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Playhouse Facing Closure

Directors of the Santa Monica Playhouse say they need to raise $15,000 by Dec. 22 to keep the doors open. Landlord says situation is "dire."

The directors at the are making an eleventh hour plea to raise $15,000 by Dec. 22 to keep the doors open to the theater company that has been a city landmark for over 50 years.

"We're trying to make a final year push," said Chris DeCarlo, co-artistic director of the company that will begin its 52nd year in the city starting in January.

The company's Facebook page says that while things have been better this year, there is still a shortfall and "the wolf is once again at the door."

DeCarlo said that the biggest problem is the rent the company owes on its two-theater complex.

"The space is very expensive and it represents over 30 percent of our output," DeCarlo said.

Landlord Jules Kievits, a local attorney, confirmed that the company is in arrears on their rent.

"It is a problem for them and it has been for quite a long time," he said.

According to DeCarlo, ticket sales at the theater only make up 35 percent of its revenue, with another 35 percent coming from the educational programs the company puts on, both of which are down from past years. The rest must be made up through donations from individuals and rentals on the facilities.

DeCarlo said that, thanks to the economic downturn, not only are donations down, it has been harder to fill seats at the theater.

"We've lost a lot of income since the downturn," he said, adding that even when the seats are full, the theater is not making as much money from them. "We're making deals any way we can. We're giving bigger discounts."

According to Nathan Birnbaum, cultural affairs administrator for the city of Santa Monica, the Playhouse's troubles are not unique. Arts and theater organizations all over the country are having difficulty, and in the city, two other theater groups were forced to leave their spaces this past year. The Powerhouse closed its doors completely, Birnbaum said. City Garage did find a new home in the , however, it is not a dedicated theater space and Birnbaum said he wasn't sure how long the company could stay there.

"And this comes at a time when the work they were doing has never been better," Birnbaum said about both groups.

He added that losing the playhouse, as well, would seriously hurt the city's art scene.

"It would be devastating," he said.

Neither DeCarlo nor Kievits said that the company would definitely be evicted. However, Kievits said that the rent arrears is serious.

"I don't know what the Dec. 22 signifies," he said, referring to the deadline posted on the theater's Facebook page. "But as far as the rent goes, it is dire."

DeCarlo said that the theaters also need many improvements, such as air conditioning, new seats and new lighting and sound equipment, but said that if the company could get the $15,000, it would make staying open possible.

"We'd be in good shape," he said.

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