MARTINEZ -- The Martinez City Council has saved downtown live theater one more time by agreeing to a six-month extension on its Campbell Theater lease, and a corresponding sublease for OnStage Repertory Theatre.
Whether local theater exists beyond that may depend on public support for the 35-year old nonprofit community theater group which stepped up after the Willows Theatre failed, leaving the city with a vacant facility and a $4,640 per month lease payment on the 636 Ward St. venue.
OnStage agreed to fix up the theater with its own money in exchange for nominal rent until ticket sales, shared with the city, improve. Mark Hinds, managing director of the Campbell Theater, said the extension will get OnStage through a second season which ends in mid-2015.
"It usually takes a year or two to build an audience in a new location," Hinds said. "Once people realize you can see a decent show at a good price, they keep coming back. "
Councilwoman Lara DeLaney wanted specifics. Hinds said the theater was nearly full (current capacity 85) for the last performances of "Shipwreck" and for" Student Improv Nights" (formerly DVC Improv).
"Attendance has been steadily climbing," Hinds said.
"We have five wonderful fall shows lined up, beginning in August with a comedy, 'Beau Jest,' and 'Live Radio' is running now for only $10 a ticket," Hinds remarked later.
No one at the council meeting expressed doubt about the community benefits of live theater: cultural enrichment at a reasonable price, economic boost to downtown business and opportunities for personal and professional growth for volunteers of all ages.
But the city of Martinez has been trying to keep live theater downtown during the most prolonged economic recession in a lifetime. Assistant City Manager Alan Shear confirmed that $486,000 has been spent for theater rent so far. (The city did take possession of the bankrupt Willows Theatre equipment, costumes and items that are to be sold.)
Councilman Mark Ross later said, "The theater has been a valuable addition to the downtown for many of the restaurants."
"I am concerned about the city's commitment to the property," Menesini said. "It needs to change in the future."
For now, the new OnStage sublease is set at $300 per month plus the value of repairs and improvements the group is putting in to maximize attendance.
Hinds detailed some of those projects, including lighting, plumbing, electrical, the stage and other improvements made by volunteers, with help from John Allred Construction.
The OnStage group is building a 16-foot screen to show student films and for play readings, and ordering replacement lights for the marquee, according to Hinds.
"We plan to install some theater seating that we already have to improve sight lines, comfort and capacity, and we there will still be some cabaret seating in the back," Hinds said.
"We are looking for a new sound board and recruiting people to get involved with donations of time, talent or money."
Hinds, and OnStage artistic director Helen Means talked about intangibles later.
"When OnStage Repertory Theatre produced one of Craig Brewer's first plays, I had no idea he would one day become a successful director working with Samuel L. Jackson, Justin Timberlake and other famous celebrities," Means noted.
Nor did she think about the value of OnStage experience for a police chief, Realtor, local politician or future TV actor. Those kinds of volunteers have often honed their public communication skills with OnStage at the Old School House, Dan's Bar and the Lesher Theatre locations before coming to the Campbell Theater.
"We always work with local talent," Means observed. "Our volunteer cast members and writers often go on the use their skills in the community, theater and films."
Contact Dana Guzzetti at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 925-202-9292.
Visit Martinez Campbell Theater at Facebook.com; and contact OnStage Repertory Theatre for reservations at 925-518-3277.