Lyric planning to leave Strand, but mayor says he’ll try to forge deal to keep musical theater company
by Jon Gillooly
March 22, 2013 12:00 AM | 5840 views | 31 31 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Brandt Blocker, artistic director and general manager of the Atlanta Lyric Theatre, stands outside the Earl Smith Strand Theatre on the Marietta Square. (MDJ Staff/Laura Moon)
Brandt Blocker, artistic director and general manager of the Atlanta Lyric Theatre, stands outside the Earl Smith Strand Theatre on the Marietta Square. (MDJ Staff/Laura Moon)
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The Earl Smith Strand Theatre on the Square could be lowering the curtain on the Atlanta Lyric Theatre after its final performance of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” on June 23.

Season ticket holders were notified recently that the Lyric plans to leave the home it’s had since 2008. However, Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin quickly stepped forward and basically said “whoa, not so fast!” The mayor emphatically added that he will strive to work out a suitable arrangement to keep the Strand’s sole musical theatre company at its current home.

Tumlin indicated that he could start working on an 11th-hour save as early as today.

The Lyric entered into a five-year contract that expires on Aug. 31 with the Friends of The Strand, the nonprofit organization that governs the multi-use performing arts and events facility.

Annual rental payments average about $100,000 to $120,000 a year, said Brandt Blocker, the Lyric’s artistic director and general manager.

Tumlin called the news devastating. The kind of crowd the Lyric’s musicals attract to the Square in the evenings is essential for maintaining a healthy downtown, he said.

“They let out at say 10 p.m. or 10:30 p.m.,” Tumlin said. “If we lose those people, then it gets maybe a bad element that hangs out on the Square. When you walk around the Square at 10:30 p.m., and you see a bunch of gray-headed people like me walking around, then you know it’s safe. And when it’s safe, you get families out there, you get people who go to the restaurants. It sends a clear message that they feel safe, so therefore it is safe, and that’s what we want.”

Tumlin said he was going to do whatever he could to convince the Lyric to remain at the Strand. He suggested possibly tapping into the hotel/motel tax the city collects and using that as a revenue source for the Lyric.

“What little brain cells I’ve got, I’m going to do what I can to keep this one afloat,” Tumlin said. “I think my citizens are going to demand it, or it’s going to be my head. I’m motivated even more than the economic impact to the city of Marietta. This is a cultural impact that is devastating.”

Tumlin spoke of Palmer Wells’ popular Theatre in the Square, a cornerstone of downtown Marietta since 1982 that closed in March 2012 because of financial troubles. The building in which that theater company was housed is also owned by the Goldstein family.

“As mayor of a city that has lost two outstanding theaters, I’m not going to go sit in the corner and cry. I’m going to do whatever I can to help,” Tumlin said.

An initial warning

Word that all was not well between the Lyric and the Strand came in February 2012, when the Lyric’s marketing director, Dianne Butler, announced at a town hall that her company was being courted by other communities.

Blocker and four of the Strand’s board members – chairman Bob Ash, attorney Kevin Moore, Marietta resident Steve Imler, and Michele Swann, CEO of The Cobb-Marietta Coliseum & Exhibit Hall Authority – tried to come to an agreement about extending the contract, but Blocker said ultimately the Lyric could not afford the terms.

“We love the Square, and please know we worked very diligently to try to come to an agreement that would work well for the company, that would work well for our patrons, but my job in leading this organization is to make sure that we can continue to produce shows for years to come,” Blocker said.

Blocker said his plan is for the Lyric to announce its new home, which will be somewhere in Cobb County, next week.

A business decision

Both Blocker and Ash said the parting between the Lyric and Strand was not bitter, but simply a business decision.

“Obviously, it boiled down to a business decision on the part of the Strand,” Ash said. “We had given some substantial concessions to the rental rate in the initial contract, and we were working hard to keep them there. That was the goal going in obviously is to keep the Lyric there, but in the final analysis, when we looked at the numbers, they looked at the numbers, they couldn’t pay what we wanted to get and, business-wise, we just couldn’t take lower than what our last offer to them was.”

