Midcoast Actors’ Studio’s current production of Skylight (running through May 31) is being performed at the newly named Court Street Theater in Belfast. The rich history of the building is as interesting as the history of Belfast’s search for a performance space.
Here are some highlights in the history of the Court Street Theater building, taken from Joseph Williamson’s History of the City of Belfast (2 vols.) and History of Belfast in the 20th Century by Jay Davis and Tim Hughes. In 1839 Universalists constructed the church at the corner of Court and Spring Streets. In 1851 a new bell, weighing more than 1500 pounds, was installed. This bell is still in place.
The entire church structure was raised six feet in 1870 and a new lower level was added. By 1929, after years of “sporadic services,” Universalist services completely stopped. In 1955, Evangelical Bible Church began holding services in the old Universalist Church building. Having changed their name to the Emmanuel Baptist Church, they bought the building in 1973. They left in 1987, at which time the Belfast Maskers began performing in the church building. More recently the building was bought by the National Theater Workshop for the Handicapped, where an elevator was added. After they stopped using the building it was purchased by a private owner.
In 2013 Midcoast Actors’ Studio’s Artistic Director Jason Bannister began speaking with the current owner about using the space to perform in. In its short history, MAS has performed in borrowed spaces, such as Troy Howard Middle School and Mary Weaver’s Playhouse. When the Maskers waterfront theater space was closed in 2011, Belfast was left with no dedicated space for theatrical performances. Groups have worked to change that sad reality, looking at converting the Mathews Brothers building downtown into a large performing arts center, as well as repairing the Belfast Opera House and the former Crosby School. These projects may happen someday but for Bannister, they are not soon enough.
“It’s always been my vision for MAS to have our own dedicated theater space,” Bannister says. “Someplace similar to the old Maskers space, where we can paint the walls black, put in fixed raised seating, and not have to worry about sharing with a school or other groups.”
Whether the Court Street Theater is that space remains to be seen. The building would need to be bought, either by an MAS capital campaign, or through the city, or some large grant or private donor. Even then it would need to be rented out to other groups for performance in order for bills to be paid. Bannister has no problem with that.
“If MAS were able to make CST our permanent home, I would love to open it up to other performing arts events and groups. It’s an intimate theater space that the cultural thread of Belfast desperately needs.”
Midcoast Actors’ Studio’s production of Skylight continues to run through May 31, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 4:00 p.m. at the Court Street Theater, 17 Court Street in Belfast. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students/seniors. Call 370-7592 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations. Visit midcoastactors.org FMI and like them on Facebook.