Actors’ Theatre faces financial troubles
The recession has lambasted everything from mom-and-pop businesses to large corporations, but perhaps the most battered and bruised entity is the arts. We all remember the financial debacle that nearly canceled Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s 2009 summer season, but now the tides have turned on one of Downtown Santa Cruz’s own.
Tucked into the back corner of an unassuming Center Street building, sits Actors’ Theatre, an 88-seat black box where locals have come to see classical, contemporary and new plays, as well as improv, for the last 25 years.
It may look modest from the outside, but the theater has a history of resiliency that makes Operations Manager and Artistic Director Gerry Gerringer and Vice President of the Board Wilma Marcus Chandler confident in its ability to overcome their current economic hardship. Due to ever-rising overheard costs—specifically, dramatic rent increases, royalties and maintenance—this year is especially difficult for Actors’ Theatre. If Actors’ Theatre does not receive significant help from the community by Sept. 30, it will have to cut production and become primarily a rental venue once again. (This has happened before.)
“We’ve braved a lot of storms,” says Marcus Chandler, who recalls theater damage following the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. “But being a nonprofit theater, we don’t have the luxury of state funding or school funding.”
Having worked at Cabrillo College and UC Santa Cruz, Marcus Chandler has seen the impact that a large budget can have on production value and would hate to see Actors’ Theatre lose their reputation for high caliber theater because of lack of funding.
“We’re struggling to survive,” says Gerringer. “Our operating expenses range from $50,000 to $100,000 per year and ticket prices only cover a fraction of that—we’re asking for help so that we can have a season.”
While the two believe that high unemployment numbers and penny-pinching have greatly impacted ticket sales, their audience demographic might also explain their monetary woes. With a plummet in the number of attendees under 40 since the 1980s, the theater seems unable to compete with the Internet, TV and movies.
In an effort to appeal to people in their 20s and 30s, Gerringer will direct “Dead Man’s Cell Phone”—a play about a woman who answers a stranger’s phone, only to find out that the man is dead and the call will catapult her into a series of uncanny events—to run Sept. 17 to Oct. 10. “It’s very modern,” says Gerringer. “It really addresses the idea that the more people are connected technologically, the more they’re disconnected personally.”
Modern productions aren’t the only way that the company has attempted to lure theatergoers. “It’s tougher to get audience members in the door now, so we’ve had to be innovative,” says Gerringer, who says the company has tried to raise money by doing an Improvathon, a Bowlathon, a Shameless Variety Show and they also have plans to start offering acting classes.
“The arts are not luxuries; they are crucial to our life and well-being,” says Marcus Chandler. And despite that Actors’ Theatre has had to adjust their budget and cut down on some technical aspects, she assures patrons that production value will not be compromised. “There is a tradition that dates back to Poland after WWII called ‘Poor Theater’; it rises out of the ashes with no flashy lights or flashy sets, just great acting—you can find that quality here.”
Rather than sacrifice the quality of their productions, the two are looking for volunteers to help with publicity and backstage work as well as corporate sponsorships and donations from past performers and technicians.
“I think there has been a lot of perseverance in the theater community here,” says Gerringer. “But we’re hurting and we really need the support of the community.”
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