PHILADELPHIA; SAN JOSE, CALIF.; ANN ARBOR, MICH.: First, the bad news: In Philadelphia and in San Jose, two beloved theatres of three decades or more have marked their last performances, despite the best rescue efforts of local advocates.
In Philly, the Prince Music Theatre will close at the end of November. The theatre had rallied after a local philanthropist, Keystone Foods tycoon Herb Lotman, helped to engineer its dramatic return from bankruptcy in 2010. But when Lotman died in May, the theatre’s programming and fundraising momentum reportedly flagged, and his widow and the board announced plans to close.
Likewise, the sudden closure in June of San Jose Repertory Theatre came after a concerted intervention by the city of San Jose, which had extended a $2-million line of credit to the theatre when it hit a financial crisis in 2006. The subsequent recession didn’t help, and, by 2011, the city gave the theatre a further loan extension. But by this past spring, according to Kerry Adams Hapner, the city’s director of cultural affairs, the theatre was clearly in trouble, and the board decided to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. “When it went dark, there were a lot of broken hearts out there,” says Hapner. The closure of a 584-seat-capacity, city-owned venue in downtown San Jose also represents a financial loss to downtown businesses—one reason, Hapner says, that the city has an interest in the continuing life of the theatre building. By next year, she says, the city hopes to have a plan in place for the theatre’s use, to keep it “a viable community asset, a space for arts and culture.”
Coincidentally, the Rep’s former artistic director and associate artistic director, Rick Lombardo and Kirsten Brandt, took a Rep-developed adaptation of The Snow Queen to the New York Musical Theatre Festival in July.
Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, a strange offstage drama played out around the fall and rise of Performance Network Theatre. The 33-year-old company first announced a sudden and immediate closure in May—then seemed to announce plans to reopen in June under the leadership of some of its former staff, including sometime artistic director Carla Milarch. Finally, in July, an entirely different artistic and management team announced its plans for the theatre: John Manfredi would be the troupe’s new exective director and Suzi Regan its new artistic director. The confusion stemmed from there being two separate rescue proposals, one from Milarch’s team, the other from Manfredi’s. The theatre’s board, led by Ron Maurer, opted for the latter plan, which will help offset expenses and retire the theatre’s $300,000 debt, in part by doing co-productions with Williamston Theatre and Detroit’s City Theatre. The new team’s announced 2014–15 season includes shows with small casts—including Driving Miss Daisy and Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman, as well as a play by Michigan-based scribe Joseph Zettelmaier, Salvage—alongside ambitious plans to use the PNT space as much as “300 days a year” for rentals and other presentations. “A nonprofit heart with a for-profit business sense” is how Manfredi describes the future ethos of PNT—wise words, it would seem, for theatres facing a swift kick to their bottom line.