News Column

Cabrillo Music Theatre must raise funds for the show to go on

May 27, 2014

By Teresa Rochester, Ventura County Star, Calif.

May 27--Ray Mastrovito hasn't been on a stage at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in 10 years.

It's a wonderful reunion for the godfather of Cabrillo Music Theatre, who helped establish the nonprofit as one of three resident companies, to step back on stage in the upcoming production of "Bye Bye Birdie."

As costume fittings and rehearsals get underway, Mastrovito has taken on another role: helping to save the regional theater company.

"I've loved the company since I first started getting involved," he said, noting the company was established in the 1980s in Oxnard before he shepherded it to Thousand Oaks in 1994. "Community theaters and musical theaters are always on the razor's edge of going belly up. It's art, but it's run as a business. There are so many variables."

The curtains will come down on Cabrillo Music Theatre when "Bye Bye Birdie" closes in late July unless the organization can raise $250,000 by Aug. 1.

The nonprofit theater company has nurtured talents like Adam Lambert and Katharine McPhee. As it turns 20 this year, its leadership has sent its first formal appeal for donations in a letter mailed to 1,850 people.

"Unfortunately, without an immediate infusion of donations, we will be unable to begin our 2014-2015 season," according to the letter signed by board of directors Chairman Richard P. Storrs. "We are coming to you, our loyal subscribers, generous donors, in-kind supporters and friends, for help."

Watch YouTube videos of Kiss me Kate -- Forever plaid -- Highlights from several Cabrillo shows.

Donations ranging from $20 to $2,500 have since come in. The organization had raised $37,000 as of Tuesday, said Lewis Wilkenfeld, the company's artistic director. He said he is optimistic that the theater will raise the money needed.

"If we don't hit 80 percent of that goal, we will return everybody's donation," Wilkenfeld said. Season ticket holders also would have their money refunded.

Cabrillo, which dubs itself "Broadway in your backyard," stages four musicals per season and has annual expenses averaging $1.2 million.

Cabrillo's ticket sales fund about 74 percent of production costs, board Treasurer Bill Steele said. The rest of the money for theaters comes from donations or grants.

"The truth is, and this is no secret here, Cabrillo has never really been able to focus on the fundraising side," Wilkenfeld said. "So we were really trying to do the best we could given our resources. Fundraising has consistently fallen short."

In Cabrillo's case, revenues from ticket sales are not released by the box office, operated by Thousand Oaks' Cultural Affairs Department, until right before a show opens. That causes a dilemma of how to pay for costumes, necessities and marketing for upcoming shows and seasons.

Cabrillo will also see its rental rate increase for the Kavli and Scherr Forum Theatres in the Civic Arts Plaza.

Like the two other resident companies -- New West Symphony and Pacific Festival Ballet -- Cabrillo receives a discount on rent. However, Cabrillo's discount has been deeper than the 35 percent the other two companies receive, Cultural Affairs Director Barry McComb said.

The theater group was paying $10,000 base rent for a two-week booking. House base rates are $2,500 per day Monday through Thursday and $3,250 per day Friday through Sunday. McComb said Cabrillo would be charged those less the 35 percent resident company discount.

The heavy subsidies contributed to the inability of the city's theater fund to be self-sufficient and rely on assistance from the city's general fund, despite a promise it would operate independently.

"When the theaters are struggling themselves to be balanced out, there comes a time when the city can't extend the support," McComb said. "It has in the past, and that's kind of where we are at. But we are trying to assist Cabrillo and other companies."

Three years ago Cabrillo Music Theatre was drowning in debt. Around that time it was a tossed a life preserver in the form of a grant from Alliance for the Arts, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the Civic Arts Plaza. The alliance splits $200,000 among the three resident companies, which it will once again offer this year.

Shiobhain Hill, the alliance's executive director, said the role that Cabrillo plays is critical because it draws upon local talent but also serves thousands of children.

More than 1,800 children are expected to see the company's production of "Mary Poppins" next April. Cabrillo also stages performances for military families and at senior centers.

Cabrillo officials have started hosting small, low-cost fundraising events to help fill the structural gap. They include concerts in the Founder's Room at the Kavli Theatre that have featured Sally Struthers and Shirley Jones, and screenings of movies at Muvico that tie in thematically to the current musical.

Part of the $250,000 raised will go to hiring a part-time marketer who will develop grants and other revenue streams.

Word of Cabrillo's struggles has spread quickly. Board members have emailed pleas to friends, Mastrovito and others have taken to Facebook, and one Cabrillo alumnus in New York is rallying her fellow Cabrillo participants to host an East Coast fundraiser.

"One of the interesting things that happened was how surprised people are. I feel a high sense of relief that we are engaging in this campaign," Wilkenfeld said. "We can't exist without our community's affection."


(c)2014 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)

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Source: Ventura County Star (CA)

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