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After 33 Years, BU And Huntington Theatre Company Are Cutting Ties

After 33 years, Boston University and the Huntington Theatre Company are dissolving their partnership.

The move is the result of BU's decision to sell its 890-seat Huntington Avenue theater and two adjoining buildings, which have been the Huntington’s home for more than three decades.

The university has owned the theater space for 62 years, and has not charged rent to the Huntington since it moved there in 1982.

In exchange, BU students have trained alongside seasoned theater professionals in the Huntington’s highly-respected props, set and costume departments.

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Each institution can take credit for bringing dozens (and dozens) of productions to the Boston stage since getting together.

But after years of "thoughtful discussion," they have concluded that they need to move on in order to pursue their future goals.

That’s according to the Huntington's managing director, Michael Maso. He said BU wants to consolidate its theater operations on its Charles River campus, and his theater needs more modern facilities so it can grow and flourish in the future.

“We recognize that at this moment we can’t meet each other’s priorities. We spent a great deal of time in very constructive conversations trying to find a way that we could continue to work together,” Maso said. “The conclusion that we came to on both sides was that the best way to proceed was to unlink our goals and pursue our separate agendas with mutual respect.”

The Huntington wants to buy the property, but BU's senior vice president for operations, Gary Nicksa, says the two parties have been having trouble setting a price. Now the school is putting the space on the market to gauge its value with the hope that the Huntington will be the buyer.

"Reasonable people disagree about real estate prices regularly, so we didn’t find a way of reconciling that just amongst ourselves," Nicksa said. "That’s why we decided that it was best from our fiduciary responsibility not-for-profit, to actively market the property."

Ultimately Huntington administrators say they're optimistic they'll be able to hang onto the building -- repair it, upgrade and expand.

"The Huntington wants to continue to operate in these facilities and therefore we are going to both make an offer for those properties and we’re going to pursue potential partners," Maso said.

Partners that will share the Huntington's vision to develop the venue and elevate it to something along the lines of the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston’s South End — where Maso's company also stages shows.

But not everyone's so sure about the future.

Julie Hennrikus, the executive director of StageSource, a resource organization that helps local theater professionals, is worried about the sale to the Huntington going through in today’s hot market.

"I don't know what the chances are of that, I hope that they're really good," she said. "But at the same time, real estate is at such a premium in the city."

And Hennrikus — who’s a BU alum — says the news about this split is causing her to reflect on what would be lost if that space was no longer the Huntington Theatre's home.

"The answer is a lot," she said.

Hennrikus credits the Huntington, and the A.R.T. in Cambridge, for galvanizing the local theater scene decades ago. She hopes the Huntington will weather this severing from the “mother ship,” as she calls it, and she has hopes for the theater, for future theater students, and for the larger theater scene.

"The health of the scene and the sector depends on the health of the ecology, and [the Huntington is] a major part of that," Hennrikus said. "My expectation is that the Huntington will continue to survive."

BU says it will continue to support and allow the Huntington to use the theater — rent free – until June 30th, 2017.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of the Huntington Theatre Company's managing director, Michael Maso. We regret the error.

Andrea Shea Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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