Who will step up to save the ART?

“Hamlet” actors take the last bow at the Acrosstown Repertory Theater’s South Main Street home of 37 years.

Scenes in a gloomy citadel:

Laertes pushes a broom over the faux-stone floor because somebody has to do it.

Polonus is engaged in a finger-jabbing, mute exchange with an invisible sparring partner.

Guildenstern sits in shadows and restlessly fingers a lyre.

Hamlet ducks in from behind a blackout curtain.

Bursting with nervous energy from a sleepless night, Hamlet embraces friends she will soon visit bloody vengeance upon.

But just now she is finding it difficult to talk through her quiet sobbing.

So much pathos bubbling over inside the dime-sized confines of their dark arena.

And still an hour to go before showtime.

Last Sunday afternoon I watched preparations for the last performance of the last play in the Acrosstown Repertory Theater’s intimate if cramped home of 37 years.

“Hamlet” was the perfect swan song. And not just because Grimm shattered a glass ceiling with her brilliant cross-gender take on the doomed Danish prince.

Listen, in Shakespeare’s day all the female parts were played by men. In this “Hamlet” some of the men were actually women.

Because the ART is about nothing if not breaking boundaries.

“It’s just so painful a role, physically and mentally,” said Shamrock McShane, a veteran of countless ART plays. “It’s such a black hole to enter, and Emma went there with devastating effect.”

No question “Hamlet” was the proper Acrosstown coda.

“It’s that same black hole feeling, the sense that time is running out on this theater,” McShane said.

During that last performance in the ART’s longtime South Main Street venue, there was a palpable sense of loss among actors and audience alike.

It wasn’t just the weight of being Hamlet that had Emma Grimm choking back tears, but rather the theater’s closing. Grimm has been in a dozen ART plays since 2016, when she landed a role in “These Shining Lives.”

The Acrosstown can no longer afford to remain in the old Baird complex, now rebranded South Main Station.

“This theater has shaped my life,” she said.

Likewise, Chuck Lipsig has been an ART actor and playwright since 2007. Some years ago he was diagnosed with lymphoma and underwent radiation treatments.

“The only time I had any energy was when I stepped on that stage,” he said.

For now the ART is gone but not forgotten. It’s been a Gainesville theatrical mainstay since 1980, when founders opened shop in the old Star Garage. Now, the Acrosstown can no longer afford to remain in the Baird complex it has occupied since 1986.

Will there be a second act for the ART? That’s unclear.

Will there be a second act for the ART? Depends on who will step up to help find the ART a new home and guide it into its fifth decade.

“Hamlet” showed that this “amateur” theater can tap into a deep reservoir of on-stage talent. What it needs now is a cadre of behind-the-stage volunteers who are willing to do the heavy-lifting necessary to ensure that the show will go on.

“We are in desperate need of new leadership,” says Carolyn Salt, ART president since 2015, who is stepping back due to poor health.

No question, finding a new theater will be hard. Raising money, applying for grants and keeping the doors open is always going be hard. But it’s all doable.

So what will save the ART?

“Action by a good group of people who love our mission, vision and considerable history, and who wish to keep it going,” says Salt.

On Thursday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m. there will be one last gathering at the ART. The board has called a public meeting to talk about how to save the Acrosstown.

Who will step up to help navigate the ART through its fifth decade?

Until we know that, Hamlet’s death utterance hangs heavy over this storied theater.

“The rest is silence.”

Ron Cunningham is the Sun’s theater critic. Contact him at Ron@freegnv.com

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