After 46 years in operation, it may be the final curtain for Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre.
Theater officials sent a letter Tuesday morning to the company’s email subscriber list announcing its decision to cancel next year’s season for the time being.
The letter attributes the theater’s grim finances and potential closure on poor ticket sales, which it says are at a 10-year low.
“The situation is dire and we are appealing to you, our loyal fans, for help,” the letter said.
“Normally, at the last show of the season, we announce the shows for the next season,” said Michelle Mendez, the theater’s executive director. “But we took a look and said, ‘We’re not announcing something we can’t possibly provide.’ It’s been heart-wrenching.”
Mendez said that although ticket sales have been gradually declining in the last few years, 2013 saw a precipitous drop of 40 percent from the theater’s average annual figures. She also said that two of this season’s shows, “Big River” and “Romance/Romance,” were disappointments at the box office.
The theater’s production of the musical “9 to 5,” which wraps up the current season, will begin Thursday night as planned.
CST is professional theater, which means it pays its talent, whereas community theater companies rely on volunteer actors. The typical scale of an average CST production usually demands a large budget: Artistic Director Roger Welch said that the theater’s lavish “Mary Poppins,” a box-office success, ended up just breaking even due to the high production costs.
The theater’s decision to cancel the upcoming season was not easy. Although ticket sales have slowly fallen in recent years, the harsh reality of its financial footing hit unexpectedly.
“I think everyone was blindsided by it,” said actress Ellen Travolta, who has a long history with the theater and has appeared in many of its productions. “But I think we’re going to come out of this. We need to make a new plan.”
Mendez estimates that the theater will need roughly $150,000 to stay afloat, and it is asking for pledges and donations from anyone who can help. It will be expanding its reach to various social media platforms and have some upcoming fundraisers in the works.
“We’ve never really asked for this kind of support before,” Welch said. “It’s our time of need for the first time in 46 years.”
Both Welch and Mendez said that small theaters all over the country have experienced dwindling sales figures. Earlier this year, Spokane’s Interplayers Theatre was granted a reprieve when more than $100,000 in donations saved it from closing.
“For us to go forward and do the things we’d like to do, we really need some help right now,” Welch said.