In case you missed it (I did), Uptown Theater did a little soul-searching (and house-cleaning) in February parting ways with both Executive Director April Evans and Artistic Director Carmen Kahn. They also hit stop on the idea of creating professional-level theater productions in-house. After creating and performing two such plays from scratch (director, actors, sets, costumes, lighting), the board decided neither the theater nor the community was ready for the ambitious in-house production plan conceived during months of pandemic lockdowns.
“In 2021, during a time when every arts organization was experiencing the challenges of Covid, Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center Board of Directors launched an ambitious plan to hire an Artistic Director in order to undertake the process of building a regional theatre company at Uptown,” the board shared in a statement.
Well, that vision did not pan out – at least not in the timeframe the theater needed it to.
“People have not come to theater as quickly as they have come back to music,” said Uptown Board Member Holly Brown, who along with fellow board members Tom McEvoy and Gary Green, is serving as the performing arts center’s Interim Director and Program Director. She suggested the theater’s traditionally older audience and this groups’ lingering health fears among potential reasons for the low numbers. “Theater seems to be doing ok in major cities but it’s not doing as well in the suburbs. The theater audience may be a little more conservative,” she said.
There was also a mix of success with the shows selected. While “The Mountaintop” received a better reception, their first production, The Butterfingers Angel “didn’t do well” according to Holly. Couple that with the added costs of producing a show in-house and the fact that in order to have time and space to get the play ready, you need to close your venue to all other events (and revenue sources) for several weeks at a time, and perhaps, the following isn’t such a surprise.
“Having carefully evaluated our progress toward that ambitious goal, we have decided to temporarily discontinue producing our own professional theater offerings,” the statement continued. That, however, does not mean they are backing away from performances or even theater, quite the opposite. Holly said she and her co-interim directors would like to see more shows, ideally every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, along with Monday Movies, and maybe a family matinee on Sunday afternoons.
“We are really pushing on expansion right now and you have to watch everything. What can we do more efficiently? And just find out what works,” she said of the leadership team’s goals over the next couple of months.
She predicts this learning curve may take a season or two. Then, the volunteer directors would like to go back to their own regularly scheduled programming and leave the nonprofit management to somebody else.
“We are here to make sure the theater is here a long time after us,” Holly said.
A RECAP OF EVENTS:
- Uptown parted ways with Artistic Director Carmen Kahn in February. “We could not have accomplished what we did without Carmen’s leadership and direction,” the Board said in a statement.
- Also, let go was Executive Director April Evans. She worked for six years at the theater, starting as an executive assistant and quickly working her way up to the lead role.
- Part of the decision to move away from in-house productions involved canceling this season’s final planned performance, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Those who had purchased tickets for the play were issued full refunds, including fees.
- A new traveling production, Ray Didinger’s “Tommy & Me,” will be presented in the fall. The new leadership team is also working to finalize a production for August and November.
Originally published, Mar. 17, 2023
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