Colony Theatre in Burbank faces dire budgetary shortfall

Shock over the possibility that the Center Theatre could soon close if it isn’t able to resolve a budget shortfall continued to reverberate through Burbank this week, but city officials said there’s little they can do in the way of financial assistance.

The 37-year-old Burbank company has run out of money and needs to raise $49,000 in the next two weeks and $500,000 by the end of the calendar year in order to remain open, operators announced this past weekend. The Colony, which produces contemporary and classic plays and musicals, operates a 268-seat theater in the Burbank Town Center mall.

In the past two years, the Colony has seen a significant drop in attendance, which has been “the root of all these problems,” said Trent Steelman, the company's executive director, told The Times.

The sudden news of the company’s plight took many aback.

“I was shocked — I had no idea,” said Vice Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy. “It’s very sad news.”

She hoped the community — either private or corporate sponsors — would rally to support the theater.

“Those who care about the theater are going to be digging deep to help them get over this,” Gabel-Luddy said.

Barbara Beckley, the artistic director of the Colony, said that the company has cut its budget by 17% in the most recent year. It has also laid off three employees, bringing the number of full-time staff down to three.

Steelman said single-ticket sales have fallen consistently since the company's 2011 production of “On Golden Pond.” The company's subscriber base has also taken a hit, declining to about 3,000 subscribers from a high of 3,800 subscribers in 2008, according to the company.

To help offset weak ticket sales, the Colony has reduced production cycles to four weeks per show, down from five weeks. Beckley and Steelman said that they have also deferred their salaries.

The company began its life in 1975 as a 99-seat theater in Silver Lake. It moved to its current location in Burbank in 2000. Beckley said the company leases the building from the city of Burbank, which in turn has a long-term lease from the Town Center.

The Center Theatre boasts excellent live programs and is a huge community asset, said Mayor Dave Golonski.

“I certainly hope they’re successful,” he said. “I’m pretty confident their supporters will rally to the cause — I know tons of people who really enjoy their performances.”

The city intervening financially, however, would be a challenge, officials said.

“In the old days, we had redevelopment that might have been available,” Gabel-Luddy said, adding that the city no longer has that tool after the state dissolved local redevelopment agencies earlier this year.

Gabel-Luddy, who serves as the council liaison to the Burbank Cultural Arts Commission, added that she hopes to discuss the theater’s crisis at the commission’s next meeting.

“The challenge now is to see if we can come up with a short-term fix as a community, then look at our progress under the long-term to see what other assets we might have available to help them while they stabilize their theater productions,” she said.

The Colony sent an email on Saturday to members of the L.A. arts community appealing for support. The company said if it does not raise $49,000 within two weeks, it will have to cancel its next planned production, “The Morini Strad,” by Willy Holtzman, which is set to begin performances on Nov. 14.

David Ng is a Los Angeles Times staff writer.


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