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Theater of the Stars cancels ‘13-14 season; future uncertain

By Howard Pousner
hpousner@ajc.com

Theater of the Stars on Thursday cancelled its 2013-14 season, and it is unclear if Atlanta’s longest-running stage company will return.

Operating with a $650,000 debt, the 61-year-old troupe in late June said it was cash-strapped and appealed to Atlantans for $1 million by Aug. 30 to launch its five-play subscription season plus a special presentation of “Stomp.” The company set a deadline to raise $500,000 by July 12 and another half-million by Aug. 30 or said it would be forced to cease operations.

But fund-raising proceeded slowly, with the theater raising only $100,000. That was not enough to leverage a match of an undisclosed, but said to be substantial, amount offered by Roger Bobb, president and CEO of Bobbcat Films, an Atlanta-based production company.

After canceling its first three shows in recent weeks, TOTS officials decided this week to pull the plug on the fund-raising drive and to cancel its final two season shows, “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” and “Cats,” as well as “Stomp.” TOTS’ board of directors approved the moves on Wednesday night.

The Fox Theatre, the troupe’s long-time home, quickly announced on Thursday that it would present “Stomp” itself from Sept. 26-29 and would honor seats sold by TOTS.

It is unclear what TOTS’ next steps will be.

While saying the company was not headed toward a bankruptcy filing, Vice President and General Manager Brian D. Frey could not clarify if it would attempt to relaunch next year or soon close its doors. He said a decision on the matter would come in a week or more, after further discussions with the theater’s board.

Frey said he and TOTS Producer Chris Manos were “very grateful and honored” by Atlantans who donated from $5 to $20,000.

“It just wasn’t enough,” he said.

Even before the recession made operating cash scarce, TOTS was facing intense competition for Atlanta’s musicals-loving audiences from Broadway in Atlanta, a member of the 28-market network of the national powerhouse presenter and producer Broadway Across America.

“We’re not blaming Atlanta for not saving our company,” Frey added. “Unfortunately our (business) model did not progress through the years as it should have in order to keep up with modern-day fund raising and development abilities.”

TOTS is in the process of mailing a letter to subscribers and single-ticket holders outlining these refund options:

  • Customers who purchased single tickets for “Little Mermaid” (Sept. 7-15) and “Cats” (Jan. 14-19) at the Fox  or at a Fox-affiliated outlet should contact the Fox ticket office (404-881-2017 or boxoffice@foxtheatre.org) to obtain a full refund.
  • Subscribers may “return” subscriptions to Theater of the Stars as a donation to the non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, eligible for applicable tax deductions.
  • Ticketholders may return them with a refund request to the theater, P.O. Box 11748, Atlanta, Ga. 30355.

8 comments Add your comment

Andy

August 1st, 2013
3:18 pm

How could TOTS compete with Broadway in Atlanta which is bringing a great line up that includes Book of Mormon, Lion King, Evita and other shows?

Candice

August 1st, 2013
4:42 pm

What you can;t go to more shows than the ones put out by the Fox Theatre? I wanted to see a couple of the shows TOTS was bring to Atlanta. A great show isn’t always the one with the most publicity. Sometimes you find one that speaks to you in the ones that are not so large.

Jason

August 1st, 2013
5:32 pm

This is very sad. Several theatres in Atlanta are in trouble right now and are living on the edge financially. I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come. It’s difficult for live theatre to compete with more and more home entertainment systems. I would hate for the highest level of culture in Atlanta to end up being the Falcons

Bee Hive Haired cashier at Dooleys Den

August 1st, 2013
6:48 pm

Just goes to show, no one cares abut live theater.I know I don’t.

GeorgiaBoyinJersey

August 1st, 2013
10:26 pm

I am not surprised here at all. I started my theatre career at TOTS back in 1974 when they were producing shows at both the Civic Center and the now-demolished Peachtree Playhouse. I think the original executive producers had a vision, but it was a small-town vision, not one that can thrive in the non-artistic, corporate bond-market world we live in now. The major problem is the Manos family….they let this beautiful thing die a slow death. Don’t get me wrong…I appreciate everything that Chris did for me…he even let me live at the warehouse near Chastain Park when I lost the lease to my apartment in 1977…but I now work in NYC and develop new theatre productions and TOTS is a dinosaur.The Board of Directors should have wrestled control away from Chris years ago…maybe as far back as 1990. Companies like NETworks and TheatreWorks have taken over the reins of “Broadway style” productions. They are non-union, which means that they don’t have to compete with the companies that are forced to use AEA or AFM members and pay into their pension programs. The young people in these shows are wonderful and very talented. I saw a TOTS show two years ago and I just left the Fox because it was so bad. Why do they focus on developing shows that won’t work, like “Buddy”? Their overhead is too high…their salaries for executives and support staff don’t justify the quality of the productions. I’ve seen it in Chicago….Dallas…..Cincinnati and now Atlanta. It happened to the Academy Theatre in 1990, the Theatre In The Square in 2009, and now TOTS. Corporate sponsorship, which has been the lifeblood of non-profit theatre for the last 50 years is drying up and theatres today must be more judicious in their operations and creative decision making.

Clint

August 2nd, 2013
6:11 am

I was a season ticket subscriber for many years back in the 90’s. After enduring year after year of Robert Goulet in Camelot I could not take any more and stopped. I am surprised they lasted this long and it is sad. They actually did occasionally produce some very high quality theater. As a theater lover I do hope they work out their financial woes and come back.

theatresupporter

August 2nd, 2013
9:19 am

Georgiaboyinjersey…you hit the nail on the head. Square on the head. For the record, Buddy was NOT produced by Theater of the Stars, it was produced by a separate company run by the Manos’ I am told. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we? Theater of the Stars is an institution in Atlanta…YES, but it was run like a mom and pop. How many people knew that it was a non-profit organization? Not many. In order to run a successful business, any business, you must first understand and nurture your clientele and you must also present a top notch product…all of the time. You must also operate your company with integrity and honor. Many of us who are subscribers have been with Theater of the Stars for a very long time, and there are those of us who were very well aware of the ins and outs of the company. It hasn’t all been rosy and it seems as though things just took the big ole slide once Chris’s son took the reins. I am sad beyond measure that this has happened to TOTS, but sometimes you have to look within before you blame a community for not stepping up and trying to save something that for the most part, they didn’t even understand in the first place.

Diane

August 4th, 2013
3:07 pm

Theseus Productions is the executive producer of The Buddy Holly North American tour #25. This company is run by the Manos’. It is my understanding that they will not turn over Buddy to another executive producer (Gateway) that wants to take the tour over. This risks putting the talented cast and crew out of a job. Why drag them down with TOTS?!