Columbia residents discuss efforts to save Missouri Theatre

Thursday, August 12, 2010 | 9:59 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts might be closed for now, but it's certainly not forgotten.

On Thursday night, a group of about 30 people met at Carpe Diem on Locust Street to discuss how the community could amplify efforts to restore the theater.

Alex Innecco, co-owner of Carpe Diem and artistic director of the 9th Street Philharmonic Orchestra, wanted to keep the conversation light.

"I want to make sure everybody understands that we're not trying to catch anybody or push anybody against the wall," he said. "But can't we as intelligent, cultural beings address an issue that's important to this town?"

Innecco wanted to invite people to the discussion who had a vested interest in the theater and the events it was having, as well as people who were stakeholders in the theater's success.

"It is a fascinating problem," he said. "It's not only a theater that closed. It's the whole spirit of a town that's playing here."

Tempers remained calm. It was clear that all the attendees wanted was the theater back. They seemed willing to do whatever it took to see that happen.

"This is much more than the future of a building," Innecco said. "This is the belief that we, as a community, can save the space and art."

The Missouri Theatre was shut down in July, after not being able to keep up with the extra $4 million in renovation costs, according to a previous Missourian article. It does intend to reopen for concerts in September, but a definitive opening day has not been determined.

The future success of the theater relies largely on community involvement.

"I need everybody," said Christina George, president of the Missouri Symphony Society. "We can use all the hands and hearts we can get."

Right now, the theater is paying a monthly debt of $23,000, which is expected to decrease gradually to $18,000.

In order to reopen, George said it would be necessary to hire a management company that knows the business and can help operations. In addition, she said that fundraising will have to take place at all levels and more board members are needed for the Missouri Symphony Society.

The costs required in maintaining the space vary from month to month. When there was a full-time staff, it cost about $55,000 a month to run the theater. While closed, it costs about $30,000 a month, not including debt services.

Marie Hunter, manager of the Office of Cultural Affairs, stressed maintaining focus on the task ahead.

"It's so easy to say, 'It's the economy, it's the economy,' but we can't lose sight of the theater," she said.

Libby Gill, who attended the meeting, was one of many attendees who fervently want the theater to reopen.

"The theater is for everybody, and we have it and it's spectacularly beautiful," she said. "It's a crown jewel of Columbia."

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Rachel Krause August 13, 2010 | 10:30 a.m.

One of the biggest flaws of the Missouri Theatre is its inability to be relevant to the university community. If they want to survive, they need to bring in events that would draw in that demographic.

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Linda Ferris August 13, 2010 | 12:06 p.m.

The reality is this: The board and its unofficial leaders are out of touch with those bookings that will fill the theater and still embrace the good taste and culture that will complement this beautiful facility. There have been countless suggestions for performers, groups and musicians presented to theater representatives, all of which were dismissed. As an example a comedy showcase of nationally-recognized comedians who perform in Kansas City and St. Louis, and by the way fill the houses, could easily be booked in Columiba. The costs for a comedy showcase, of the right caliber, is minimal - no expensive sets, no elaborate dressing rooms. All that would be needed are sound and lighting systems and friendly ushers and tickets takers, all readily available. A board should be assembled that understands Marketing 101. And, if not, there are courses available at MU, Stephens and Columbia College. This is a no brainer, and just underscores the disadvantage for a public theater to be hinged at the hip to elitism.

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