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Curtain falls Sunday on Bay Theatre in Annapolis

When Bay Theatre Company actors take their bows at the end of Arthur Miller's "The Price" on Sunday, they may be their last for a while.

After more than a decade, the Annapolis company is suspending its operations while it looks for a long-term home.

The final performance will be bittersweet for Janet Luby, the company's artistic director and co-founder.

"We're doing so well, reputation-wise, but the money wasn't matching it," she said.

The company has been on a month-to-month lease at its small space in the West Garrett Building at 275 West St., and has been unable to secure a long-term deal with the landlord, Luby said. With the future in limbo — Luby said the building's for sale — the company's board of directors decided to hold off on planning next year's season and selling subscriptions.

"I had the season all set. … It's really sad," Luby said.

The company has a core base of dedicated patrons, with 550 subscribers buying tickets to each season's four shows annually, Luby said. But the cramped theater space seats only 80, and the company must offer its actors and stage managers a wage, pension and health care as a union-approved professional company.

A $100,000 donation in 2007 helped keep Bay Theatre afloat for the past few years, but the company still struggled, Luby said.

"We did OK for as long as we could," she said.

Barbara Brown, president of the theater's board of directors, said there were too many unknowns to start selling subscriptions for the next season.

"It came to the matter of our being concerned about our clientele," she said. "We didn't feel we could justify taking subscriptions for next year's season with things as tenuous as they are."

Sunday's 2 p.m. performance of "The Price" is the last full-fledged production for Bay Theatre for now, and perhaps forever. The play's run is ending a week early to allow Bay Theatre enough time to dismantle the stage by the end of the month.

After "The Price" closes, Bay Theatre has one more performance planned: a one-night "Wine and Words" event that involves a staged reading of "The Petoskey Stones." The free event is planned for 7:30 p.m. June 3 with the help of Dignity Players at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis at 333 Dubois Road in Annapolis.

Luby said there were "uh-oh" moments about Bay Theatre's future as far back as December. But instead of those concerns going away, as they had in the past, "This time it just uh-oh-ed all the way down."

Bay Theatre has had many bright moments in its history, she said, including being recognized by Washington's Helen Hayes Awards and Luby earning an Annie Award from the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County.

"The quality of productions is just top-notch," Brown said. "We have put on a number of wonderfully exciting, interesting, entertaining plays over the years, and I am going to miss it very much."

Luby and Bay Theatre supporters have been searching for new spaces and networking with economic development officials in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. The board of directors will remain intact, and the theater will keep its nonprofit tax status so that it's easier to start up again with "the proper alignment of the stars," Brown said.

Luby said she has faith something will come through.

"Art is like a little dandelion," she said. "It will find its crack in the sidewalk."

pwood@baltsun.com

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