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Civic Theatre West launches campaign to reopen

Nonprofit theater company needs to raise $350,000 by Dec. 15
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Civic Theatre West may be on its way to reopening. The board of directors of the nonprofit organization in Roseville sounded the call Friday that the theater company must raise $350,000 by Dec. 15, or permanently close. They’ve since received about $40,000 in donations and pledges. Board President Calvin Stevens said if the organization fails to reach the target amount, all the money will be returned. But it wasn’t all happy giving, as many community members and theatergoers question why the nonprofit organization found itself $500,000 in debt causing the organization to cease operations Nov. 10 — and what will prevent this from happening again. The organization hosted a town hall meeting and rally Friday at Roseville Theater. About 300 people attended the event, including local actress Kaitlyn Avery. Avery has been involved with Civic Theatre West, formerly Magic Circle Theatre, since 2008. She’s now the stage manager for “Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings,” the holiday show originally scheduled to play at Roseville Theater, which will now play at Sutter Street Theatre in historic Folsom. “I knew the theater was having financial troubles, but didn’t know it would just close,” Avery said. “I think it’s possible (to save the organization) if enough people are willing to step up and help this theater for all it’s done for the community, then we can do it.” But before some people donated, they asked how the organization would be fiscally responsible in the future. “There’s a certain amount of justifiable upset,” Stevens said. “We owe it to people to talk to them about how we got here and where we are.” Board Treasurer Allen Delbrouck arrived at the magic number of $350,000 because it’s the amount needed for the organization to get current on its debt and provide replacement income until the theater company can reopen and generate a revenue stream. That amount will also put a reserve in place. Stevens said the board devised a plan to restructure debt and operate with more “fiscal rigor” and become “business smart.” The organization will reevaluate the number of venues it operates, which includes two theaters — Tower Theater and Roseville Theater, both on Vernon Street. They will reconsider the number of shows offered per season and the number of children’s workshops. Civic Theatre West had been operating the largest kids program in the state, serving 600 children every year. If Civic Theatre West reopens, the organization will downsize from 16 fulltime and part-time staff members to one paid staff and the rest volunteers, Stevens said. The board will also reevaluate the cost of its productions, which may have been a bit expensive, he said. The theater company spent about $30,000 on “The Drowsy Chaperone” in September. “I would say that charge could be made and that would be a fair one,” he said. “It’s hopefulness and ambition getting ahead of reality and the surprises of a poor economy.” Robin Southworth attended Friday’s town hall meeting to get her questions answered, but left unsatisfied. “It was infuriating,” she said. “They told the room what the room wanted to hear. But they never really discussed how they were going to prevent this situation from happening again.” Southworth played a role in the production, “Deathtrap,” which was cancelled a few days after opening night. Looking back, she recognizes some indications of financial trouble, like during rehearsals when requests for props or costumes seemed to “disappear into a black hole.” “I’ve been an actor and stage manager for almost 30 years,” Southworth said. “I’ve never done a show like that and it was beyond frustrating.” Her frustration grew recently when she looked at the organization’s tax returns, finding an expense of $379,860 for management services from LMC Theatrical Management in the 2006 return. “That was illuminating,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why are they spending this money on management services?’ That I did not understand … especially, since it’s a not-for-profit. At that point, I got angry. It appears to me they were squandering money.” In 2005, the theater company had nearly $900,000 in expenses, $256,000 of which went to production costs and the nearly $380,000 to management fees. The organization had total revenue of about $960,000. In May 2009, the board cancelled its contract with LMC Theatrical Management, operated by Bob and Rosemarie Gerould, the founders of Magic Circle Theatre. That decision was part of the board’s efforts to restructure operations. But it was apparently too late. Stevens said the organization’s massive debt had accumulated over the theater company’s 23-year history. “We had no operational buffer,” he said. “It’s like a family that says let’s pay the dental this month, but then pay PG&E next month, but then you let the phone go … It’s living hand-to-mouth.” The organization would budget based, in part, on expected corporate sponsorships, but those haven’t materialized in recent years. Following the town hall meeting, the board’s next step is reaching out to larger donors. “I’m feeling more hopeful … but I’m praying for a miracle,” Stevens said. “All (we) can do is put together a program that has the highest chance of success. The strongest guarantee we have for folks is we won’t go halfway. That’s why we’re saying $350,000 or bust.” Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- To donate to Civic Theatre West, visit www.civicwest.org and register your pledge.