The Lyric has 1,912 season-ticket holders and sees an average audience turnout per show of 400 people. On average, season-ticket holders account for about 40 percent of the audience.

Cassi Costoulas, the Strand’s marketing director, said the amount of time the Lyric booked at the Strand varies from year to year between 31 percent and 37 percent. In 2012, for example, The Lyric was in The Strand for 125 days out of the 359 it was open since the Strand is closed most major holidays. That equates to 35 percent, she said.

The Strand has bills of its own to pay. Friends of the Strand spent about $6 million on the Strand renovation, and it owes about $1.5 million left of that amount to Bank of North Georgia.

The Strand has a lease with the Goldstein family through 2056, with $0 rent due until Jan. 1, 2015. At that time, rent will be about $9,000 a month.

The Strand’s 2013 budget is about $1.2 million.

The Lyric has an annual budget of about $1 million, with ticket sales making up more than $600,000 of that amount and charitable giving and other support accounting for the rest, Blocker said.

Earl Smith, the Strand’s namesake, said the Strand will fill the void left by the Lyric with other events.

“I think we will have something that will serve that purpose because we have anticipated this maybe not working out, so the board has been working, and Earl Reece (Strand executive director) has been working on something that would fill that in and still kind of not miss a beat, because we will take advantage of kind of the dark days that we have, or days that we had a limited amount of income from them. And I think at the end of the day while there may be some disappointment, I believe we will be all right,” Smith said.

Another move

The Lyric was formed in 1980 dedicated to presenting the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. Its first production was performed at Emory University. Later productions moved about to the Marist School, 14th Street Playground and the Robert Ferst Center for the Arts on the campus of Georgia Tech before moving to the Strand.

The Lyric’s final performance at the Strand is “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” on June 23.

County spokesman Robert Quigley said there has been some talk about the Lyric holding a performance at the county’s Jennie T. Anderson Theatre in August like it did last year, but there are no plans for the Lyric to have its home in any county-owned building.

The Journal also spoke with The Murray Arts Center at Mount Paran Christian School, Marietta City Schools, Kennesaw State University, Life University, Chattahoochee Technical College, Southern Polytechnic State University and the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, but the spokespeople for those groups all said the Lyric isn’t coming their way, either.

Next week’s announcement on the new venue is bound to surprise.

 

Comments
(31)
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maryetta native
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March 22, 2013
Good Gosh! Just because the people walking around the Square after 10:00 AM don't have gray hair, (I color mine) then it is a bad crowd? Get real! Live theatre have a hard time making it in any size city. Even NY has plays that close every month.

