Capital Playhouse in need of $20,000 for rent, debts

By Nov. 30: About half the amount has been raised

November 23, 2010 

Peter Pan

In this July 8, 2008 file photo, the cast of Capital Playhouse's "Peter Pan" fills the stage for pre-performance instructions for the dress rehearsal.

BY TONY OVERMAN — The Olympian

Capital Playhouse, Olympia's 24-year-old musical theater, may have its final curtain call soon if it can't raise enough money to keep operating.

The theater needs $20,000 by Nov. 30 to pay back rent and other debts, board member and spokesman Ned Hayes said Monday. About half that amount had been raised, he said.

The theater company’s board became fully aware of the financial difficulties on Oct. 6, Hayes said, when they were informed by founder and artistic director Jeff Kingsbury. Hayes attributed the financial crisis to two factors: a large drop in corporate and individual donations, and overspending associated with the company’s youth programs and workshops.

Kingsbury had a no-child-shall-be-turned-away philosophy, Hayes said. “It’s a great policy. Financially, it’s not the best decision.”

Hayes said the Playhouse board and Kingsbury reached a mutual decision Oct. 16 to place Kingsbury on unpaid leave while the board assumed management of the theater.

Hayes praised Kingsbury’s financial management of the theater to a point. “He’s done a very adroit job at keeping the place afloat for a long time. He’s been great at saving us time after time.” However, Hayes said Kingsbury’s practice of borrowing money to cover expenses came back to haunt him.

Kingsbury, a former Olympia city councilman who is serving as a visiting director at a theater in the Midwest, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

Kingsbury has been a polarizing figure in Olympia the last several years. In April, Kingsbury revealed to The Olympian that he was the confidential informant who twice bought marijuana from then-councilman and former colleague Joe Hyer as part of a sting operation. Based on Kingsbury’s work, Hyer was sentenced to 10 days of jail with work release and 240 hours of community service for one felony charge of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance.

Kingsbury also was unpopular with a sizeable portion of the community for voting to raise height limits on the downtown isthmus to allow a condominium complex as tall as 90 feet there. Kingbury’s stance was a factor in him being voted out of office last year; the council’s new members voted to return height limits on the isthmus to 35 feet.

But others have lauded Kingsbury for his work on the council and with the playhouse. He has been a champion for the arts and was honored by Olympia High School as a distinguished alumnus last spring.

Hayes said that more oversight by the board could have prevented the dire situation the theater is in now. “From this point going forward, there will be,” Hayes said.

His comments were echoed by executive board chairman Dave Reynolds. “I have to blame myself as much as anyone,” he said.

The board was “not as attentive as we should have been.” Now, Reynolds said, he talks daily with the business manager.

The board is working on a financial plan to make the theater solvent, Hayes said. It will include creating a long-term endowment, adding more fundraising events and expanding the theater’s reach beyond Olympia.

A letter was sent to supporters and subscribers on Nov. 4 informing them of the situation and asking for donations. One couple who received the letter, longtime season ticket holders Newt and Stick Buker, immediately made a $100 donation.

Newt Buker said he has a lot of unanswered questions on how the theater got into this situation and what they’ll do to get out of it, but the Olympia couple are stalwart supporters. “I think they do great stuff in an impossibly small setting,” he said.

Lisa Smith, an occasional patron of the theater and co-owner of Cicada restaurant up Fourth Avenue from the playhouse, also is a strong supporter. She said the nonprofit adds value both culturally and economically. Though a critic of Kingsbury, she said, “My personal opinion about him is moot.”

Scot Whitney, managing artistic director for Harlequin Productions, another nearby theater company, said his group also has seen a drop in single-ticket sales since the start of the economic downturn. However, donations – both corporate and private – have made up the difference, and the company just ended its fiscal year in the black with increased subscriptions.

“We’ve been really kind of shocked,” Whitney said about his theater’s financial status. However, the last couple of years have not been easy: “It’s been blood, sweat, and belt tightening.”

Whether Kingsbury will return has not been decided, Hayes said. But assuming the theater survives, a new management plan will be unveiled in December.

Even if Kingsbury returns, his responsibilities will be different, Hayes said. Though Kingsbury had the title of artistic director, he also took on the role of managing director. That will not be the case going forward, Hayes said. Reynolds said he hopes Kingsbury will return – but only with an artistic role. “It’s the genius of Jeff Kingsbury that built this,” he said of the theater.

Reynolds is optimistic the theater will not go dark on Nov. 30. Citing the 3,000 children, including his own, who have been through the children’s programs as well as the 250,000 patrons of the kids programs, he said the loss to the community would be huge.

Meanwhile, Capital Playhouse’s production of “Little Women” will open Friday.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541

Staff writer Matt Batcheldor contributed to this report.

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