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Fullerton theater will likely be forced to reduce or cancel its 2011 season

December 02, 2010|Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times

Staggered by the loss of more than a third of its season subscribers since the economy went bad, FCLO Music Theatre (formerly Fullerton Civic Light Opera) will likely be forced to reduce or cancel its 2011 season, Griff Duncan, who has run the company for nearly 39 years with his wife, Jan, said Thursday.

Since debuting in February, 1972, FCLO has been a fixture on the Orange County scene, staging its own productions of Broadway musicals and occasional new works in 1,300-seat Plummer Auditorium.

Duncan said that when the 2010 season ended Oct. 31 with a new musical adaptation of "Jane Eyre," the company owed $86,000 in back rent to the school district that owns Plummer. Meanwhile, its two main sources of income fell drastically, resulting in the layoff of three of its seven fulltime employees.

Subscription renewals for 2011 dropped 20%, Duncan said, winnowing the roll to 4,500 subscribers from a peak of 7,000 in 2007, when FCLO enjoyed a $145,000 budget surplus, according to its public tax return. A side business renting costumes and sets to scholastic theater productions around the country also has suffered as school districts and colleges slash their arts budgets. With no reserves to help it withstand that combined $300,000 drop in expected income, Duncan said the company simply doesn't have the cash to open "The Drowsy Chaperone" on Feb. 11 -- the first show in a season that also includes "All Shook Up," "Pump Boys and Dinettes" and "The Wizard of Oz."

If it doesn't mount the shows, Duncan said, FCLO will owe its subscribers nearly $600,000. He said the company sent out a letter last week asking them to consider turning their subscriptions into donations, or at least to "be very patient with us and allow us time" to raise enough money to stage the shows or refund the subscriptions. FCLO, whose annual budgets are about $2 million, never has raised more than $159,000 a year in donations.

Duncan said he has had talks with an independent stage production company about taking over "The Drowsy Chaperone," but no deal has been reached. While FCLO alumni in the theater world have begun volunteering their talents for emergency benefit concerts, Duncan said there's no sign of a big-dollar donor stepping forward with something like the $1 million challenge grant that enabled the Pasadena Playhouse to resume shows in September after going dark in February and shedding its debt in bankruptcy court.

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