No one wants to talk about or admit the elephant in the room is the deal that was struck with Goldstein. I seriously doubt the Strand will ever be able to meet $9000 rent every month. Goldstein has and will get exactly what he wanted- a building totally renovated and he did not pay ONE DIME! When the Strand goes bust and it goes back to Goldstein, then there will be music and comedy acts like the Tabernacle in ATL.
Theatre Fan
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March 22, 2013
Lots of interesting comments here - some accurate, some not so much. I'm not sure why so many people are convinced that the Lyric has been or is "bluffing" about being courted by other towns, because I (and many others) know for a fact that this is true. The Lyric came to the Strand to begin with because it was a better situation than the one they were being offered by another town. Buford and Lawrenceville (participants in the "bidding war" for the Aurora Theatre a few years back) aren't the only towns that want their own theatres! Marietta and the Strand have absolutely done many good things for the Lyric, but I wonder if people realize just how much the Lyric has done for the Strand. Beyond the obvious good that the Lyric has done by being the Strand's #1 rent-payer and built-in "introducer of the venue" to other potential renters, the Lyric's personnel have gone out and raised money from the Lyric's donors FOR THE STRAND - over $600,000 that I'm aware of, and maybe more. The Lyric also purchased pretty much all of the theatre technical equipment (lighting, sound, tech booth, etc.) that is in the Strand, and they leave it there and let the Strand use it for other things (and probably rent it to others!)in between Lyric shows. So there's a lot of talk about the "substantial rent concessions," but they are far less substantial when you add in these other things that the Strand doesn't like to talk about. And there are a lot of comments about how the City should support the Strand instead of the Lyric, but the Lyric actually supports the Strand. (In addition to the money, I wonder how well the Strand would do in renting the venue to other performing groups or putting on its own shows if it didn't have any lighting or sound equipment?) The Lyric actually does do new and different shows sometimes, but unfortunately (as is the case with most theatres) they don't sell that well, so they probably just can't do them all the time. (I remember their production of "The It Girl" - such a cool show! But a very small audience.) The comments about egos being involved here are spot on - but at the end of the day, why "throw away" a situation that's working, just to have to go out and spend more time and money to (maybe) find a replacement? Unless the FOTS really do think that they can become their own theatre company and make enough money to pay the rent - in which case, good luck with that.
Baxter T.
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March 22, 2013
It seems the Lyric is bluffing again, as they were last year when they said other towns were "courting" them. It's too bad there are such big egos involved on both sides (Lyric and Strand) that these two organizations couldn't find a way to work together.
PerplexedPriorities
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March 22, 2013
Really wish as much effort to save the Lyric was being obviously shown to the abandoned shopping centers on Whitlock Road! How about some incentives to attract quality commercial entities down this stretch of road to help property values for homeowners?!
Lyric Subscriber
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March 22, 2013
The comments are rather alarming - The Lyric is a quality production company and delivers a wonderful entertainment package to the Square and Cobb County. Yes, our group dines out before every performance on the Square.

We only wish the best to the Mayor for stepping up and attempting to resolve the issues. Hopefully the Mayor can keep the Lyric at the Strand for many many years. We Will be there !
Martha Dade
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March 22, 2013
Sad to see the Lyric leaving the Strand. I enjoy their shows. I get tired of seeing the same performers though. I imagine I'm not the only one and they are a little pretentious, but that's another story for another day. What better thing to do than to move to a venue like the Civic Center and spice things up that way. Not that I have any inside info but after their move there for Legally Blonde, it seems to be in line.

The Strand is a beautiful venue but they need some help on the administrative side. I recent had a friend cater and event and said that the staff of the Strand was more concerned with a potential renter and showing them the place than getting the paid renter settled in with their event taking place in a few hours. Just seems like maybe they should do some restructuring within. Their rental fees are too high for some other groups. Pebblebrook uses them but that is pretty much paid by citizens like you and like me.

The city lost Theatre in the Square for a number of reasons I'm sure. I hope the Strand doesn't follow suit.
Peek Inside
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March 22, 2013
Yes, the business side of this enterprise is a joke. This is a high stakes arrangement with Goldstein and I am stunned by the FOTS lack of diligence on the business end.

You cannot expect a retired educator and a few college students or recent grads to develop the business as needed to make the rent.
anonymous
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March 22, 2013
Restoring the strand was noble. I know that many people smarter then me were involved, but how did no one see that time has passed it by. It just cant compete with the Fox and even the Cobb Energy Center for that matter. The re-do costs were way over the revenue the Strand can generate. Like one post said what are they going to do when the rent comes due.
Young Adult
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March 22, 2013
The Lyric and The Strand want to attract that old, "safe" crowd, but Marietta could really appeal to a younger crowd. As someone in my 20/30's who appreciates a good musical as well, I'd love to see some music acts (bands, performers) come through. The Strand is close enough to Atlanta to draw a crowd, and making the square more appealing to young adults could really boost Marietta's image! Events like Brew with a View already cater to my age group/interests, why not put more out there?
Arts Lover
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March 22, 2013
Marietta citizens who think this sounds good need to visit MASQUERADE on Ponce and the VARIETY PLAYHOUSE....two of Atlanta's most popular Music/Band venues, and see if this is what they envision as desirable for the Square and the hoped-for outcome of the multi-million dollar FOS renovation of the Strand. Take a good look at the clientele attracted to the bands and beer-fests as a venue's primary source of income. Seems the costs of renovating the Strand could have been saved -- you had this already back in the Battle of the Bands era... are you going to go backwards?
young adults & more
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March 22, 2013
The strand has featured numerous bands over the years since reopening in 2009... and they have been enjoyed by many. They are great for providing an additional source of revenue as "filler" events. The Strand says in the article the Lyric is only 30- 35% of the annual bookings.... so they could be bringing in bands for the other 65-70% of the dates open and keep the "young adults" happy AND those seeking family-friendly entertainment. Compromise for a win-win for everyone.
Go For It Marietta
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March 22, 2013
If this company leaves the Square, then all that's left is community theater and sloppy revues. Not that there's anything wrong with either, but I've always told my friends and neighbors that the Lyric produces some darn good work (I would even say Broadway-quality). For a small town like ours, that's something we shouldn't take for granted. I would have killed to have a company like this rent out space in my local theater, growing up.

