Foothill Theatre Company on brink of shutting down
August 1, 2008
NEVADA CITY The 32-year-old Foothill Theatre Company is in such dire financial straits that it needs to raise at least $90,000 in about two weeks to stage the next play or face shutting down.In October 2007, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor announced that it would end its relationship with the Foothill Theatre Company to produce its annual Shakespeare festival.For the last 11 years, the festival at Incline Villages Sand Harbor had been subcontracting its artistic control of the shows to the Nevada City-based company.”In our talks with Shakespeare companies across the country we found out many people were surprised we didn’t have our own theater company given the size of our production. We are actually quite an anomaly in the business. People we talked to were shocked that we would hand creative control over to a sub-contractor,” said Executive Director Catherine Atack in an October 2007 interview.Meanwhile, the Foothill Theatre Company needs $247,000 to complete this season and have a 2009 season, according to Board President Lowell Robertson and Executive Director Karen Marinovich.We do not have the capital to mount the next show, much less the rest of the season, Robertson said in an interview, confirming recent speculation about Foothills financial troubles. The theater plans to show On Golden Pond in September, followed by Hamlet, Little Women and Santa Land Diaries through year-end.Foothills closure would be a blow to the arts community, because it is the only resident professional theater in the county. Its rent also helps preserve the historic Nevada Theatre on Broad Street, the oldest original-use theater in the state.The theater companys shutdown also would be a blow to the economy. The companys local financial impact is estimated at $1.6 million annually, trickling down to restaurants, shops, inns and local tax coffers, Robertson said. (See related story below).Foothill is organizing a meeting on Tuesday to seek support from civic leaders, business people and elected officials from Nevada City, Grass Valley and the county to keep the theater company from closing, he said.This is a Hail Mary pass, said Robertson.He plans to present a business plan at Tuesdays meeting to keep the theater afloat, assuming it can raise a lump sum of money in coming weeks.Staff cuts at Foothill Theatre are expected as part of the plan. In addition, the company could strike a partnership with the Center for the Arts in Grass Valley to share some administrative and marketing costs, though no deal is pending.Money for performing arts could be hard to come by in a slumping economy. A study whether to build a new performing arts center in the area, which began last year, has been tabled because the arts committee couldnt raise the $65,000 for the survey, Robertson disclosed on Thursday.In addition, local city and county governments provide little to no financial support for performing arts, as The Union reported in a series of articles earlier this year.Filing for bankruptcy is an alternative for the theater company, but it solves no cash-flow problems and is expensive, Robertson said. He added: The more viable alternative to Chapter 11 is to file for dissolution of our 501C3 (nonprofit) status and close the doors.Foothill Theatre often has struggled to meet its budget and has been flirting with bankruptcy for 10 years or more, according to its management. It said debt stands at $177,000.Under Marinovich, who replaced Brantley Dunaway last August, the theater has made some financial progress. It pared down its debt and met its fundraising goals. Board members with stronger financial and marketing backgrounds also were added, including Robertson, retired founder and chief executive of Sonic Technology in Grass Valley.
But ongoing problems, coupled with some unexpected ones, have put the theater in a financial crisis. Among them:- Loss of a more than $300,000 yearly contract to put on the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. Foothill Theatre had the contract for 11 years, and it helped bring in needed cash in July, when cash flow typically was at a low for the year. When the contract wasnt renewed last year, it blew a hole in the theaters budget planning process, management said.- Declining ticket sales. Year-to-date ticket sales are down almost 20 percent from the previous year, below projections. November 2007 and June 2008 are poles apart.- Loss of an estimated $69,000 from student matinees – 14 percent of budgeted ticket sales. This year, county schools have no budget money to provide bus transportation, so the program cant be held, according to Robertson.- Too much debt has been carried forward year to year, and too much season ticket money was being used to fund the prior years program.Some of the roughly 25 people who are being invited to Tuesdays meeting include Nevada City Mayor Barbara Coffman, Grass Valley Mayor Mark Johnson, District 1 Supervisor Nate Beason, Citizens Bank board member Ken Baker, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Holly Hermansen and Economic Resource Council President Gil Mathew, among others.