Thursday, December 2, 2010

Will another theatre bite the dust?

The past month has not been a good one for OC's theatre scene: 30 year old Curtain Call Dinner Theatre called it quits and now FCLO Music Theatre (aka Fullerton Civic Light Opera) has announced that, barring a miracle, it will shut its doors at the end of the year, stranding subscribers to the rest of its 40th season. (See Paul Hodgins' article in the OC Register.)

Too bad these arts institutions aren't "too big to fail" and eligible for a government bailout.

FCLO is Orange County's third largest budget professional producing theatre company. Its founders, Griff and Jan Duncan, have lovingly produced many fine stagings of musical theatre's standard repertoire, with an occasional new(ish) musical thrown in. By design, they focused on subscriptions and ticket sales, so they lack a sizable, generous donor base that typically provides some balance when the occasional show misses its box office target or a recession affects subscriptions. Without that philanthropic support, they have been at the mercy of the lagging economy, and are crying uncle.

I hope they are able to find a way to keep it going.

However, as a longtime theatre producer myself, I must say that the landscape has changed greatly since FCLO and Curtain Call were founded. The heyday of civic light operas and dinner theatres across the US has been over for some time. Few dinner theatres continue to operate anywhere these days and whether they go by the civic light opera name, few musical theatre-only producing organizations around the nation remain.

Neither trend should be construed as signalling the end of musical theatre in America--but the access to Broadway touring productions (greatly increased with the advent of the "jukebox" musical over the past decade) and the shift in resident nonprofit professional theatre programming from classics and new works to more musical theatre (usually not homegrown, but rather co-produced with several other similar companies) have contributed to changes that most dinner theatres & CLOs have found difficult to overcome.

There is no segment of the performing arts, however, that hasn't suffered from the societal changes of the Internet era. We have limitless leisure time possibilities for entertainment and enrichment timed precisely to our whims and schedules through DVR/TiVo and Inernet streaming. For most people, something has to be very special and different to get them off their couches to drive to a theatre for a performance. CLOs and dinner theatres, which largely specialize in the "tried and true" (which some folks love, but others find "stale"), have seen their audiences die out and been unable to replace them.

Yet having local theatre companies where young and emerging professional talent can cut their teeth is an important part of the overall ecology of the performing arts in any community--and many fine performers trod the boards at Fullerton CLO and Curtain Call over the years to appreciative audiences.

Whether a renewed philanthropic effort in Fullerton can salvage its CLO's future remains to be seen. The City of Fullerton has apparently already determined that Fullerton CLO is not their problem.

No comments: