Slocum House Theatre to close March 11

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: February 7, 2012, 7:44 PM

 

Community theater group Slocum House Theatre announced Tuesday afternoon that it will close March 11 after nearly 50 years of performances in its downtown location.

In a statement, board President Jim Fully said the decision was made by the board with “heavy hearts.”

“We simply are not able to remain economically viable in this climate of steadily increasing costs combined with audiences who have less and less to spend on entertainment,” he said.

Rumors of the theater’s potential demise surfaced in December, when the city of Vancouver, which owns the historic property on the southwest corner of Esther Short Park, said it would have to raise the fees it charges the group.

Rent would have gone from $635 a month to $2,500 a month starting in January, but the city and theater worked out a 90-day extension. Vancouver, which has faced its own share of budgetary woes, said the cost of maintaining the aging building was too burdensome to not raise fees.

Supporters of the Slocum House Theatre rallied around the theater group — which has held shows in the house since 1966 — and negotiations were under way. But Fully said Tuesday that even if rent had not gone up, the nonprofit would have likely foundered.

“Understandably, the city needed to increase fees,” Fully said. “No one is immune to the economic pressures we are all facing. But a careful review of our finances indicated that, even if there had been no change in our arrangement with the city, we were working with an unsustainable business model.”

Jan Bader, the city’s program and policy development manager, said Vancouver officials were told about the theater’s plans on Tuesday, and that the announcement came as a “total shock.”

“They had made a proposal to us about what they could afford to pay,” she said, declining to say the amount proposed, except to say it was lower than the building’s cost of operations to the city. “And essentially, we were going to come back and say OK, it doesn’t get us cost recovery but this will work.”

Vancouver does not have another possible tenant lined up, she said, because the city had planned on keeping Slocum House Theatre as its tenant. Lease terms for the Vancouver Farmers Market, which rents a small portion of the Slocum House for offices, are not under negotiation.

The city will not charge the company rent for March and April, as the group finishes its final run and moves out, Bader said.

The Slocum House’s last production, “Greater Tuna,” a comedy about Texas’ third-smallest town, with all the residents portrayed by two actors, will be free. The show begins Feb. 17 and runs through March 11. Donations for the Share House will be accepted at the door.

Fully said that the board hopes to restructure and re-emerge as an option for affordable local theater in the future.

City Manager Eric Holmes said the city has “appreciated the long relationship with Slocum House Theatre as well as their forthright approach in our most recent conversation.”

Tickets to "Greater Tuna" can be reserved at: http://www.slocumhouse.com/tickets.htm