Theater & Arts

Longtime stage for children’s theater in Fresno will close by Dec. 31, city says

A scene from Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Mary Poppins” in December 2015.
A scene from Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Mary Poppins” in December 2015. jwalker@fresnobee.com

The Children’s Musical Theaterworks will have to leave its longtime downtown performance center by Dec. 31, the city of Fresno is telling the nonprofit.

Board President KC Rutiaga said the nonprofit on Saturday opened a letter from Bruce Rudd, interim assistant city manager and interim director of the Parks, After School, Recreation and Community Services Department, who explained that the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium requires $3.5 million in repairs and upgrades to bring the building up to code. About $1 million of the cost is for repairs to the stage, auditorium and related spaces. The letter was dated Oct. 12.

“Unfortunately, the city does not currently have the resources necessary to address these repairs,” Rudd said.

 

For about 18 years, Rutiaga said, the arts organization has had a lease with the city to use Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium as a stage for productions and to store thousands of costumes and props in the basement. However, the long-term lease ended and became month-to-month about a year ago, she said.

Rutiaga said the organization has attempted to meet with PARCS officials, but she said they never could get the city to agree to another long-term lease.

Rudd said Saturday afternoon that the contract was changed to month-to-month because “they failed to pay their rent (on time).”

City spokesman Mark Standriff said Rudd’s letter should not have come as a surprise. “We’ve been telling them for months that they (would) be needing a new place,” he said Saturday afternoon.

Rutiaga said CMT has planned a year in advance for its 2018 productions to be held at the auditorium. “This short notice will put CMT under,” she said in an email. “Frankly, we are at a loss.”

But Rudd said CMT has known for three to four months that they would need a new venue. The city has offered to help the organization move its belongings to the next production location.

Locations that have been proposed are Warnors Theatre and schools that have stages, Ruud said.

“Those events that they are already promoting, they should aggressively be trying to find another venue to have those performance because again, they knew three to four months ago the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium would not be an option,” he said.

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Rutiaga also said she does not know of another local theater that could accommodate the productions, as there are about 100 children in each. She said each production typically has an audience of about 500.

The organization was founded in 1997 and has produced more than 30 main stage and touring productions. Rutiaga said the organization is a staple in the Fresno arts community and offers all children a chance to be on stage, unlike most production companies where there are limited spots.

The auditorium’s main foyer and the Veteran’s Museum will remain open to the public, Rudd said. The city will undertake any needed repairs to the portion of the building that contains the museum, he said.

Staff writer Chueyee Yang contributed to the story. Jessica Johnson: 559-441-6051, @iamjesslj

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