The play “Flyin’ West” was supposed to have another performance tonight, but early Monday evening, the stark image on the Marietta Square told the story: The theater’s marquee was bare and the poster windows were empty, a storied venue for the arts in the Atlanta metro area had gone dark.
“We ran out of cash,” said Mike Russell, who chairs the theater’s board of directors. “There will not be a performance going forward.”
Russell and Palmer Wells, the theater’s cofounder and producer, had been sounding the alarm about the theater’s financial problems for months.
Mayor Steve Tumlin, who had led the effort recently to revive the theater financially, said when he learned Monday morning that the theater’s board might turn out the lights, he called Dave Reardon and Tom Browning, who serve with Tumlin on the Downtown Marietta Development Authority. Tumlin said he proposed giving the theater $30,000 to $50,000 during an emergency DMDA meeting in addition to the $30,000 grant the city gave the theater last week.
“So Reardon and I and Tom were going to present it to the board with three votes in hand to give them a Spring and Summer grant,” Tumlin said. “Then I called Mike Russell. I said, ‘Mike, ask your board if $30,000 or $40,000 would help them.’ He said, ‘No.’”
Russell said the theater’s board made the decision to close Monday afternoon after three days of deliberation. The board had raised $83,000 of the $400,000 needed to operate over the next three months and pay down vendor debt. But the board didn’t see how it could raise that amount or bring in additional funds required to launch a 31st season. Russell said the board has begun staff layoffs and had paid its lease through March 31.
Russell said he wasn’t sure what would become of all the theater’s materials, since the board is putting together an exit strategy over the next two weeks.
The fundraising work proved too daunting, Tumlin said.
“Not only would they have to raise $400,000 this year, as soon as they raise that $400,000, then their reward is they have to go out and raise $450,000 more for next year,” Tumlin said.
Last week, the City Council granted the theater $30,000 to help keep operations running, but Tumlin said Monday the theater board had returned the check to his office.
The theater board had taken steps to make ends meet, such as renegotiating the theater’s 30-year lease with landlord Councilman Philip Goldstein down to five years and reducing the monthly rent from $10,778 to $7,000.
Last week, Goldstein said the theater owed him about $126,000 in back rent and other expenses.
The loss of Theatre in the Square’s patrons would be noticeable on the downtown economy, Goldstein said Monday evening.
“In the near term, it’s obviously going to have an impact,” Goldstein said. “They bring a lot of people to the Square each year … It’s very disappointing to see that things haven’t worked out so far like we thought they would.”
The theater has an annual economic impact of more than $1 million, with 49,073 patrons visiting the Square for plays last year, Russell has said.
“Personally, I’m devastated because I thought their plan was starting to fall into place,” Tumlin said. “Their board, when they got against the wall, worked as hard as they could, but the numbers were just against them.”
The theater was in the middle of a production of “Flyin’ West,” which was set to run until April 8. They are working on a plan to give ticket holders the chance to use their tickets at other venues, Russell said.