According to Mike Russell, Chairman of the Board of Theatre in the Square, the 16th of this month is the date on which they decide to keep operating, or close the doors, providing the landlord, Philip Goldstein, does not make the decision for them.
One can blame many things, the theater operators for poor management decisions, or the economic condition and its negative impact.
One could blame the fact that they are competing with the Strand across the Square, supported by donations; or the Jennie T. Anderson Theatre down the road, taxpayer owned and funded, or the Cobb Energy Center, with its well known deep pockets, or the number of local community theater groups that offer the same kind, and often the same quality, of entertainment for less money, with only volunteers.
Blaming any, or all of the above, is both correct and incorrect. However, blaming Goldstein in any way is decidedly wrong. This predicament is not of his making. The fact that he has not already padlocked the theater is testimony that he has been willing to work with them.
Having worked in theater and business for the better part of 60 years, I am convinced that the path to saving Theatre in the Square is not an easy one. Nor is it a part-time, white-shirt-and-tie, sit-behind-a-desk job.
First we need to know how much capital is really required. It appears we have not been given honest figures in the past and have little reason to trust the ones we are being given now. A couple of months ago, they said they owed four months back rent, around
$43,112. Now, we find that they actually owe $125,000 which is almost a full year. Do we trust the $125 grand figure? One must wonder.
We need to determine if the theater is savable. Are ticket sales sufficient to support the theater? If not, operating expenses must be reduced to the level of ticket revenue. We must know that there is a workable plan to avert future crises and to retire current indebtedness to Goldstein. Without such a plan in effect, action to save it is as futile as putting a Band-Aid on a gaping chest wound.
If the Theatre is to be saved, it is going to require the same depth of commitment and effort that it took to save the Strand, though considerably less money. I question whether the current board measures up to the task. Unless they are willing to admit their mistakes, come clean and ask for help, they are not really as interested in saving the theater as they are in saving face.
It is important to remember that it is not the taxpayers’, or Goldstein’s, responsibility to bail out the Theatre. So let’s put that dream aside. The businesses in the vicinity of the Square would certainly be adversely affected by the closing of the theater. Such places as Theater in the Square and the Strand draw hundreds of people into the area for not only theatrical entertainment, but dining and/or shopping experiences.
I think there are enough theater supporters in Cobb County to keep the Theatre in the Square a working venue. The question is whether the board of the theater is willing to do those things it must do. Shed the idea that it is a professional theater company. That illusion is part of what got it in this fix. Get back to the basics. Forget about cutting-edge material and give the audiences shows that entertain. Every community theater in which I have worked for the past 60 years has either recognized that fact or went out of business.
Mayor Steve Tumlin has taken the first step. It is up to the board of the Theatre in the Square to decide if it wants to help themselves or not. Then the business community and the community in general must roll up its sleeves and find the way. Once done, a board of oversight needs to be put in place to ensure that the problem stays solved.
No bailouts, or handouts. Just a helping hand.
Pete Borden is a masonry contractor in east Cobb.