Strand board votes to part ways with Lyric Theatre
by Scott Wiltsee
March 27, 2013 12:27 AM | 8566 views | 28 28 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
(MDJ Staff/Laura Moon)
(MDJ Staff/Laura Moon)
slideshow

A last-ditch effort to keep a musical theater company operating on the Marietta Square fell short Tuesday when the board governing the Earl Smith Strand Theatre chose to end its contract with the Atlanta Lyric Theatre.

By a unanimous vote, the Friends of the Strand Board decided not to renew the Lyric’s five-year contract that expires Aug. 31.

“The Board determined the continued association did not give the best possible support for the theater’s business plan,” the Strand board wrote in a statement.

Bob Ash, chairman of the Strand board, said the decision came down to finances.

“We started our negotiations with them to improve our financial position,” Ash said. “We were not able to get to that point. We wanted to try and reach a little more revenue than we had from them in the past.”

The Lyric has paid between $100,000 and $120,000 a year to rent space in the Strand for, on average, about 120 days annually.

“We were, of course, very disappointed,” said Brandt Blocker, artistic director and general manager of the Atlanta Lyric Theatre. “Our patrons have enjoyed going to the Strand for performances.”

Blocker said the Lyric’s presence over the years has given the Strand a new perspective.

“I think that the Strand has seen the success the Lyric has had there, and I think they want to capitalize on that themselves,” Blocker said.

Earl Reece, executive director of the Strand, said the board looked at several options involving a continued relationship with the Lyric, but none would have solved concerns over revenues to handle the theater’s $1.2 million budget.

“I think that it’s sad, but it was all a financial situation,” said Reece. “With a budget of over $1 million a year, we have to generate a certain amount of money a month. The board members asked, ‘Can we do with the financial plan that was presented?’ And they decided we couldn’t.”

The board was looking to bring in more than the 12 to 15 percent of its budget covered by the Lyric.

“It would have required a good bit of money,” Reece said. “In the amount of time for reserving the Lyric – 120 days a year – we needed to fill a void of about 30-plus percent of our budget.”

 

The Strand board’s decision comes after a last-minute sponsorship proposal offered Friday by Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin and Tom Browning, chairman of the Downtown Marietta Development Authority. As a way of keeping the Lyric in the Strand, they had proposed that the city and the development authority would sponsor five musical shows during the upcoming year.

“We worked hard to try to help both groups work together,” Tumlin said. “It would have required more. They were just going in a different direction, so to speak.”

Tumlin said the city’s offer in the form of a grant would have been for one year.

“That was the challenge,” he said. “Both of them were looking at the long term. The one year did not provide the help we wanted.”

The one-year contribution of the city and the authority, added to the Lyric’s monthly payments, would have in total matched what the Lyric has been paying for each of the past five years, Blocker said.

“We were sort of shocked they said no,” he said.

Ash said Tumlin’s offer was appreciated, but the board looked at the bottom line.

“It was very kind of him to do that, but we just couldn’t make that happen,” Ash said. “It put us back where we were the previous year. We didn’t have any gains.”

Different directions

With the Lyric leaving, the Strand will examine entertainment alternatives for the theater on the Square.

“We are going to explore everything,” Reece said. “We would like to bring in professional groups. It wouldn’t be a residency or like that. But we’re exploring every option.”

Ash said the move provides options for the Strand.

“We started out as a rental facility, and found we need to do more producing of shows than what we did,” Ash said. “We’ll continue to do that. I don’t think the Square is going to miss anything in terms of the attendance.”

Meanwhile, representatives of the Lyric will continue their efforts to find another home.

Blocker said the Lyric has been looking at a new venue, but the possibility of staying in the Strand put those talks on hold.

“Because we wanted to negotiate in good faith, discussion of the new venue came to a halt,” Blocker said. “Now that the Friends of the Strand made their decision, we can move forward.”

Blocker said the Lyric is planning to announce the new location soon.

“We are committed to remaining in Cobb County,” he said. “We know things can change by the hour, but that’s our commitment. We hope it works out.”

