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Chequamegon Bay community wants to re-open StageNorth

Danielle Kaeding, Wisconsin Public Radio

 A large venue for local actors in Washburn closed its doors last week for what may be the last time, but efforts are ongoing to reopen the theater as a non-profit.

StageNorth owner John Weinel says it's heart wrenching to close the doors, but he hopes the theater will re-open again this fall.

“I hope that a great nonprofit theater will emerge from this owned and operated by the community,” Weinel said, “and that my wife Anne and I will be able to come up and see productions merely as ticket holders.”

Community members are working to create a nonprofit corporation called Theater by the Bay. Jack Beagan is among them. Beagan says paperwork has already been filed with the state, and they're waiting for approval before filing with the federal government. The process may take six to seven months, but Beagan says he's optimistic: “There are lots of these nonprofit theaters, so I'm confident with that.”

Beagan says the group is working on several business plans and forming a nonprofit board. He says they're looking for seed money to move forward.

“We figure we need about $50,000 in cash to cover about the first three months of operation, because you don't start a show the first day you open the doors,” Beagan said. “It's going to take a little bit of time to get a show going so you can get some income, get the bar operating again and all the things that generate income. We need money in the bank.”

Beagan says fundraising is already under way. A Heart of the Theater fund has been set up to take donations at Bremer Bank in Washburn. He says the nonprofit board, once formed, will propose to lease the building from the owner. Beagan says the goal is to re-open StageNorth as soon as March 1st. 

Weinel says he's open to leasing the building while they search for a buyer. “Anne and I appreciate all the blood, sweat and tears that have gone onto that stage. There's been so much work, so much dedication and so much talent,” he said. “It's been a real joy for us to be able to provide a place for people to exercise their talent.”

The Weinels built the $1.4 million dollar theater, which first opened in 2007. John Weinel announced they were closing the theater in early January. He says StageNorth has lost at least $100,000 each year. The theater costs around $350,000 a year to run.