Theater & Arts

City, children’s theater company agree to short-term solution for use of auditorium

Steven San Sebastian as Bert, with Jett Aiello, 9, left as Michael Banks, and Novi Alexander, 12, as Jane Banks, in a scene from Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Mary Poppins.”
Steven San Sebastian as Bert, with Jett Aiello, 9, left as Michael Banks, and Novi Alexander, 12, as Jane Banks, in a scene from Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Mary Poppins.” jwalker@fresnobee.com

The Children’s Musical Theaterworks will likely be able to continue leasing rooms in the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium after a meeting between the nonprofit’s president and city of Fresno officials on Wednesday.

KC Rutiaga, Children’s Musical Theaterworks board president, told The Bee on Oct. 21 that the city had told the theater group it would need to leave its longtime downtown performance center by Dec. 31. Rutiaga said the board had planned a year in advance for its 2018 productions to be held at the auditorium and feared that not having a place to perform would “put CMT under.”

Bruce Rudd, interim assistant city manager, told The Bee the same day that the nonprofit had known for three to four months it would need a new venue.

Days later, Rutiaga met with Rudd and city spokesman Mark Standriff to discuss the lease and use of theater equipment. The two groups reached an agreement that the theater company could continue operating on its $1-a-year lease, which Rudd on Oct. 21 had said was changed from yearly to month-to-month. Rudd also erroneously had stated that the theater company was behind on its lease payments. Rutiaga said the city apologized during the meeting for “misinformation” regarding the lease.

Standriff said Saturday that city staff did not “adequately inform” the theater company of the concerns it had about the auditorium’s aged equipment and that they “sincerely apologize.”

A letter dated Oct. 12 explained that the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium required $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.

Rutiaga said she assured city officials that the theater company was aware of the issues with the stage’s aged equipment, like its rigging system. She also said that a catwalk that is in need of repair was not used by the company and that a separate crew with its own equipment was brought in to work the lighting for the theater shows. “We had knowledge and did not use (the catwalk) for that reason,” she said.

Standriff said that a new lease with the theater company may be negotiated and that the theater company may be encouraged to take more financial responsibility for its use of the auditorium in the future. For now, Standriff said, the theater company does not need to look to other places to store its costumes and other gear.

And a meeting on Tuesday will determine just how much of the stage equipment can be used by the theater company. Standriff, who said he ran two professional theater companies in the past, said the meeting will determine what is safe and what is not.

He said there will be more discussion for long-term solutions, but meeting with the theater board provided “needed perspective” he could take to the city in order to establish a stronger relationship with the theater company.

Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado: 559-441-6304, @cres_guez

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