Claiming they have not been paid salaries or stage costs, most of the crew for Sebastian's West Dinner Playhouse's production of "South Pacific" walked off the set this week in advance of Friday night's opening performance.
Set designer Gil Morales said Friday that the director, choreographer, costumer, lighting designer, production manager and stage manager refused to work on Wednesday after John M. Winkley, the owner of the San Clemente theater, did not pay them as scheduled.
Although admitting that the non-union crew had not yet been paid in full, Winkley said he thought a verbal agreement had been reached allowing him until the end of "South Pacific's" run in August to meet his obligations.
"I told them that the last production ("Leonardo the Florentine") didn't make money and that there often is a cash flow problem between shows," he said. "They were aware of that and I thought they understood I would pay them later."
But Morales remembers it differently. "We never discussed nor had such an agreement," he said. "We have had to beg to be paid, and he missed (this week's) installment on our individual contracts. We couldn't wait anymore."
Morales said he personally is owed $1,200 on his salary contract and about $300 for set costs. A five-man set construction team is owed about $800, he added. The other crew members could not be reached for comment, but Morales said the costumer was owed about $1,500.
Now that the crew members have quit, Winkley said their contracts have been violated and he is no longer obligated to make any payments.
But Morales vowed to sue for the rest of his salary.
Both Winkley and Morales said the production's costumes were taken from the theater this week. Morales claimed they were removed as "collateral for later payment," but Winkley alleged they were taken to prevent the show from opening today.
The set was about 90% finished when he quit, Morales added.
Despite the setbacks, the production apparently will not be halted. Winkley said the actors will perform in homemade costumes and the set is "perfect; no problems here."
Winkley also tried to squelch rumors that the production may close soon because of funding problems and that the theater is close to bankruptcy. The show's early run has been sold out, he noted, and, if successful, could ease Sebastian's financial woes.
Regardless of the production's success, Winkley said he plans to sell the theater. Sebastian's financial condition has little to do with this decision, Winkley said, noting that he has searched for buyers since purchasing the theater during federal bankruptcy court hearings last July. "I buy and sell things," Winkley said.