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Struggling Colony Theatre Co. is renting out its space in order to stay financially viable

Struggling Colony Theatre Co. is renting out its space in order to stay financially viable
The Colony Theatre Co. has put its productions on hold in order to rent out its space and regain its financial footing. (Tim Berger / Burbank Leader)

Officials at the well-known Colony Theatre in Burbank are adopting a new strategy to keep their lights on.

The year 2016 has not been kind to the 270-seat nonprofit venue, which has had to cancel several productions this season due to low attendance numbers and unforeseen issues with shows.

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In order to keep the theater's doors open, Colony has resorted to not producing any more shows for the time being and will be renting out their space to churches, acting classes, dance concerts, movie shoots and other groups who need a venue, said Barbara Beckley, president and co-founder of the theater.

"It's growing and growing and proving to be successful for us," she said. "The doors are open and the lights are on. We're essentially four-wall renting."

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Though it's a venue for more than plays and musicals right now, Beckley said she and her colleagues are working on a business plan for next year that she hopes will allow them to stage productions for the community.

Beckley said that they are looking at having a short production season, with about two or three shows per season. They would continue to rent out the theater throughout the majority of the season to support the venue.

Additionally, Colony will be negotiating with the city, which owns the venue, to extend the lease on the facility, which ends in November.

"[Having productions year-round] just wasn't working," Beckley said. "The shows were great and people were loving them, but we just could not make the income and expenses come anywhere near each other."

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Beckley said she has noticed that other theaters are in the same boat as Colony and attributed the possible reason for decreasing attendance numbers to on-demand performances that people can stream online.

"But there's still nothing that comes close to the experience of a live performance, whether it's a play, music or dance," she said. "The experience of sitting and sharing a performance with a whole audience of people is unique. I honestly think we're just going through a passing phase."

The Colony Theatre is not a stranger to nearly having to close its doors. In 2012, it received $50,000 in donations from supporters after patrons learned that it was struggling financially.

In 2010, Colony failed to reach its single-ticket sales goal for the first time in the theater's history, which dates back to 1975 when the theater started off as a 99-seat venue in Silver Lake.

The theater also transitioned from being a "pay-to-play" company, which charges actors membership dues to be in productions, to being an equity theater, where the venue runs under union contracts.

Despite the financial obstacles that have come their way, the Colony Theatre has always found a way to stay afloat.

"When you do live theater, you live on the edge," Beckley said. "You always live on the edge."

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Anthony Clark Carpio, anthonyclark.carpio@latimes.com

Twitter: @acocarpio

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