|COMMUNITY THEATER IS ALIVE AND WELL|
|July 10, 2004 12:00 am|
By ANDREA BARKAN
Pilot Staff Writer
High overhead and low attendance may mean curtains for the Performing Arts Center in Harbor, as the Chetco Pelican Players theater group struggles to pay rent and maintain a building in decline.
"We're at a critical turning point," Dori Blodgett, president of Pelican Players board of directors, said.
Attendance has been consistently low during the past year-and-a-half, she said.
"If you can't get butts in the seats, you can't pay the rent," Blodgett said.
The Players barely made the $3,200 rent in May, saved only by a yard sale that garnered the exact amount they were short $800.
"Most of the time we don't even have the rent," Blodgett said. "I can't do a yard sale every month."
Pelican Players isn't the only theater group bowing under financial pressure.
The local Pacific Actors Theatre disbanded in May after forming just eight months prior.
The group put on four shows in the Redwood Theater.
"Deathtrap" was the final performance and drove the last nail into the company's coffin.
"The audience numbers were so abysmal that we actually lost $1,500," artistic director Cliff Robison said.
Robison said he formed Pacific Actors Theatre because he felt limited working within the Pelican Players' already established framework.
"The Pelican Players were quite happy with what they were doing," Robison said. "(They) didn't want to try new things."
Some say Brookings-Harbor could not support two theater companies, but Robison dismisses that notion.
"I think that's absurd," he said. "To say there's not room for two theaters in this town is silly.
"I really think the big problem is there's not enough room for one theater in town," Robison continued.
The audience is simply not willing to pay the minimum ticket price a company must charge to survive, he said.
"We overestimated audience response," Robison said of Pacific Actors Theatre's demise. They projected they could fill 50 seats at each performance. It turned out to be more like 30, he said.
Pelican Players board member Leanne McCurley said the group's longtime supporters, the "old timers," remain. Where they have trouble is attracting new blood to the shows.
McCurley was one of the co-founders who started Pelican Players 18 years ago.
She remembers how every show was sold out during the group's first two years.
"When we opened, every show we did we turned people away," McCurley said.
She said recent attendance was impacted by competition from Pacific Actors Theatre.
"We saw a drop in attendance because of the split, because people were dividing their dollars," McCurley said.
Both McCurley and Blodgett said that now Pelican Players is seeing a small return of former Pacific Actors Theatre performers and audience members.
Robison encouraged actors he used to work with to continue with Pelican Players. He himself acted in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," Pelican Players' June show.
"If you love theater, you don't particularly care who's doing it," Robison said.
"The Pacific Actors are showing us that they are theater people, they love theater and they want theater," Blodgett said.
But the question on the minds of Blodgett, McCurley and others is, does the community at large still love, and still want, live theater?
"I really believe the people of Brookings-Harbor really want live theater," McCurley said.
"They need to prove it now," she said. "They need to attend."
Blodgett said the state of the Performing Arts Center complicates that simple decree.
The building is falling apart, she said. Though it's a rental, everything on the interior is the tenant's responsibility.
"We've got rotten carpets," Blodgett said. "We've got electrical problems you would not believe. We can't afford to fix the air conditioner.
"How can we sell a $12 show to people when they have to sit in a rundown building?"
But the Players can barely afford to pay rent, much less make improvements.
"With us paying this much rent, how can we keep up?" Blodgett asked.
The landlord recently agreed to reduce the rent for July and August to $2,000 per month.
"Just to help us get back on our feet," Blodgett said. "He's hoping maybe it's a temporary setback."
But Blodgett isn't sure. The immediate future of the theater depends on the number of ticket sales for the upcoming "Great Ice Cream Scheme," which opens at 8 p.m. July 16.
Owners of Slugs 'N Stones 'N Ice Cream Cones will sponsor a free ice cream social at 7:15 p.m. opening night at the theater.
"If I can just keep the doors open until the end of the year, I'll be happy," Blodgett said.
The Performing Arts Center lease will end in December.
Robison said having a permanent building is not always mandatory for a theater company.
"The cost of maintaining a performing arts center is prohibitive unless you have huge (attendance) numbers," Robison said.
"They have this incredible overhead for a building that, quite frankly, doesn't suit their needs," he said of Pelican Players.
"My advice (to Pelican Players) would be to re-evaluate what it is they want to do," he said.
"If what you want to do is enlighten the community, you can do it without spending three-thousand-plus dollars a month."
But after calling the Performing Arts Center home for 17 years, it's not that easy to let go, Blodgett said.
"So many of our board members have been here through thick and thin," she said. "For them, to move, it's just breaking their hearts.
"There's a lot of memories in this building."
There are few alternatives, and even fewer that are attractive, Blodgett said.
The players could rent out the Brookings Elks Lodge for performances, but that would mean they'd have to set up and tear down their sets in a day and would never get to rehearse on stage.
Pelican Players member Katy Clark, 17, experienced that when she performed with Pacific Actors Theatre, which rented Redwood Theater for shows.
"It was a lot more stressful because we'd never been on the stage before with the props and everything," Clark said.
"It's so much easier when you have rehearsals in the same place," she said.
Besides, Blodgett said, weekends at the Elks Lodge are already booked through the end of next January.
"Not having a community center in our town, all the functions scramble ... for a place," she said.
"We'll do whatever it takes to keep theater alive but it sure would be nice to have our own home," Blodgett said.
"The players are not dissolving, we're just going to have to find a different home," she said.
"We need to get out of that Performing Arts Center so we can save money."
Blodgett is hoping people in the community will keep their eyes peeled for new location possibilities.
"I'm just asking for community support," she said.
"We need eyes and ears out there. Look around the community. Do you see an empty building?" Blodgett said.
"We also need feedback. Do you want live theater? Do you feel this is important for our community? Call us and tell us," she said.
Live theater was important for Clark, who said she's come out of her shell since her first performance, in "Gypsy" a year ago.
"I'm more open and more outgoing," Clark said. "You get to be expressive and you make so many new friends with every play you do.
"I fell in love with it," she said.
"It's a lot of effort to keep theater going," McCurley said. "Our goal is to finish our season," she said.
After that, the future of theater in Brookings is up in the air and up to the people, she said.
"If they want community theater, they need to help us," McCurley said.
"I'm still optimistic," she added. "I still think we can make it."
For more information call Blodgett at (541) 661-2401 or the Performing Arts Center at (541) 469-1857.