September 4, 2008 in Features

Soon-to-be-defunct ARt weighs options

Other theater groups offering ticket exchange programs for subscribers
By The Spokesman-Review

The Spokane Civic Theatre has offered a free ticket exchange to subscribers of the soon-to-be-defunct Actors Repertory Theatre.

Subscribers holding tickets to the four remaining ARt shows will be given tickets to four Civic plays over the rest of the season. The offer applies only to plays, not musicals.

ARt subscribers can bring their tickets to the Civic box office at 1020 N. Howard St. to make the exchange.

“It’s our way of trying to help in this situation,” said Yvonne A.K. Johnson, Civic executive director.

Interplayers, Spokane’s only remaining professional theater, is also working on an exchange package, which it will announce soon, according to board president Jim McCurdy.

The board of ARt, meanwhile, is still trying to sort out whether it will be able to offer refunds for season ticket holders.

Board chair Jim Barthelmess said that the board still needs to untangle the theater’s finances before a decision can be made. Nike Imoru, the vice-chair, said she believed the theater had enough money to ensure that all of the other creditors get paid.

ARt, a professional theater that has operated out of the Spartan Theatre at Spokane Falls Community College for the last five years, announced on Friday that it was canceling its season when the run of its current show, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” ends Saturday.

Barthelmess said ARt’s demise was due to problems that had accumulated long before the arrival of the current board and long before the arrival of its most recent managing director, Raymond Ochs.

In a statement read at Friday’s performance, Barthelmess said that it had been “a year of unpleasant and expensive surprises” for them all.

“Just last week we got a really big bill, from long ago, from the state, that hadn’t been paid, with penalties,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “That’s just one of many things that kept surfacing – back taxes, unpaid royalties.”

Barthelmess said it “broke his heart” to pull the plug on ARt. He said that Michael Weaver, who founded the theater and ran the artistic side of the operation, concurred in the decision when he was told last week about the extent of the financial problems.

Weaver called the demise of ARt “devastating” and said he didn’t know what his next step will be – although he has already had a few offers from other theaters.

Both Barthelmess and Imoru credited Ochs with doing an outstanding job of trying to deal with all of these surprises.

“Yet we inherited something that, at the end of the day, was bigger than us,” said Imoru.

Ochs left several weeks ago to take a TV job in California, a departure that Barthelmess said was simply the result of a great job opportunity. This left the board without a managing director and no money to even advertise for new hires.

ARt is the second local theater to go under in the past month. CenterStage, which included a dinner-theater operation, closed its doors in August. One of the biggest problems, in both cases, was a difficulty in getting support from large donors.

“Lots of people have said, ‘Oh, how sad!’ ” said Imoru. “But when we were trying to reach out to them before it became so sad, there wasn’t the same kind of interest.”

Tim Behrens, the artistic director of CenterStage, expressed a similar concern in a farewell letter to supporters he wrote last week.

“… Somehow we never received the approbation of the larger local individual and family donors, the local family foundations and the regional businesses without whose support any arts organization cannot transition from small arts organization to ‘institution,’ ” wrote Behrens. “We were somewhat puzzled by this lack of support, but it is what it is.”

Weaver said he hoped this would start a conversation about “what we want about the arts in Spokane and how do we get it.”

“I think there’s enough ticketbuyers in Spokane, but where do the donors come from?” he asked.

Interplayers plans on opening an ambitious seven-play season on Sept. 17, but it, too, has financial concerns. Its building is up for sale in an attempt to keep the theater fiscally sound.

McCurdy said his board “regrets the loss” of ARt and CenterStage, but “maintains its vision that Spokane is uniquely situated to support theater and entertainment venues.”

The Spokane Civic Theatre, Spokane’s longtime community theater institution, is in especially good shape, according to Johnson.

“The Civic is running in the black and we run a balanced budget,” she said.

“I really need the public to know that the Civic is a wonderful institution that will

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email