Foothill Theatre pitches plan for solvency |

Foothill Theatre pitches plan for solvency

The Foothill Theatre Company spelled out a plan Tuesday to keep the county’s only resident professional theater afloat before a room packed with community leaders and residents at City Hall in Nevada City.

The plan calls for making the theater profitable and erasing debt by the end of 2009 with a combination of staff cuts, rent relief from the Nevada Theatre and increases in some ticket prices, such as weekend general admission, but reductions in others.

But first, management reiterated it must raise $247,000 by year-end, including $90,000 in the next week or two, from donors or government agencies. Otherwise it faces closure after 32 years.

“Foothill is too important to this community to be allowed to fail,” said board President Lowell Robertson, as he outlined the plan to a standing-room crowd. “It’s time for the performing arts groups to come together and stop having little fiefdoms.”

If the theater shuts down, other popular performing arts groups could suffer as well from a trickle-down effect, according to people who spoke Tuesday.

The Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra, for example, depends on Foothill to help support its shows, sharing costumes and production equipment.

“Without the support of Foothill and reasonable rent – virtually a loan – CATS couldn’t afford to present the quality they do,” said Tom Taylor of Nevada City, a longtime theater supporter, actor and former director of the Foothill Theatre.

Another resident cited the importance of Foothill Theatre in influencing the education of his four children – all of whom have college degrees in performing arts.

The theater’s revenue also helps to preserve the historic Nevada Theatre, said Jim Dodds, president of the Nevada Theatre Commission, at the meeting. Foothill is the Nevada Theatre’s biggest customer.

Foothill Theatre is going to target businesses, individual donors and groups such as the county Association of Realtors and the Economic Resource Council, among others, for help in raising the funds. It also will seek support from government agencies.

Robertson said after Thursday’s meeting that he will make a presentation to Nevada City officials on Aug. 14.

In addition, officials from the county, Grass Valley, Nevada City and Truckee will hold a regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 22 to discuss how government can support the arts, Grass Valley Mayor Mark Johnson said.

Compared with other counties, the cities and county provide little to no financial support, local artists complain. In an exception, however, Grass Valley is agreeing to provide about $250,000 in grant money to upgrade the Center for the Arts, Robertson said.

But the tight deadline likely means focusing on businesses and individuals, rather than government, theater backers said.

The economic downturn also poses a considerable challenge to the fundraising efforts.

Local businesses depend on the theater to generate business, as previously reported, and a shutdown would come at an inopportune time.

Downtown businesses hurting

In Nevada City, some retail business is down 25 percent to 40 percent this year, and next year could also be difficult, said Len Berardi of Mountain House Books in the historic downtown.

Some speakers criticized the theater for its past business practices, questioning the financial management, small size of its board and combining the executive director and artistic director positions.

“Foothill Theatre had a lack of discipline,” said Terry Brown, a board member of Music in the Mountains, at the meeting. Brown said he wholeheartedly supports the efforts to keep the theater open.

Both Robertson and Executive Director Karen Marinovich addressed the criticism.

Robertson, who joined the board last October, stressed his own business experience. He is the founder and former chief executive of Sonic Technologies in Grass Valley. Under Marinovich, Foothill Theatre has improved its finances, cut costs and reduced debt. While she is executive director, Carolyn Howarth is the artistic director.

Robertson said Foothill’s board also is being expanded. Foothill has six directors, compared with 25 for Music in the Mountains. The volunteer board members help with fundraising efforts.

Turnaround plan

The turnaround plan – contingent on receiving the $247,000 by year-end – focuses on cutting costs but also raising revenue.

– Some $24,000 in staff cuts will occur either through layoffs or savings from combining staff costs with another arts organization, such as Center for the Arts. No combination is pending, however.

– Request rent relief from the Nevada Theatre of $1,000 per month. Dodds said the Nevada Theatre would consider a reduction in rent.

-Raise some ticket prices but reduce others.

“We have to raise the ticket prices to compensate for inflation and to generate more earned revenue to support the professional company,” according to management.

For 2009, Foothill proposes to increase the price of the weekend general admission ticket from $28 to $42 – a 50 percent increase – “but still a major bargain by Ashland or major metro standards.”

But the group will offer a 10 percent discount for seniors on all tickets, including the discounted season ticket package. A senior – 58 percent of the theater’s demographic – would have a ticket cost of $28.85 each in 2009 – about $6.50 more than it costs this year. Next year, the theater plans to slightly reduce the price of student and children tickets.

“A key part of the 2009 and beyond plan is to make the season tickets such a value that it front-loads our sales and brings in that capital in November and December of the previous year,” according to Foothill officials. “The big difference will be that money will not be used to subsidize the previous season.”

Foothill Theatre also has launched a “Save the Foothill Theatre Campaign.” People can call 265-9320 or mail their donation to Foothill Theatre Company, P.O. Box 1812, Nevada City, Ca. 95959.

To contact Editor Jeff Pelline, e-mail or call 477-4235.

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