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PostStar article about  Psychoneedles! who performed at the Fort Salem Theater August 3 -5, 2007.    

Fort Salem Theater owner has some dramatic plans

abensen@poststar.comPublished on 12/16/2006
Arts & Life
SALEM -- It might seem rash to make a major business investment and career shift at 60, when most people have their eye on retirement. But when Jay Kerr is asked why he decided to buy the Fort Salem Theater, he sounds rational.

"It was for sale," he said. "You know, sort of like the mountain that you climb because it's there."

Kerr, a Manhattan-based theater composer and vocal instructor with a part-time residence in Hebron, bought the cash-strapped historic theater last month from longtime owner Quentin Beaver. Kerr plans to continue running it as a professional summer theater, and add a cabaret stage for smaller acts like stand-up comics, poets and singer-songwriters."

My wife and I had been looking for an excuse to move to Hebron permanently, so we had been looking at things for sale up here," Kerr explained. "One day, the realtor -- not really knowing what I do for a living -- said 'Gee, there's this building for sale, but I really don't know what you'd do with it. It's the Fort Salem Theater.' I said, 'How about running it as a theater?'

"That was exactly what Beaver wanted to hear from a potential buyer. He had already turned down offers from buyers who would have turned the building into something else. But when Kerr approached, Beaver's reaction was, "Boing! This is the guy."

Although he's sad to say goodbye to the place he has poured so much of his life into, Beaver said he's ready.

"We did well, I'm proud of it, but ... I'm getting old. I'll be 77 on my next birthday. It's time," he reflected.

Beavers have been busy at the Fort Salem Theater for most of its 35-year history.

Quentin started acting there in the 1970s, bought it in 1979, and oversaw about 400 productions over the next two decades.

When he wanted to partially retire in 2000, his daughter, Kathy, stepped in as artistic director.

She continued his tradition of bringing classic Broadway musicals and professional performers to this small-town stage, something she says would have been impossible without the community's strong support.

"I'll miss it, but I hope I can go back up there and perform, and stay involved somehow," said Kathy, who lives in Westchester.

"I think it's a really good change for the theater. I so hope that it gets some of the influx of cash that it needs."

Staying solvent is a challenge for most theaters, as Kerr recognizes. On top of his initial investment -- the theater's list price was $125,000, he said, which included all the costumes and props packed inside -- he faces the prospect of necessary renovations to the nearly 200-year-old structure.

"It concerns me, because I know it's not the most practical investment," he said. "However, you've just got to seize opportunities sometimes, and accept that they've come for a reason. And I have a sense of being able to make it work."

In that case, he's already following the advice that Quentin Beaver said he considers most essential for his successor.

"If you really believe something will work, do it. Don't let people talk you out of it," Beaver said. "Try to be honest with yourself, and with your people, and just follow your gut instinct."
Fort Salem Theater
© 2007