Theater is not for everyone, sure, and most would say that this issue is disposable. But, as someone in business, it is unbelievable what the Atlanta Lyric Theater brings to the Square.
Culture Queen
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March 22, 2013
Prior to coming to The Strand, the Atlanta Lyric Theatre was a piddly afterthought in the metro area's theatrical scene. The Strand gave them a major boost in terms of audience reach and visibility. And the Lyric Theatre is showing gratitude, by, frankly, showing a term I will not use here. Unfortunately, their lack of class at city meetings last year was only a foreshadowing of this...This theatre lover is very let down by the Lyric Theatre. Their lack of leadership, compromise and class does not deserve a place at The Strand.
MAY-RETTA SURVIVOR
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March 22, 2013
Lyric Theater, aka Brandt Blocker, has played this "we're leaving" hand before. ZZZZzzzz. My suggestion to the Lyric, if they are truly hoping to attract ticket buyers, is to give us something more than the same old been-done-before, banal theater "experience". Joseph And The amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat...really, this again?

Just for the sake of variety, how about trying something a little more current; like Our American Cousin?
MAY-be-ignorant
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March 22, 2013
Oh Please! You are the same person who trashed Theatre in the Square when they were closing...while admitting you had never been inside the place! I would venture to say you have not been to one of the Lyric shows..or you would know they are SOLD OUT!
In the Know
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March 28, 2013
Just another local yokel who doesn't know a damn thing but waxes peotic on every subject under the sun. I bet your poor family members have to listen to you drone on and on about more stuff you know nothing about.

The shows are sold out everytime so I think some of your fellow "May-rettens" would disagree with your comments.
Baxter T.
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March 22, 2013
Of course it's possible that the Lyric folks are bluffing again, like they did last year when they said they were being "courted" by others. And now they're throwing up a PR Hail Mary and hoping Tumlin or someone else will save the day. It's too bad the Lyric and the Strand both have too many big egos involved to work together to find a solution to this.
In the Know
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March 28, 2013
In 6 months when the Lyric is at their new home I would like to see you on here with your bowl of crow...munching away. Marietta has such an inflated opinion of itself. We'll see how vibrant the Square is when Earl Recce is having his Pebblebrook extravaganzas night after night instead of quality theater.
Jim Warren
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March 22, 2013
Well, I know our community hopes it works out well for both The Lyric and The Strand. Mayor, would some of that hotel/motel tax being funneled to the Strand instead of to the Lyric, thereby possibly enabling the Strand to lower their rates to the Lyric? In that way, it would seem to be an effective cash flow for BOTH the Strand and Lyric.
makes sense
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March 22, 2013
Most of us who love theatre do hope both have happy endings. Your suggestion makes good sense, Mr. Warren.
Doomed II
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March 22, 2013
FOTS are doomed. I don't care how many talent shows Reece puts on, it is not going to make it without an anchor theater ensemble like Lyric.

