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FEATURE FRIDAY: MAC benefit ‘Mama Mia’ to open later this month

The stage has been quieter recently at the Manchester Arts Center (MAC) since the cancellation of most of the 2020 season, but that is expected to change soon when “Mama Mia!” opens Sept. 17.

The musical will be presented by Jamie Harden’s Ultimate Oldies, a group of singers, dancers and musicians who perform hits from the 1950s through the 1970s. While not affiliated with the MAC, it will serve as a fundraiser for the nonprofit, which has seen its revenue fall dramatically during the coronavirus shutdown.

“Mama Mia!” is basically a juke box musical of oldies songs, according to MAC board member Danelle Afflerbaugh, who owns and operates Duck River Dance in Manchester. “It would be a good opportunity for Jamie (Harden) and his cast. This is a fundraiser for the art center directly. Hopefully, it will be a good money maker to help us get through.”
Tickets and more information may be found at The MAC is located at 128 E. Main St. in downtown Manchester.

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Ultimate Oldies is one of three organizations that call the MAC home, with the others being the in-house theater company Millennium Repertory Company and Duck River Dance. Following “Mama Mia!” the next performance set for the center is Millennium Rep’s “Disney’s Frozen Jr,” on Oct. 16-25. The cast will be members of the Wee Actor’s Guild and the Homeschool Enrichment Program. Tickets may be purchased at

According to MAC Board Chairman Doug Spangler, MAC is experiencing a $50,000 deficit this year. “This is a big facility, and that is what we need just to keep the doors open and the lights on. It’s not putting in new carpeting. It’s just to keep the place open,” he said. “We’ve cut way back on the available seating, and we set up a station in the lobby where we can have hand sanitizer and masks.”

“We are in maintenance mode at this point,” Afflerbaugh said. “All the specialty projects we were looking forward to have been put on the back burner. Community theaters and art centers all across the country are in the same boat. It’s a struggle because arts are considered by many as an extra, and at a time when people are having to cut back with their finances, the extras go by the wayside.”

To help keep the lights on, MAC recently held an elementary school art class. Limited this summer to 10 children, Spangler said the center will continue and expand the art classes once social distancing requirements are lifted.
“When we no longer have social distancing requirements that program will be much larger,” Spangler said. “We are starting an adult art class on the first Wednesday of each month. That will bring in a little bit of money. We’ve come up with all kinds of ideas. That’s what we are doing, as far as the MAC board is concerned. We are throwing out ideas about how we can bring in some money.”

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Some of those idea include upcoming art shows featuring the work of local artists that will be displayed in the lobby.
In addition to Spangler and Afflerbaugh, others serving on the MAC board of directors are Richard Burton, Cliff Roberts, Jamie Harden, Diane Weibert, Andrea Freeze, Cynthia Gray, Pietra Bush and Linda Gaines. Joel Longstreth serves as managing director of the Millennium Rep, which has a separate board of directors.

I think it’s important that this place stay open because it gives an outlet and it’s also a place to see entertainment that you won’t see anywhere else around here,” Longstreth said. “It’s great to have something so close to home that people seem to enjoy. Especially for the kids and the teens. We have become a resource for kids who are creative and want to become singers and actors and dancers. They might not get that chance anywhere else and we are proud of that.”
“We are super optimistic about what is happening here and, hopefully, everything comes together,” Spangler said. “We have so many good things happening.”

Afflerbaugh echoed Spangler’s sentiments, saying that the MAC is an awesome resource for the community.
“To have had to stop altogether was a little scary,” she said, “and we’re excited to be scaling up, even on a much smaller scale. Even if they came out with a (COVID-19) vaccine tomorrow it’s still going to be with us, so we have to find a new normal, and find ways to continue on with life and keep people as safe as possible. You have to be willing to be flexible, but I think we have found a comfortable place to be.”

From left are Doug Spangler, board chairman of the Manchester Arts Center; Danelle Afflerbaugh, MAC board member; and Joel Longstreth, managing director of the Millennium Repertory Company. –Photo by Susan Campbell

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