Faced with the prospect of closing Spokane’s only professional theater company, the board of directors at Interplayers instead opted to merge operations with a community theater company, Lake City Playhouse of Coeur d’Alene.
The merger, announced Monday, gives operational control of Interplayers to Lake City, which is assuming roughly $92,000 in Interplayers debt. Playhouse artistic director George Green will oversee both companies, along with LCP’s managing director, Hannah Paton.
Out in this transition are Interplayers executive director Pamela Brown, artistic director Reed McColm and associate artistic director Michael Weaver.
Ryan Oelrich, secretary of Interplayers board, said the board started looking through the books this spring and didn’t like what it found.
“As we dove into the books, we realized things were not adding up,” Oelrich said. “We realized about five months ago that we really needed to make some big changes.”
The merger, negotiated over two months, means that Interplayers has been subsumed by Lake City Playhouse. But the only change patrons will see right away is with “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” which had been set to open Oct. 2. The timing of the merger makes staging that show impossible, Green said. Work on an alternative for season subscribers is already underway.
They’ll also need to quickly deal with some of that debt, nearly half of which is back payroll taxes. Green noted that several vendors owed money by Interplayers have already agreed to eat that debt, based on Green’s work at LCP.
Beyond that, Green said he’s not planning to change things for the sake of changing them. “I want to make sure that what we do is well thought out and is respectful of staff and volunteers and subscribers and donors,” he said. “The key is to make sure we’re being a service to the community. If we’re not being a service to the community, then we’re not doing the right things as a nonprofit.”
Still, after seeing Interplayers’ current production, “Broadway Bound,” Green said he has reason to be optimistic. “Seeing the talent that was on the stage opening night, gave me a lot of comfort,” he said. “I looked at it and said, ‘OK, there’s a product worth selling. … There’s something there to work with. ’ ”
LCP was moribund when Green came on board in 2010 and has since experienced a financial and artistic renaissance. What attracted the Interplayers board to the playhouse was LCP’s history of turnaround, Oelrich said.
“That was first and foremost important to us,” he said. “Secondly, we wanted to make sure that we were partnering with an organization that would assure us that the theater would continue as a professional theater, that that mission would continue. LCP and George Green were able to give us both those assurances.”
The difference between a professional company and community theater is, essentially, money. Interplayers and Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre are professional companies that pay their actors. LCP and Spokane Civic Theater, both community theater companies, do not, although both organizations have paid professional staffs.
That Interplayers has financial woes is not news. Back in 2002, there was a “save Interplayers” campaign that raised between $200,000 and $300,000. In April 2013, the company announced it needed $150,000 to launch the following season.
“That was something we really looked at, the history of the past struggles,” Oelrich said. “The organization … has threatened to close its doors multiple times in the past if funds didn’t come in. We just realized that is not a healthy or sustainable way to run this organization.”
And they did seriously look at closing down, Oelrich said. “But we believe in the mission. I love the shows that have happened here. … We love what it brings to Spokane. So we hoped there would be another option.”
Turns out, there was. When Interplayers approached Lake City Playhouse about a possible merger, Green said he wasn’t too surprised, given Interplayers’ history.
“I was happy that we were able to be an organization in the right place at the right time to be able to help Interplayers,” he said.
Ultimately, Green said, the idea is to model the new organization like Village Theatre in Seattle, which operates as one company with two venues, in Issaquah and Everett.
McColm, whose tenure as Interplayers artistic director was complicated by visa issues that kept him in his native Canada since late 2012, said he is proud of the work produced at Interplayers, but understands the board’s decision to merge.
“I’m very glad that the prospect of professional theater in Spokane hasn’t been shut down completely,” McColm said. “And I suppose there’s no better person than George Green to put that up.
“Creatively, I think we left it in a good spot for George.”
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