Sunday, January 25, 2009

r.i.p. mill mountain

mill mountain theatre in roanoke, virginia, has been around since 1964, but last tuesday they announced that their doors were closing for good. after a 35 year run, you can add the carousel dinner theatre in akron, ohio to that list. the now part-time artistic director-executive producer of beverly, mass's north shore theatre is leading efforts to reopen the theater that closed its doors only last week. and soon the madison repertory theatre in my home state of wisconsin may become the latest fatality in a long string of dying regional theaters.


it's a tough time for theatre. this week, after 40 years of providing some of the best, most respected regional theater in the country, the madison rep announced it is in the dire-est of straights: without an immediate infusion of at least $50,000 cash, it would have to shut down it's current production. not next season. not next year. now. by february 1st.

this is the stuff of melodrama; of old-time musical theatre. in dames at sea (a show i actually did at madison rep) the wrecking ball comes crashing down on the theater at the end of act one. at least ruby, dick, and the gang had a captain with a boat to bail them out. the rep may not be so lucky.

lately, it seems that everyone from wall street, to the banks, to the auto industry, to the porn industry is asking the government for a bailout (three of those four getting one.) but every time i hear republicans complaining about the pork that's in obama's $825 billion stimulus bill, one of the first things they mention is money for the national endowment for the arts.

what are they objecting to? $50 million to allow the national endowment for the arts to provide grants to struggling arts groups. how ridiculous, right? that arts groups should receive any of this money? a bunch of actors and hoity-toity artists.

and administrators. and office staff. and theater crew. and costume designers. and set designers. and shop crew. and artistic staff. and ushers. and bartenders. and merchandise folks. and box office employees. and porters. and custodial staff.

really. how ridiculous.
$50 million out of $825 billion.

anyway, i doubt mill mountain, carousel, north shore or the madison rep would qualify would have qualified. rest in peace, friends.
UPDATE 1/26/09 – marlene adds a canadian perspective:

"Tony, I read the RIP Mill Mountain Theatre spot with great sympathy and understanding. Your story is the story of Canada at the moment, and our current Bush wanna be Prime Minister is doing everything in his "I Can Be A Bigshot Hardhittin' Politician Too" power to play hard ball with the arts.

In the face of massive cuts to culture here in the last year (grants to artists, cuts to programs in schools, funding for theatres and development to new works in all mediums), he responded to outcries by stating publicly that artists were "gala attending" indulgent jet setters, and that "normal" working people weren't concerned about theatre or music. In a blatant shout out to The Bush He Wants To Trim he further stated that "normal" people work hard, and want to come home, have dinner, spend time with the family, pop in a movie (of course, artists don't act in, produce, direct, write, light, dress, design, compose for, work as crew on movies.)

it is a sad thing to see such important parts of communities disappear when we know how deeply valuable they are, not just for employment and entertainment, but as part of the identity of a community."

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