Theater closes due to debt

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte Repertory Theater dropped the curtain Sunday on its very existence simultaneously with the end of its midseason production of “The Exonerated.”

Charlotte Rep was carrying a debt around $500,000 and failing to marshal sufficient financial support from patrons, corporations and civic leaders.

The theater, a member of the League of Regional Theaters since 1998, had operated continuously since 1976 when it was founded by Steve Umberger.

The theater reported that 40% of its operating budget, which had been cut recently by nearly $1 million to $1.5 million, came from ticket sales.

Board chairman William Parmelee said, “It is very unfortunate that there was little community support for a core organization — the Rep — in our city.”

Opinions vary as to whether the theater was underfunded, mismanaged or suffered fatally from being drawn into a local political fracas in 1996 among Mecklenburg County commissioners (Variety, April 1-7, 1996) and the economic downturn after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Pickets for and against the theater’s 1996 presentation of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” paraded in front of North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in downtown Charlotte. The commissioners cut funding for the Arts & Science Council that allocated funds to the theater. The controversy dragged out over three years.

Michael Bush terminated in December 2003 a brief artistic directorship at the theater to return to the Manhattan Theater Club; at the time, he said he felt there was insufficient support. Among productions he put on were Hilary Swank starring in “The Miracle Worker.”

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