The past year has been a tale of woe for the Lewiston Civic Theatre.
After its historic building was condemned, the group bounced around spaces and stages. Its annual fundraiser was budgeted to earn $10,000 but it snowed that night and only made $1,186. When the theater couldn’t pay for repairs to its building, the city took ownership and then declined to renew its annual $32,000 in assistance to the group.
If this were all a test to the players’ resolve that “the show must go on,” they passed.
Scheduled plays and musicals continued, including a successful spring run of “The Little Mermaid,” which netted $28,661. The final performance drew 550 people, said Nancy McIntosh, the theater’s executive director.
“The old civic building would not hold that many,” McIntosh said. “We’re still in business, and we’re more than just a building.”
At present, the theater’s home is a rented storefront on Lewiston’s Main Street. Tickets are sold up front. Costumes for the fall musical “Into the Woods” hang nearby. A row of sewing machines leads to a warehouse-like back room where a stage is taped out on the floor for rehearsals and the set is under construction for the upcoming show at Lewiston High School.
For years, the civic theater has wowed the region with large-scale performances of crowd-pleasing Broadway musicals. They want to continue this tradition, but McIntosh wonders if the general public understands the costs behind staging popular shows. Even she, a drama veteran with more than 20 years at the Missoula Children’s Theatre, is sometimes surprised. The civic recently looked at purchasing the rights to produce “Grease” until they found out the license would cost $22,000 because of large seating potential at the proposed venue, Clarkston High School auditorium. The license for “Newsies,” another new title they considered, costs $8,000 to $11,000, she said.
While popular shows can mean a windfall in ticket sales, the theater can’t afford to produce them all the time, and turnout is unpredictable. They thought last season’s production of “Spamalot” would be a draw, but it only made $3,611. A production of “The Three Musketeers” ended $21 in the red.
McIntosh came on as executive director after the theater was condemned. She’s working to get the theater acclimated to a smaller budget and reaching out to sponsors and businesses who want to support the arts.
“In order to have a vibrant community, the performing arts has to be a component,” McIntosh said of their focus.“We are just having to scale back on the spectacular and find the middle ground.”
Beyond staging plays, the group has created series of workshops for youth to adults with classes in acting, stage combat, makeup, playwriting and high school and adult choir.
McIntosh said group members would love to see the city’s funding reinstated, but she also understands its position. Her understanding is that the $32,000 contribution from the city was never meant to pay for the building. It was created to support theater programs for the community.
“Our goal is to offer really good theater. Our actors are phenomenal. The talent is amazing in the valley. We could probably do really great theater in the parking lot.”
What does it cost to stage a well-known musical? Here’s a look at a few of the costs from the Lewiston Civic Theatre’s spring production of “The Little Mermaid.”
$7,893 to license the rights
$75 to use Disney’s “Little Mermaid” logo
$3,700 supplies to build the set
$944 to rent Clarkston High School auditorium