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Ocbj Laguna Playhouse

Ocbj Laguna Playhouse

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Published by SherriLCruz

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Published by: SherriLCruz on Feb 01, 2013
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02/01/2013

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Theater DramaOrange County Business JournalMonday, June 8, 2009By SHERRI CRUZIt has all the makings of a compelling bit of theater: Seaside playhouse, beloved by the town's business elite and arts patrons,struggles with an epic downturn and generational shift.That's the playbill for Laguna Playhouse, a nearly 90-year-oldcommunity theater at the foot of Laguna Beach's canyon.Bette Davis and Barbara Eden (of "I Dream of Jeannie") are amongthe actors who have performed there. Harrison Ford, then known asHarry Ford, starred in a Laguna Playhouse production in 1965.But these days Laguna Playhouse faces shrinking ticket sales and adrop in funding from donors and foundations.The recession is partly to blame. People have cut back onnonessentials such as going to plays, while the downturn has taken a bite out of giving to the arts.But it's not just the economy that's dampening the theater. Nonprofit playhouses, as opposed to larger commercial theater, arein the midst of their own hard-times drama.Federal and state grants have dried up for the arts in general, and theyounger generation isn't showing any signs of wanting to catch a play after dinner.
 
Last year's closure of Costa Mesa's Opera Pacific, a blow to the performing arts community in Orange County, was a sign of thereality of the times.With all that said, Laguna Playhouse is on solid financial footing."We're going to make it," said Henry Mayhew, president of theLaguna Playhouse's board and president of Irvine's Mayhew &Associates, a seller of food products to Trader Joe's Co., WholeFoods Market Inc. and other grocers. "We're planning for theviability of the theater for the next 30 years."Laguna Playhouse recently sold an adjacent building that had beenintended for a second theater. It paid off all its debts with the proceeds and now has a small nest egg.And Laguna Playhouse is lucky to be in a city that's home toexecutives, financiers, comfortable retirees and other wealthy folks.Resident James Mellor, a retired chief executive of GeneralDynamics Corp., gave $5 million to the playhouse a few years ago,the theater's largest donation to date.Other key supporters include the Ueberroth family and theAversanos. Rick Aversano, cofounder of Boca Raton, Fla.-basedQtera Corp., sold the company in 2000 to Nortel Networks Corp. for more than $3 billion.Laguna Playhouse has a small but enthusiastic crop of supporterswho wouldn't let the theater fail, said Victoria Collins, a longtimesupporter and principal of Keller Group Investment ManagementInc. in Irvine.
 
"If you have a few people who are truly dedicated they will spreadthe word," she said.Collins said she likes the theater's intimacy, its small size and thegroup of people who go to the theater."The nice part is we get to see our friends," Collins said.Fickle AudiencesIf the theater's artistic director Andrew Barnicle had his way, every play he put on at the 430-seat Moulton Theatre,Laguna Playhouse'svenue,would be a thought provoking show, the kind that stirsconversation.But a tough economy isn't the time for such plays, Barnicle said."The progressive plays aren't selling," he said. "Audiences aren'tlooking for an adventure. They're looking for a guarantee. They needto know they're going to have a really good time or they're not goingto shell out."The theater has a $5.8 million budget for the 12 months throughJune. Next fiscal year, it's targeting around $5 million, managingdirector Karen Wood said.About 60% of the theater's revenue comes from ticket sales. LagunaBeach residents account for 15% of those. The theater drawsaudiences from as far away as Santa Barbara.The playhouse also gets money from the James Irvine Foundation,

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