 

Comments
(28)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
The real deal
|
March 28, 2013
Ok...so the atl lyric was paying $1k per night at the strand as well as a $300k up front cost to perform there? the only insanity in that is what the atl lyric coughed up to be at a pretty but mediocre theater at best. look it up for yourself...www-dot-guidestar-dot-org (part IX, Line 16). the costs to be at the strand are three times as much as compared to any comparable location. three times as much! no wonder the atl lyric needed some help paying the rent. and i don't have a problem with that. the falcons got city of atlanta to contribute $200M to a for-profit nfl team. why shouldn't the city of marietta try to keep a troupe that has brought so many to the mtta square? i don't know how all the high school, elementary, and community groups have afforded that rent. surely they are not paying what the atl lyric has paid. seems to me that this is about more than just money.
Theater Queen
|
March 28, 2013
Good riddance to the Lyric. Their egos will not be missed. Terrible, terrible representation of the arts community.
Queen????
|
March 28, 2013
As an active member of the arts community, I can assure you that the Atlanta Lyric is a well respected and admired organization. I am certain they will have success at whatever venue is lucky enough to have them. I wish them only the best.
theatredude
|
April 24, 2013
QUEEN- Terrible representation? I would certainly hate to see what you think is a good representation of the arts community. The Atlanta Lyric Theatre has consistently raised their professional bar since performing at the Robert Ferst Center, and as a theatre professional myself, I can assuredly say that you are WAY off the mark with your comments. If your comment is personal, and has to do with a personal relationship with the theatre, then I think its irresponsible for you to damn an entire theatre because of your issues.

Watcher...
|
March 27, 2013
When is the next major debt payment of The Strand due?
STRAND Supporter
|
March 27, 2013
Arts Supporter: First of all, there is nothing "big headed" about Bob Ash and the members of the Strand Board. Earl Smith will not have to bail anyone out with his own money. What an ignorant thing to write. Second of all, if you are going to post a comment for the public, why don't you make sure your spelling is correct. It's TOO...not "to"
anonanaan
|
March 27, 2013
Wait. Lyric needed major city help to pay the same rent it had paid for past 5 years? Sounds like that's the real story MDJ should be asking questions about here. I only want my tax payer's investment in stable companies, this gives me flashbacks to the wasted money thrown at Theater in the Square right before it closed because of its Ponzi style business plan. The financials

Sounds to me like the Strand dodged the wake of a sinking ship. Let's hope our tax payer money does, too.
anonanaan
|
March 27, 2013
Wait. Lyric needed major city help to pay the same rent it had paid for past 5 years? Sounds like that's the real story MDJ should be asking questions about here. I only want my tax payer's investment in stable companies, this gives me flashbacks to the wasted money thrown at Theater in the Square right before it closed because of its Ponzi style business plan.

Sounds to me like the Strand dodged the wake of a sinking ship. Let's hope our tax payer money does, too.
Dr. Benderover
|
March 27, 2013
Soooo...how is the Strand's operating budget 1.2 million a year, when they don't pay rent and haven't paid rent for the past five years?

They're delinquent on their $2 million construction loan but that's a capital expense, not operational.

How can a theater turn down guaranteed money in access of $100,000 in exchange for 100 days of rent? I guess I won't be hearing any fundraising needs from the Strand any time soon. They must have it covered. I smell a bailout coming. Hope Tumlin still has cash to play with...
Proofread Please
|
March 27, 2013
I guess the Friends of the Strand's keyboard is missing the apostrophe, or their communications person is as professional as the rest of the staff.

Their business model appears to be similar to child beauty pageants where the only people in the audience are parents and close friends of those on stage.

When the rent comes due, the curtain will fall.

Curtains will fall?
|
March 29, 2013
You know that the rent they'll be paying will be less than the loan they're about to pay off, right? They'll be in better shape than ever once "rent comes due". It's not that hard to pay attention and know the facts instead of spouting bull.
Cheap Rent
|
March 27, 2013
Wow... I doubt the Lyric will find a cheaper place to host its shows... they were only paying $1000 a night if my math is right. Good luck finding a venue that amazing for that rent.
In the Know
|
March 28, 2013
Already done there Mr. Stonewall.
Marietta-n
|
March 27, 2013
All I have to say is, I am intrigued to see how these actions will affect the Marietta Square and it's local businesses.
Jeff A. Taylor
|
March 27, 2013
So $1000 a night is not enough rent. Ok, gotcha.

But the Strand Board thinks it can get $3000 a night given its $1.2m. budget? How? From whom?

