Interview with Chris ’Monte’ Belmonte, by Amanda Drane, April 2016
Chris “Monte” Belmonte is known as many things — radio personality with plenty of personality, mastermind behind Monte’s March and the Cancer Connection Campout, even wine snob — and he’s recently added another item to the list. Belmonte teamed up with Penny Burke and the Northampton Center for the Arts to take over management of the Shea Theater in Turners Falls, for which Belmonte and team submitted the sole proposal to the town of Montague. The town put management of the theater, which had seen better days, out to bid last year. With a fresh face, the historical theater surges into a new chapter.
Amanda Drane: What inspired you to get involved with the Shea Theater?
Monte Belmonte: The Shea is .8 miles from my house. My eightand eleven-year-old kids have been a part of The Young Shakespeare Players, who have been based at the Shea for the last few years. When the town of Montague put out a request for proposals from nonprofits to run the Shea, and with the former board uninterested in continuing to run it, it looked like nobody might step up. When a dream team like Penny Burke from Northampton’s Center for The Arts and First Night, and Lisa Davol who founded the arts organization Turners Falls Riverculture, and Josh Goldman, the CEO behind the multinational company based in Turners, Australis, and Jim Olsen from Signature Sounds and The Green River Festival are all willing to step up and form a board — you join that board.
AD: What does the Shea mean to Turners Falls and to Franklin County?
MB: The Shea has meant a lot of things to Turners over the years. In the Twenties, it was a movie house. It was the home base of a hippie Renaissance Community in the Seventies. And for as long as I’ve been in town, it’s been a great place for community theater and music. When the Shea has a big production, the whole downtown is abuzz. The restaurants and shops on Avenue A do well. It’s hard to find a parking spot and I think that’s a good thing. But then again, I can walk!
AD: What changes are you making?
MB: We’ve totally redesigned the lobby and made improvements in the theater itself. Josh Goldman has been the tireless champion of the renovations, donating so much time and treasure to make it happen. He’s been working with Ashfield artist Peter Kitchell on the design and renovation. It looks fantastic — a new bar, an amazing lighting installation, art on the walls, tons of interior and exterior painting, a new sign. As far as programming goes, we’re trying to maintain the same community spirit the former board brought to the theater. But we want to make sure we are fiscally responsible. We’re hoping that our fundraising will underwrite improvements to the theater, and the revenue generated from shows will pay the utility bills and members of our tech staff. We’re launching an Indiegogo campaign to try and fund a top-tier sound and lights system. Klondike Sound has been huge in helping us make that happen.
AD: What is your long-term vision for the theater?
MB: I would like the Shea to be the jewel in the crown of arts and culture in Franklin County. It’s poised to be. The town owns the building, so all we have to do is raise money and generate revenue enough to keep making it more and more fantastic. I want to have successful enough programming that the big $25 ticket rock shows will help us eat up some of the cost of the free shows and the $5 ticket talent show that The Center For New Americans puts on. I want there to be experimental theater and poetry and music. I want it to be a creative space for activism. We’re happy to have teamed up with [Greenfield Community College] to present their performing arts departments. We’re looking for more arts organizations to partner with. When we build up a full head of steam, we’d like to see something going on in that theater, at minimum, every weekend.
AD: Any big shows coming up in April or May?
MB: Darlingside and David Wax Museum — that’s Saturday, April 2, 7:30 p.m. Immigrant Voices: A Celebration of Arts — Saturday, April 9, 7 p.m. Young Shakespeare Players East presents Romeo and Juliet Saturday, May 14 at 6 p.m. And the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra CD release concert — Saturday, May 21, 7:30 p.m.
AD: How are you balancing this new role with your radio work?
MB: Balance. What’s that now? I thought it would be wise to add another full-time unpaid job to my sixty-plus hour a week job with an extremely early wake up call. Just a glutton for punishment, I suppose.
AD: What brought you to the Valley?
MB: My wife came to UMass to get her Master’s. We fell in love with the place and hope to never leave.
AD: What keeps you here?
MB: I love the community — the mix of art and agriculture and activism. There’s almost no traffic. Where I grew up, in the suburbs of Boston, it’s constant traffic and “the culture is in the yogurt” (as I once heard Richard Thompson say to River Disc Jockey Emeritus Johnny Memphis.)
Australis Aquaculture • Artisan Beverage Cooperative • Benjamin Company • Berkshire Brewing Company • Cohn and Company Real Estate Agency • Community Credit • Common Capital • Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts • Connecticut River Internists • Dean's Beans • Easthampton Savings Bank • FirstLight GDF Suezna • Gill Tavern • Goff Media • Great Falls Harvest • Green River Festival • Greenfield Community College • Greenfield Cooperative Bank • Greenfield Savings Bank • Loot • Massachusetts Cultural Council • Montague WebWorks • Northeast Solar • People's Pint • Rainmaker Consulting • The Rendezvous • Solar Store of Greenfield • Stobierski and Connor • Told Video • True North Transit • Turn It Up
Special thanks to the Mass Cultural Council for their vital support this year in the form of a Cultural Sector Recovery Grant for Organizations, as well as a Festivals & Projects Grant. We'd also like to thank the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts for their support in the form of a Flexible Funding grant. We couldn't do this work without you!