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Civic Theatre West closes doors

Board president cites mounting debt, no operational reserve, bad economy
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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It looks like the curtain has fallen at Roseville’s Civic Theatre West. The theater company informed current cast members and staff Wednesday night that the organization was closing its doors, citing a debt of about $500,000. Brent Null, who had been laid off from his position as artistic director last month, heard about the news late Wednesday night. “My heart’s broken,” Null said. “It’s a sad situation and it never had to come to this. It’s crushing. Everybody is kind of in a state of shock. There’s an air of uncertainty. They don’t know what the next steps are.” Founded in 1987 as Magic Circle Theatre, the organization was the second-largest community theater in California with an annual budget of more than $1 million, and ran the largest children’s theater workshop in the state. The organization operated two theaters on Vernon Street in historic downtown Roseville — the 80-year-old Roseville Theater and refurbished Tower Theater. Board President Calvin Stevens said the company’s mounting debt just became too much to handle. “Over the years, the theater has accumulated debt,” Stevens said. “In the last couple of years, we had a change in management strategy to stop incurring debt and to reduce debt, and head in the direction of a self-sustaining theater.” In 2009, the company reduced its debt by $70,000. But it was already too deep in the hole. Over the past few months, the board made significant cuts, including staff layoffs. Stevens said three main factors contributed to the closure: the amount of debt through the years, lack of an operational reserve and the economy. He said attendance has been good, but donations, special gifts and sponsorships have decreased. “We have 1,800 subscribers,” Steven said. “We had a great season going. But the size of the indebtedness was too much to overcome.” Civic Theatre West was three shows into a 10-show season for 2010-11. Season or single ticket holders are now considered a creditor of the company. “We have no resources to make refunds,” Stevens said. “However, we are treating it as a very important debt that needs to be dispositioned.” The board is exploring next-step options, including filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. “On a personal level, I am just flattened by this,” Stevens said Thursday. In April, Civic Theatre West: Stages of Community, formerly Magic Circle Theatre, unveiled its new name. The change coincided with alterations to the company’s mission statement and vision for the future, following almost a year of evaluation initiated by the volunteer board of directors. The organization underwent a management shift last year when the board fired the troupe’s founders, Bob and Rosemarie Gerould, and canceled its contract with LMC Theatrical Management Company. “We’re very sad to see the (closure) happen,” Bob Gerould said Friday. “There are a lot of good people who work there. We spent 22 years building that (theater company) up so it’s hard to see so much effort go down the drain.” He traces a large portion of the debt to the renovation of Roseville Theater, completed in 2002. He said the board was supposed to lead efforts to raise $350,000 to support the cost of the renovation. “They never raised a dime,” he said. “That inaction established a deficit we were never able to overcome.” Bob Gerould said he and his wife developed a plan to change things around, but were not given an opportunity to present their ideas to the board. “I don’t think this ever would have happened if they hadn’t let us go,” he said. Following the dismissal of the Geroulds, the rebranding effort was supposed to offer a fresh start. The board also said they felt that identifying the organization’s plan for long-term growth would attract additional grant funding to help during these tough economic times. Margaret Morneau had appeared in Civic Theatre West’s now-cancelled production, the comedy-thriller “Deathtrap” at Roseville Theatre. She was rehearsing for another play Wednesday when a fellow actor saw comments on Facebook announcing the closure. “I’m sad, but I think from being involved in this production, it’s clear they were struggling,” Morneau said. She said “Deathtrap” didn’t have a complete set by opening night. Only about 40 or 50 people turned out for that show. Morneau, a veteran of local theater for more than 25 years, serves as executive producer of Resurrection Theatre in Sacramento, which started earlier this year. She said one of Resurrection’s goals is to produce fiscally responsible theater — so they borrow costumes and equipment, and build less-expensive sets. She said sometimes theater people are artistically creative but don’t know how to run a business. “I hope they reopen,” she said. “The kids love it. My daughter has done a show there.” Civic Theatre West spent roughly $30,000 to put on “The Drowsy Chaperone,” one of its pricier investments, in September. The cost included flashier costumes, new props built from scratch and four stage managers. The organization also hosted an inaugural fundraiser that month. Theatergoer Steve Pounds expressed disappointment after hearing of the organization’s closure. “This theatre is home to hundreds of theater-going children in this community,” Pounds said. “Anyone who has seen the youth productions knows how wonderful this theatre group is.” He encourages arts enthusiasts to not let the theater company go down without a fight. “This community has to ask itself — are we going to let what is true, what is noble, what is right, what is lovely and what is admirable be shut down?” he said. On Civic Theatre West’s Facebook page, Pounds made a public plea asking residents of Roseville and Placer County to donate money to save the theater company. Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.