This seems to be the elephant in the room. Professional theater groups only play union spaces. Is the Strand already union? (Might explain the $1.2m. but if not, add more cost.)
Truly disappointed
|
March 27, 2013
This is certainly a sad, sad day for the Marietta Square. Two of the metro areas finest professional theatre companies, Theatre in the Square, and now the Atlanta Lyric, exiting our beautiful square. While many residents couldn't care less, and have expressed that sentiment in their comments here, there are far more who realize the financial and cultural importance these two theatres brought to our fair city. Apparently, the Strand's board is among those who seem to be clueless as to the gravity of losing these organizations. I have seen what Mr Reece has produced himself, and was frankly very disappointed. Yet he seems to believe his work will sustain the Strand. And what "professional" groups will he bring in? If Play Right's production of "Sanders Christmas" this past November is any indication of that (although we have been admittedly spoiled by the iconic Theatre in the Square's group), then I certainly won't be tempted to spend my hard earned dollars at the Strand.

Bash the Lyric all you want. If you didn't like "the" show, then maybe you will enjoy the amateur nights and talent shows that Mr Reece will put on. To each his own. HOWEVER, you cannot deny the obvious. Almost every show the Lyric mounted this season has been completely sold out. How much money do you suppose that brought to the restaurants on the square? Talk to some of the owners of those establishments, and get an idea of how they feel about losing the Lyric. I have. They are concerned.

I was always proud of the fact that we had two award winning professional theatre companies practically across the street from one another. It is my hope that another professional troupe will consider moving this way. My fear is that with the high rental prices and the apparent difficulties with the Strand board, that this will not happen. I wish the new folks at the old Theatre in the Square space the best. But I am afraid it will take a very long time for them to build up the dedicated audience that the Lyric enjoys, or that Theatre in the Square had.
In the Know
|
March 28, 2013
Truly Disappointed is the only one intelligent Marietta resident left...please turn out the lights when you leave. A well reasoned response instead of the usual "tough guy" crowd: "You don't like it? Leave! Snort. Spit."

The truth is the Lyric DOES have another space courting them so the joke will be on all of you morons when all you will have at the Strand is yet another Pebblebrook Revue and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Start Packing
|
March 28, 2013
Does Brandt Blocker know that "Atlanta" is actually 18 miles from "Marietta", after he loads the moving trucks I-75 will take him right to it,("In The Know" can give him directions),perhaps his extortion tactics will be received better there.
Just Wait
|
March 27, 2013
Umm, who cares.
Dear Lyric
|
March 27, 2013
If you're so "successful", why couldn't you pay the same as in previous years without the city's help?
Baxter T
|
March 27, 2013
This dishonest and manipulative "bluff" on the Lyric's part has backfired for them. To bluff at the negotiation table is one thing, but do go public with a threat to leave, maniuplate their patrons and donors, and involve the local media and local government is unethical and irresponsible. Non-profit organizations are held to a higher standard, and the Lyric, by making this very public bluff, has failed to live up to that standard.
Baxter T
|
June 12, 2013
Well, Lyric, I apologize. You weren't bluffing. You did find another venue and it's bigger and less expensive for you. I was wrong. Congratulations to your organization and God help The Strand for their greedy mistake.
Arts Supporter
|
March 27, 2013
Bob Ash and the Strand board have gotten way to big-headed and that will eventually be the downfall of the Strand until Earl Smith bails them out with his own money.
CaptainRon
|
March 27, 2013
Sounds like the Strand has gotten GREEDY! Now, they're gonna lose the $ that the Lyric Theatre has given them....The Strand is gonna have some tough times ahead of them. Definitely their loss!

We will follow the Lyric Theatre wherever they go!!!
Lyric Subscriber
|
March 27, 2013
Could not agree more - too many ex-gov workers on the Board - trying to run a business or create a successful model - oh well - Earl and Friends to the rescue ! What a shame ?
IASM
|
March 27, 2013
It's a Small World After All

It's a Small World After All

It's a Small World After All

It's a Small Small World

It's a Small World After All

It's a Small World After All

It's a Small World After All

It's a Small Small World

It's a Small World After All

It's a Small World After All

It's a Small World After All

It's a Small Small World

VFP42
|
March 27, 2013
The Lyric can surely find a retirement community with enough resident turnover that their show (yes, their singular "show" although the sets, costumes and lyrics may vary somewhat) will always please because last year's audience won't remember they already saw that exact same schtik last time
Supporting Strand
|
March 27, 2013
Thought the Strand handled itself quite professionally. "This doesn't meet the needs of our budget" says it all about a professionally managed, strong community Board of Directors. It is the Strand, the Friends of the Strand, Earl Reece, and many more locals, who have made the Strand so popular. The Lyric was the right group for the time but for Blocker to try and take credit for making the Strand is lame. And, losing that kind of income on one contract shouldn't continue. I expect the Strand to thrive on wise decisions like this one.
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides