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Shows Will Go On, Thanks to a Supporting Cast of 340

Arts: A fund-raising drive brings in $200,000 for Ventura's Rubicon Theatre, enough to save this season's programs.


The Rubicon Theatre Company brings world-class acting talent to the city of Ventura, but because of a sluggish economy its financial performance lately has been dismal.

Things got so bad that five weeks ago the board of directors decided something or someone had to give. Five families who support the theater donated $95,000 and challenged others to match that amount.

As of Monday, 340 people have chipped in to give the Rubicon more than $200,000, enough to break even for this year's season and give the financially strapped company breathing room.

Karyl Lynn Burns, one of the Rubicon's founders, said support for the theater in Ventura was "groundbreaking" in light of the general financial downturn in support of the arts and last week's closing of the Music Theater of Santa Barbara.

A sagging stock market and a sputtering economy account for most of the drop in giving, Burns said.

But theater supporters came to Ventura's Pierpont Inn on Monday to celebrate the company's new-found solvency.

Bill Kearney, a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch and president of the Rubicon board of directors, said the theater company was still finding its way financially.

"We have a board fully committed to becoming financially successful," he said. "We can pay off our payables this year, but we are still not flush with cash."

The Rubicon began in November 1998 with a production of "Jesus Christ Superstar." Staffed largely by volunteers, actors and musicians had to fly themselves in to perform. The company's home is at the Laurel Theater on Main Street in Ventura. One-third of its funding comes from ticket sales and the rest from donations.

Supporters say the theater lets them watch nationally known performers in their own backyard. They also said thousands of Ventura County schoolchildren have benefited by attending the performances.

"It's now a destination for people coming into the area," said Cynde Magidson, who along with her husband, Steve, donated $25,000 to the theater. "And the actors love performing here because the community treats them so well."

On Monday, Dee Dee Lynn Magno, star of Broadway's "Miss Saigon," came from Los Angeles to sing for and support the theater.

"I hope to play at the Rubicon myself someday," she said.

Emmy Award-winning actor Joe Spano of "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue" also attended. Spano has performed in a number of Rubicon productions and says it reminds him of his early days with a small theater company in Berkeley.

Television and movies are one thing, he said, but performing live gives him the most satisfaction.

"In theater you are there when it all happens," he said. "And I also discovered when I worked here, that I loved the people here."

Burns said the company overextended itself recently and plans to pare down productions and programs next year.

"We still have many sold-out performances, but we just have to hunker down and weather this current economic climate," she said.

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