And of course, Goldstein ends up being the winner as he planned all along since the community paid the bill to rehab the place to the tune of millions of dollars.

That is now two Goldstein properties where theater groups have paid over $1,000,000 to improve his property only to surrender them shortly after.

This is his business model.

Marieta's Strand
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March 22, 2013
It is indeed sad to lose The Lyric. It appears the negotiators would have kept the "Atlanta Lyric" if possible. All of the arts struggle but add to our community's quality of life. However, if the Mayor wants to use hotel/motel tax, or any other city dollars, it seems the city should first give to the Marietta entity, not the mobile one. The Strand is a serious, historic, "fixture" on the square. Why not help the city's own, multi-successful Earl Smith Strand and let careful planning determine best renters?

As for the threat that by losing the Lyric we might have a "bad element that hangs out on the Square," he is giving little support to the Earl Reece/Strand team that brings us much more than the musicals of the Atlanta bunch. Let us not resort to scare tactics, please.

Jim Warren
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March 22, 2013
Good post. I agree with the support going to the Strand itself.
PassPlease
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March 22, 2013
Have you SEEN the work the Strand produces? They could have a good thing going if they showed newer movies and produced less theatre themselves. All of the rentals they house produce far better work than they do.
Arts Lover
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March 22, 2013
this seems reasonable... discern what is the dollar amount that stood between them being able to settle on a renewed agreement, and give that amount to The Strand, on the condition that it be specifically applied to reduce the Lyric's rent, so they can renew a long-term agreement. The Strand gets the money they need, the Lyric gets rent they can afford, the community holds on to high quality entertainment that is a proven economic driver for the businesses on the square. Everybody wins, but the terms must secure this beyond a year-to year basis for the security and fiscal planning of both organizations.
Be Careful
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March 22, 2013
This boils down to simple economics.

Ticket sales aren't enough to cover the bills.

There are upwards of 800,000 people in Cobb, and they have less than 2,000 season ticket holders.

That is 0.002% of the population.

It is clearly obvious that the population of the county does not support the group. I don't see any "demand" coming by the population to keep the Lyric in place.

I also don't think this is the end of the story.

I think the Strand is going to be in trouble in 2015 when they have to start forking over $9,000 a month in rent.
anonymous
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March 22, 2013
word
Tumlin, NO
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March 22, 2013
Even the bussed in alzheimers patients from the old folks homes got tired of seeing what felt to be the same thing over and over and over? Wow! Let it go. This troupe clearly gets by on having new audiences, not on doing new and interesting shows that will keep anyone's long term interest.

If you want to keep them here, swing a deal with the Picadilly's for a "dinner and a show" package.
Tumlin, MAYBE
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March 22, 2013
This is debatable, but in actuality this article isn't about the company's work. If you want to discuss quality, then let's talk about the Strand's middle-school Vegas/Strandemonium shows that label themselves as "professional theatre". Yes. That's exactly what will keep that venue in business, past 2015. You're absolutely right.
Long time tax payer
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March 22, 2013
That is an insulting and uninformed comment.

The Atlanta Lyric puts on first class productions that are now selling out every performance. I attend these shows. The audience is mixed generation. I suspect that over half of the patrons...a conservative estimate...enjoy dinner or drinks on the square before or after shows. Or brouse the shops. We have already let one theatre go. It will be a true shame and a financial hit to the businesses on the square to let another one go. As to Mr. Reece's somewhat inflated opinion of what HE can produce there.....Been there, seen them....NO comparison to the quality of entertainment put on by the Lyric. Good luck to the city and the Strand when the Lyric leaves. I fear it will fall in to the state it was in prior to the Friends working so hard to save it. A sad, sad day for the citizens of Marietta and the business folks on the square!
In the Know
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March 28, 2013
Funny how you dog what others do, but I bet you spend your nights sitting on your fat rear waiting for the wife to heat up your chili-mac before you settle in to a long night of Fox News. The shows are sold out with patrons of EVERY age. How do I know? I go to the shows...unlike your uninformed ass.
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