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.
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:
Posted by Martha Ross at 3:30 PM