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FROM THE COURIER-GAZETTE, Rockland, Maine November 21, 1996

By Dagney C. Ernest

WALDOBORO - Things looked bleak at the Waldo Theatre in the winter of 1989-1990. Despite a series of auspicious renovations, the venerable performance hall on Waldoboro's Main Street was dark.
The renaissance began the following spring. First slowly, then surely, the Waldo has reinvented itself in the years since, evolving into a regionally significant concert hall.

Chuck Kruger has had a lot to do with the Waldo's rebirth. The Thomaston resident is leaving his position as the Waldo's producing director at the end of the month, but he will continue to line up the kind of entertainment that has drawn people from as far away as Portland and Waterville.

"It's time," said Kruger last week during lunch at the Thomaston Cafe. "The theatre's ready for a full-time director." Kruger's responsibilities to his two businesses - Entertainment Resources and Maine Coast Custom Yacht Charters - make it impractical for him to consider the post.

When Waldo owner and No. 1 supporter Kitty Fassett asked Kruger's help in re-opening the theater in 1990, he began on a small but symbolic scale.

"I hired the Mid Coast Community Band to play on the lawn in front of the theater the evening of July 3," remembered Kruger. "It was a great Friday night, lots of families came, and it made the point: the Waldo was open and looking for business."

Kruger brought three concerts he produced to the Waldo that year and then the real work began. The year 1991 was a period of foundation laying, as the Waldo formed a board of directors and began the process of becoming a non-profit arts organization.

>From 1992 through the 1996 season, the Waldo Theatre's number of events, overall attendance and average attendance per event have increased, as have membership, sponsorship, corporate giving and program ad sales. In 1994, the theater operated year-round for the first time since 1956.

"Contrary to nearly universal trends of non-profit arts presenters and elsewhere, the Waldo's revenue from ticket sales plus sponsorships have exceeded the costs of artist fees plus production plus advertising," said Kruger. "I'm very proud of that. I'm leaving the place in good shape financially, standing on its own feet."

He also is proud of the diversity of offerings the Waldo has presented during the last six years. "I've always held out for a mix," said Kruger.

Kruger's Entertainment Resources works with other non-profit groups around the state, resulting in the Waldo booking some surprisingly big names, including Tom Rush, Livingston Taylor, Devonsquare, and Butch Thompson. In addition to concerts, the Waldo has presented theatrical productions and has worked with several community theater troupes.

"We have a formal relationship with Midcoast Children's Theatre that's worked out real well," he said. The group has booked three weekends next month, two for "Alice in Wonderland" and one for the Cantiamo singers.

Boston's Shakespeare and Company has been a visiting favorite for Kruger. "We've gotten grants for discount tickets for local schools," said Kruger, who was inspired by his own high school experience. "My English class went to see Shakespeare and it sparked a life-long passion for me."

The movie showings that are now scheduled once and sometimes twice a month are a bit more qualified as a success.

"It's hard to ask volunteers to be the enforcers" that the children's movie crowd seems to need, Kruger said, "(but) we've had good results with the Merchant-Ivory films."

The theater tries to time its bookings to coincide with release-to-video, so as to take advantage of national advertising.

Planned improvements for 1997 include replacing the 60-year-old building's missing fourth column and painting the facade. Last year, the board of directors entered into a lease agreement with the Town of Waldoboro that will end up covering the cost of paving the theater's parking lot.

"I love a win-win situation," said Kruger. However, it is those kinds of smart decisions that have made the Waldo's renaissance possible, along with a growing base of loyal supporters and dedicated volunteers.

The next year will see Kruger exploring a similarly regional approach to use of the Camden Opera House. "And my businesses deserve more of my attention," he said.

Entertainment Resources is in many ways a natural extension of Kruger's days as a performing musician. His spacious office is located at the back of his Green Street house.

"It's great," he said. "I can shut the door and not hear the phone ring or I can get some work done in the middle of the night if I can't sleep." Those odd-hour jobs may increase, thanks to the Internet. Among the touring professionals with whom Kruger has a close working relationship is Sha Na Na, the 1950s nostalgia act that appeared in the movie "Grease".

"I usually handle their New England dates," said Kruger. However, he recently booked them an appearance in Denver, Colo., thanks to Entertainment Resources' Internet home page.

"An ad agency executive was watching the movie on TV, decided then and there that he had to have the band for his 40th birthday party; so he went over to his computer and typed their name into his search engine," said Kruger. "Our home page came up, he sent me an E-mail message, I sent back a contract. It came together in a couple of hours."

Kruger said the Waldo is in good hands and the board of directors would begin looking for a full-time executive director sometime next year. He is gung-ho about the theater's future and hopes to be some part of it for years to come.

"The past six years represent some of the best work I've done in my life," he said, "and, while there's a sadness at leaving it behind, there's a genuine excitement about what's ahead, both for the Waldo Theatre and for me."

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