and hosting small events involves small, yet time-consuming tasks for staff.

In January, Morrison asked town officials to support a GoFundMe campaign for the cushions, but board members asked him to instead find a nonprofit to organize the fundraising.

On Feb. 6, Morrison said the Camden Opera House has partnered with Camden Conference and Camden International Film Festival, and has set up a fundraising program to raise money to purchase the cushions. The cushions will be made by the Maine State Prison Upholstery shop. To enable donations, a Complete The Seats! campaign button has been added to the Opera House website,, and can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the events page.


Opera House expenses of $293,9000 are budgeted for the 12-month fiscal year ending June 30.

For the first six months of the fiscal year, gross revenues for productions total $40,300 July through December 2019, and gross revenues from rentals total around $57,000 for the same period, according to Finance Director Jodi Hansen. Morrison reports $13,643 in net revenue from productions and $15,324 in net revenue from rentals for that time period.

Rentals are charged as flat fees, with set rates for commercial, non-profit and local schools. Revenue is generated when rental fees exceed expenses. For productions, payment to entertainers is negotiated. Revenue is generated when ticket sale proceeds exceed expenses.

The Opera House is staffed with the equivalent of two full-time and one part-time position.

Each year, a significant percentage of Opera House costs are paid by taxpayers and not covered by rental and production revenues. Some of these costs include salaries for office hour coverage during the week, benefits, supplies, website advertising and promotion, box office and utilities.

Morrison shared his perspective Feb. 5 on the role the Opera House plays in Camden.

"It's not profit-making, but brings so much value to the community," he said. He added that most performance venues do not generate profits.

His observation, supported by a financial sustainability analysis done for the Opera House in 2013, is that having an arts venue makes a town a better place to live in, attracts visitors and is a huge benefit to the area.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Town of Camden | Feb 06, 2020 15:06

Update: The Camden Opera House, partnering with Camden Conference and CIFF, have set up a fundraising program to raise money to purchase cushions for the historically accurate, but not terribly comfortable wooden balcony seats. The cushions will be made by the Maine State Prison Upholstery shop. Anyone can donate by going to, and scrolling to the bottom of the events page where you'll find a Complete The Seats! button.

Thank you!

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