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Theater Review: Hard times have hit the Colony Theatre again

The venerable Colony Theatre in Burbank has been a notable survivor in recent years, after a decade of national economic uncertainty and a slow recovery that have been painful across the theater community. The Colony seemed to turn a corner with a large grant in 2013, but an emailed announcement this week of productions being cancelled suggested that hard times had returned.

In a letter marked “URGENT NEWS” to donors and subscribers, Barbara Beckley, the Colony’s artistic director, announced the cancellation of the next scheduled show, “Another Roll of the Dice.” Another production, “Mary Lincoln” with Patty Duke, was also cancelled, though attributed to its star’s withdrawal because of “serious family health issues.”

NEWSLETTER: Stay up to date with what’s going on in the 818 >>

A scheduled fundraising event with comic and weatherman Fritz Coleman will continue on March 5. Rental events are also scheduled through June.

“This season has presented a host of challenges,” Beckley wrote in the letter. “When we schedule a series of plays, we do our very best to bring you what was announced — but sometimes real life intrudes. Believe me, I share your exasperation with all the changes we have had to make these past few months.”

Keeping the 270-seat nonprofit Burbank venue in full operation has been an on-and-off struggle in recent years, even as several acclaimed plays and musicals have unfolded on its stage.

Three years ago, the faltering economy led theater management to lay off half its six-person staff and cut its overall budget by 17 percent. Production costs were trimmed to smaller casts and less elaborate sets. “Save the Colony” fundraising campaigns efforts drew donations large and small, including a grant from the Marilyn P. & Wayne H. Kohl Memorial Fund that allowed the Colony to continue its productions and even rebuild some of its staff and infrastructure.

Fundraising efforts continued, with uneven results. In the letter, Beckley explained: “We recently completed our annual matching funds campaign (and were very grateful for the wonderful support we received), but unfortunately it generated only enough money to keep the theatre going for a couple of months — and not nearly enough to allow us to continue producing plays as we have in the past.”

In a brief interview this week, Beckley said the Colony is now in talks with the City of Burbank, which owns the venue. She said a decision on the future of the theater will come “very soon.”

“We’ve been here 15 years and we have a lease and we have certain requirement about how we operate under out lease. This all needs to be looked at,” Beckley said.

“The city’s concern is: can we be a viable operator of this facility? I believe we can. That’s what we’re discussing right now.”

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Steve Appleford, steve.appleford@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveAppleford


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