Gone dark

Money woes jeopardize the future of the Paradise Performing Arts Center

For 12 years, the Paradise Performing Arts Center has hosted local productions, as well as national touring acts. Pictured here is a performance last November during a memorial tribute for Norton Buffalo.

For 12 years, the Paradise Performing Arts Center has hosted local productions, as well as national touring acts. Pictured here is a performance last November during a memorial tribute for Norton Buffalo.

Photo By alan sheckter

Harvey Parrott, board president of the Paradise Performing Arts Center, often finds himself quoting one of the venue’s founding members when describing its financial situation: “Dean Kruta said, ‘We raised enough money to buy the horse, but not enough to feed it.’”

The metaphor has grown more serious. For the past two years of its 12-year existence, the horse has been critically ill. Now its caretakers are locking up the stable, and they hope they won’t have to take more extreme measures—but their optimism is guarded at best.

Last week, the board of directors decided to shutter PPAC effective Dec. 31. They will honor all contracts previously signed, so a few shows may take place in February. Otherwise, barring what Parrott calls “long-term support,” the directors may close the center permanently and put the property on the market by this time next year.

“The board’s decision was, if we keep putting bandages on a situation where we need a heart transplant, we’re never going to solve the problem,” Parrott told the CN&R Monday evening, two days after announcing the closure to the public. “What we’re looking to do is restructure our financial support; as soon as that’s in place, we’ll do whatever we can to reopen as quickly as possible.”

What would that entail? At least one of three things, Parrott says: corporate sponsorship(s), organizational/governmental partnership(s), or an endowment of $2.5 million from which PPAC could derive operational funds.

(Asked if the center could make it with a lesser endowment, say $1 million, Parrott thought a moment and replied, “We’d find a way.” However, he added, only a seven-figure endowment would generate the six-figure dividend required to offset the current operating deficit.)

Previously, the Paradise Unified School District considered purchasing the theater, with terms to allow PPAC shows to continue. That would represent the sort of partnership the board envisions. On this particular arrangement, all Parrott would say is: “In 2009, PUSD pursued PPAC—now PPAC would have to pursue the school district.”

Whether occupied or vacant, PPAC costs its nonprofit organization around $7,000 per month. That covers standing expenses such as the mortgage, other loan payments, taxes, etc.

Hold shows, and that figure doubles or triples, depending on how many events get booked.

A number of local organizations—aka “home companies”—rent PPAC. They include the Paradise Symphony Orchestra, the Northern California Ballet, the Gold Nugget Museum and the Paradise Dancers. Thing is, when going over the books, Executive Director Annaliese Baker and the board determined that PPAC was charging less than it needed just to break even. Small arts groups can’t bear too great an increase in fees, and if PPAC is losing money on shows, it can’t make up for that on volume.

For the 16 performances presented by PPAC itself during the 2009-10 season, the average attendance was 24 percent. Parrott said the rule of thumb in the entertainment business is a theater needs to fill 60 percent of its seats to turn a profit on a show. Patrons and underwriters can offset some of the losses, but PPAC has few of the former and none of the latter.

In the bid to rally support, Parrott is aware that closing the doors could prove a self-fulfilling prophesy. Yet, he said, “what’s going to have the bigger impact: letting home companies operate the way they have, or have people realize the impact the theater has on the community [by its absence]?

“Somehow we have to get the community’s attention that this is the front porch of Paradise. We want people to be aware that the theater is a vital part of our community society.

“We don’t want to punish them,” Parrott added, but the financial hemorrhaging must stop. “Annaliese used the term ‘going dark’—it’s a temporary condition for a theater. There are enough people on the board who care enough that we’ll find a way if those in Paradise who care will find a way, too.”

Trudi Angel, artistic director of the Northern California Ballet, hopes that happens. Before PPAC, she put on performances at Chico State and took her company on the road. Neither of those alternatives is especially practical these days.

“As a community,” she said, “we really need to get behind a partnership. I don’t see anyone coming up with $2.5 million or even $1 million—no one wants the theater named after them that badly. And it’s hard to get corporate sponsorship when you’re closing, because corporate sponsors want to be on a sailing ship, not a sinking ship.

“My hope is by the end of the year, some contacts will be made. I think if there was a definite commitment, there could be a Band-Aid to tide [PPAC] over until that commitment comes to fruition. I’m holding tight, knowing that I probably won’t get to perform there [after this December’s Nutcracker engagement] but hoping I can.”