MOORHEAD — The stage is set for the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre’s 2021-22 season to play out at its new space at the Hjemkomst Center, but that doesn’t mean it’s curtains for the organization’s longtime home in Island Park.
“Every t is crossed and every i is dotted. I couldn’t be more excited,” says FMCT Executive Director Judy Lewis about the move to Moorhead.
The troupe has been out of its downtown Fargo home since a structural fault was discovered in the FMCT roof in December 2019. The building has been closed since.
Repairs have yet to begin as the theater and its insurance company disagree over a settlement.
Even as the troupe prepares to set up shop in the Hjemkomst’s Heritage Hall, Lewis says productions will return to the Island Park location.
“Our main stage will always be here in Fargo,” she says.
Waiting on insurance
When FMCT announced it would move some productions to Moorhead a month ago, Lewis was hoping to have a final settlement with the insurance company by the end of April. The calendar switched over weeks ago, and she’s still waiting.
The hang-up, she says, is that insurance will only pay for what was damaged — the roof — and believes the new roof's trusses should be built atop the existing walls. The project engineers at McGough Construction say they can’t just build on the existing walls.
“Our walls are so far out of place, if you take the roof off, they’re coming down,” she says.
Getting to the point of a certificate of occupancy would run about $7.5 million, and the initial settlement was “way low… a fraction of that,” she says.
According to the Fargo's assessor's website, the parcel of land and building at 333 Fourth St. S., Fargo, is valued at $2.1 million.
She asked for another opinion and believes that will come in more favorable.
“I’m not looking for the entire $7.5 million, but something more than the $1.4 million offered.” she says. “I don’t want to accept a lousy number. That would be a disservice to the community.”
A more favorable settlement and tapping gifts that donors have already offered would help get the old FMCT as good as new, she says.
New home for a black box
FMCT’s new season will be announced at the organization’s annual meeting in October, held in its new Hjemkomst space, but Lewis did say that the first show will be “Young Frankenstein,” also in October.
Asked what the future was for the Island Park space, Lewis says she envisions utilizing both that theater, after repairs and renovations, as well as the Hjemkomst space. While the main productions would move back to the Fargo location, the Hjemkomst space could be used as a black box theater. Such a simple space would allow the troupe more flexibility in the type of work and classes, as opposed to the Island Park theater's thrust stage and set seating.
“We need a black box somewhere,” Lewis says.
When the organization was planning a remodel of the Island Park space, plans included a black box, but those plans were scrapped for budgetary reasons.
She’s currently working to get new seats and lights into Heritage Hall. Outfitting the space will cost about $330,000, which Lewis says won’t be an issue for FMCT.
Seating at the new space will be between 200 and 300, smaller than the Island Park location’s 340 seats.
‘It’s an honor to be there’
Moorhead Mayor Shelly Carlson was happy to roll out the red carpet for FMCT.
“We’re very excited and thrilled they are moving to Moorhead. Moorhead is becoming the epicenter for theater arts,” she says, referring to Theatre B as well as summer programs Trollwood Performing Arts School and Gooseberry Players.
FMCT’s own summer production, “All Shook Up,” will be held July 22-25 at TAK Music Venue in Dilworth.
Carlson says FMCT setting up a stage in Moorhead will have an impact beyond just theater fans.
“People are looking for things to do,” she says. “I think that will be an activator for downtown Moorhead.”
She hopes FMCT decides to keep its mainstage productions in Moorhead.
“We hope once they get comfortable, they’ll see all of the benefits to being there. I know the Fargo location is iconic, but the Hjemkomst is iconic too," Carlson says.
“As long as they’ll keep us in the Hjemkomst, it’s an honor to be there,” Lewis says.