UPDATE (Nov. 29): It’s official. Children’s Musical Theaterworks and the City of Fresno have come to an agreement that will allow the theater company to use Veterans Memorial Auditorium in 2018.
The city and the company are scheduled to announce the agreement in a 4 p.m. press conference. CMT officials are using the occasion to promote the opening of “Annie” on Friday and announce the beginning of 2018 season ticket sales.
As my original story (see below) predicted, the agreement includes a provision in which CMT and any other groups that use the auditorium — which was assessed as having various safety hazards — faces specific restrictions on the use of the fly rails (the equipment used to move backdrops, scenery and scrims up and down) and the electrical equipment.
“For the 2018 season, we need to make sure we won’t put any heavy weight on any of the fly rails,” says Mark Standriff, city spokesman and a key player in forging the agreement. “Scrims must be under 300 pounds.”
There are other restrictions, including:
• Anyone using flyrails who isn’t a union stagehand has to be age 21 and over and have a minimum training session on their use.
• When lights are being loaded in and out, no children will be allowed on stage.
The city and CMT are also agreeing to a three-year lease for use of office and storage space at the auditorium, for the amount of $1 a year. Initially, the city told the company it would have to vacate the premises by the end of the year.
As for what’s ahead:
“We’re going to continue to have discussions about what the future of the auditorium will be,” Standriff tells me. “This will give us a year. It’s breathing room for everybody, and it’s a chance to gauge the interest of the community.”
Questions still to be answered: Will CMT be able to raise money to pay for some of the repairs and renovations? And what will the city’s role be in terms of finances?
K.C. Rutiaga, the non-profit company’s board president, told me earlier this afternoon that she’s optimistic about the future.
“A month ago we were feeling like all hope was lost for CMT and the theater, as well as for the children of the community at large who were losing any future opportunities to perform in a large scale production at a place where there is room for anyone who wants to perform,” she says. “We felt the city didn’t know who we were, nor did they care. Today, I feel like the spotlight is finally on children’s theater and the Veterans Memorial Auditorium and what it brings to our community. Everyone been so supportive and the time is now to work together to keep the doors open at the Memorial.
CMT is embarking on a #savecmt #savememorial campaign. Here’s a video preview:
ORIGINAL STORY (Nov 9): Though nothing is yet official, it looks very promising that Children’s Musical Theaterworks will have a home next year.
“I can say with confidence that we are doing everything we can to let CMT do their 2018 season as planned at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium,” city spokesman Mark Standriff told me Thursday after a meeting with Judy Stene, CMT’s executive director, and K.C. Rutiaga, the non-profit company’s board president.
The meeting was the third in recent weeks between city staff and CMT leadership. It came after the theater company was informed by letter on Oct. 21 that it would have to vacate the city-owned auditorium by the first of the year because of safety issues flagged in an inspection. The city has skimped on maintenance over the decades, and some of the theater equipment is in need of major renovations.
The company worried that it wouldn’t have time to find a new place to perform next year and might have to disband.
CMT opens the musical “Annie” on Dec. 1. That production will go ahead as planned, with the company moving into the auditorium on Nov. 25 for tech week.
At the second meeting, held Oct. 31, Standriff — who has an extensive background in professional theater — met with CMT leadership and technical staff for a walkthrough of the venue. Problem areas were identified, mainly with theater’s rigging system, from which lighting equipment, backdrops, scrims and set pieces can be “flown in.” In the preceding years CMT’s staff had already identified those deficiencies and were working around them.
When I reached Rutiaga on Thursday, she said the Thursday meeting was positive. “We left really excited about moving forward,” she said. “Even though this has been stressful, we’ve gone a long way toward establishing a better relationship with the city.”
The city will formally identify a series of safety steps that CMT — and any other organization wanting to use the space — will have to officially acknowledge and agree to. Groups such as University High School, Fresno Pacific University and Bullard Talent have also rented the auditorium.
Standriff has given his recommendations to the mayor and city manager.
“It looks like we’re on the same page,” he said of the city and the theater company. “All the signs are pointing to CMT being able to do the season, but there’s nothing official yet,” he said.
Rutiaga is optimistic as well. “We are happy to work around those contingencies and limitations,” she said.
Both CMT and the city emphasize that the theater is safe for children and adults at the present time if necessary steps are followed — namely avoiding the use of flagged equipment.
On a related matter, Standriff said he’s recommending that the city immediately renegotiate a $1 a year lease that will allow CMT to keep its storage and office space intact in the building. (The company was initially told it would have to vacate the premises completely.)
Standriff told me after this story first broke that he was “cautiously optimistic” that some sort of accommodation could be made to keep CMT’s 2018 season alive. Now, he said, “I am much more optimistic at this time.”
Still, there are serious long-term issues to address. Money is the big concern, of course. The inspection report noted that more than $1 million in repairs and upgrades are needed just to bring the building’s theater up to current code and to an acceptable standard of maintenance.
Where those funds come from — the city or private donations — is key to the survival of the auditorium as a downtown performance venue.
“Everyone is aware that everyone is dealing with a rapidly aging rigging system that needs to be replaced,” Standriff said. “Ultimately the city has to decide whether it wants to allow Veterans to be used as a performance venue.”
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