November 3, 2009

Willows Theatre in Concord will close for good

After 34 years of award-winning plays and musicals, the Willows Theatre Company will shut its doors at its venue at the Willows shopping center. Ongoing financial problems, coupled with the recession, forced managers to decide to lower the curtain for good on November 30.

However, the Willows Cabaret in Martinez will be improved and remain open.

Here is the rest of the press release from the company:

The company had warned on Sept. 2 that unless it raised $350,000 by Nov.1, closure of one or both venues was likely.

“It is with enormous regret, reluctance and emotion that we have been forced to make this painful decision,” said Richard Elliott, the Willows’ artistic director. “Although we received donations from generous patrons and supporters as well as through fundraising events, the money collected was insufficient to allow us to continue our current or future seasons at the Willows.

“Our precious resources will now be dedicated to the Cabaret, where for starters we will improve seating and offer a great lineup of shows, including one that had been scheduled at the Willows.”

Barefoot in the Park, the comedy now running at the 210-seat Willows, will complete its engagement on November 8 as planned, after which the theater will close for good.

Shows scheduled at the Cabaret include 37 performances of Hats, opening November 23, and a productions of “Brimstone” that had been planned for the Willows. The Cabaret’s 2010 season will be announced soon.

Subscriptions and tickets held by patrons for the 2009-10 season shows at the Willows will be honored at the 150-seat Cabaret, Elliott said.

“We and the majority of our patrons already feel that the Cabaret is a great showplace and it’s going to get even better,” he said.

Working with City of Martinez officials, the Willows staff and board of directors are exploring improvements, including more outdoor lighting and convenient parking around the Cabaret and new, comfortable seats. Other physical enhancements will be made as funding becomes available, Elliott said.

He said patrons will be offered complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres, courtesy of local food establishments, prior to every performance of “Hats,” opening November 23. Opening night champagne receptions, a patron amenity for years at the Willows, will now take place at the Cabaret, Elliott said.

“Our goal is to make Martinez a destination by providing the best entertainment value and experience for current and new patrons that our resources will allow,” Elliott said.

Charles Lewis, the company’s board president, said directors and staff have struggled for more than a year to cope with higher costs, increasing debt, and a decline in patronage, due in large part to the downturn in the economy.

“These factors left us no choice but to sharply reduce our expenses,” Lewis said. “We did so by reducing full-time staff from ten to five and reluctantly eliminating costly marketing activities that are essential to attracting audiences to our shows, most of which have been critically and publicly acclaimed and a number of which have received awards. In the end, the reality is that we could no longer operate two theaters and conduct business as usual.”

Lewis said maintaining the Cabaret, which opened at 636 Ward Street three years ago, will not be without “formidable challenges.”

“We are developing a business plan that should get us through our crisis, but clearly our future success will depend heavily on continued financial support from all sources,” he said.

Since the Willows Theatre opened in the shopping center in 1977, the company has presented over 200 productions, including premieres of new works like Brimstone, Grover, and The Night of the Hunter. The company also produced large-scale shows at the John Muir Amphitheater and other venues in Martinez, including John Muir’s Mountain Days, and Sacagawea, both new works, and a July Fourth concert.

Many performers got their start and enhanced their careers at the Willows, and the Willows Conservatory has taught thousands of young performers the craft of theatre, both onstage and backstage. The conservatory program will remain an essential component of the theatre company.

With its payroll, hiring of actors and promotion of its location, the Willows Theater also contributed to the economic vitality of Concord and the shopping center.

“With patron support and ongoing fundraising efforts, we expect to have a similar impact at our Cabaret in downtown Martinez,” Elliott said. “We already have seen an upswing in restaurant business in the area.”

The company’s administrative offices, rehearsal studios and scene shop are also in Martinez.


Anonymous said...

what an excellent little scoop Soccer Mom - see this is why I like reading your blog... stuff the bigs guys ignore...

Anonymous said...

This is what the management of the Willows Theatre Group wanted. They have been talking about being in Martinez only for some time (it is where they chose to move their offices). If they would concentrate only on the Willows location they would not be in this mess. They took reduced rent and city help for decades from Concord and this is how they show their thanks.

Anonymous said...

I agree...for 20 years they paid $1 per year in rent to the city of Concord, and this allowed them to be careless with their spending...what the heck was a small theater company doing with so many full time staff anyway? I agree, this was their plan all along- to snub Concord and go to Martinez...City of Martinez just bailed them out in December with $100K....soon they will find that their audience will not travel to Martinez with them. Shame on the Willows for severe mismanagement.

Anonymous said...

I'm blaming the library and the city council...

Anonymous said...

That's Right,

It is certain that the Walnut Creek Library and the WC City Council are responsible for the Willows Theater move from Concord to Martinez.

The same bad actors are responsible for the earth changing from a two-dimensional plane to a sphere rotating about the sun.


Anonymous said...

don't forget world hunger...

Anonymous said...

Do we get our money back if we don't want to go to Martinez? We specifically chose the plays that were to appear in Concord.

Anonymous said...

Its absolutely true that the Willows mis-managed funds and did not properly take advantage of their unheard of deal for rent from the city, [$20 for 20 years?!?!?] and their rehearsal space and offices were also a $1 a year for 20 years.

But the City of Concord is to blame as well. "City of Concord, Families First; Arts Last." This city has NO concept of supporting the arts. Years ago we were providing ballet, international dance, jazz and symphony to the kids at MDUSD for FREE at the Pavilion. We used to have the world famous Concord Jazz Festival. BUT the City of Concord, with their limited vision and blatant disregard for arts and children has ushered the Willows theatre and the Jazz Festival right out of Concord and into the arms of city of Martinez and Los Angeles respectively. Now Concord is the ONLY city in the area that has NO performing arts center for its citizens. Concord, home of the pavilion the largest outdoor stage on the west coast must send its citizens to Walnut Creek, Antioch or Pleasant Hill to rent facilities for performers.

Concord the home of the Dark Ages.

Please vote for fully educated people to run your city!