Breaking even with 'Odd Couple'

COSTA MESA — A long-struggling nonprofit community theater expects to pull its finances back into the black this season, said the theater's treasurer.

The 45th anniversary season of the Costa Mesa Playhouse starts Friday with the opening of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple," followed by four more shows directed to appeal to a broad audience, said Board Director Mike Brown.

The theater has had trouble filling seats except for a few exceptions in the past several seasons. That, combined with poor decisions about a decade ago on the part of past board members, brought about hard financial times, Brown said.

About two years ago, the theater was notified that several years' worth of tax filings had never been completed, resulting in the $8,000 debt the theater is currently trying to pay back, he said.

"I think that it was just a matter of ignorance," Brown said. "Past board members assumed that because we are a nonprofit that we didn't need to file taxes, which isn't true."

As far as Brown knows, the theater has managed to pull through each season without shutting down despite ongoing financial struggles typical of small community theaters.

"Although there was a period last year that I was scared we would have to close our doors," he said.

Funded entirely by ticket sales (most shows start at $16) and the occasional donation, each season has five shows, two of which are musicals.

None of the performers or staff members are paid — every level of the operation is 100% volunteer-based.

Theater Treasurer Steve Endicott has volunteered for about 12 years, doing everything from stage craft to producing, he said.

When asked why he has donated so much of his time, Endicott said, "I suppose, why does anyone do anything?"

"It's fun. You get the chance to work together in creating something and see something come to life that wasn't there before," he explained.

Most people who are active in the theater are there for reasons that run along those same lines, Brown said.

"Its hard to make a living as a professional actor, but many people do community theater in addition to having their full-time or part-time job just as a creative outlet," Brown said.

Other actors use the theater to hone their fine acting skills on their way to a professional career with other production companies, he said.

However, that doesn't mean that there is any shortage of on-stage talent.

Past shows of "Jake's Women," "Seussical, the Musical," and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" received high praise from the Daily Pilot, Orange County Register, OC Weekly and other reviewers.

The 2010-11 season begins Aug. 6 with "The Odd Couple," followed by "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," "The Book of Liz," "Forever Plaid," and concludes with "Steel Magnolias."

If You Go

What: "The Odd Couple" opening night

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Costa Mesa Civic Playhouse, 661 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa.

Cost: Tickets start at $16.

More Information: The opening reception is Saturday following the 8 p.m. performance. The $23 ticket includes hors d'oeuvres and champagne.

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