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Show is over for Star Bar Players

September 25, 2008

The show won't go on.

The Star Bar Players, the oldest theater company in Colorado Springs, has canceled its season - the first time in 36 years that its stage will be dark.

Star Bar President Mark Hennessy said Star Bar isn't dead. It's just going in mothballs until he and others in the arts community can figure out how to make it work.

The most immediate problem is the troupe's venue. The Lon Chaney Theatre, inside the City Auditorium, which has been Star Bar's home since 1984, is no longer a feasible place to put on shows, Hennessy said.

As the City Auditorium programming has expanded in recent years to include roller derbies, graduations, cat shows and other community events, Star Bar could no longer count on its full run of the season being available. Two recent productions, in fact, had to scramble to find other stages at Colorado College and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs when the City Auditorium was booked.

"I do not in any way blame the City Auditorium," Hennessy said. "They have a business to run, and they have to work for the whole community. ... To me, there's an issue of trust. The audience needs to trust that we're going to be there when we say we're going to be there. We can't do that at the City Auditorium."

But finding a new home isn't the only challenge Star Bar would face in starting again.
The other big one is money.

Hennessy has believed that if he and others raised the quality of the shows to more consistently compete with TheatreWorks and the Fine Arts Center, audiences would come.

"That's definitely been my delusion," he said with a bitter laugh. "I think that's fair to say. I think the good work we've done means a lot to people in the theater community, and I think we have tried to run with the big boys without the money of the big boys."

But the audiences have been sparse. Even "Rabbit Hole," the company's last show - a Pulitzer Prize-winning script and a Pikes Peak Arts Council Award winner - couldn't pull in enough to break even.

Hennessy said he has lost thousands of dollars of his own money.

That's because productions cost between $5,000 and $10,000, and nearly half that cost goes to the City Auditorium in rent and storage fees. The rest goes to pay for script rights, directors and technical workers. Actors don't get paid.

Ticket prices are $15, with discounts available for students, seniors and military.

With a lot fewer than 100 audience members at each of the nine shows of a run, no production has broken even in two years.

"I'm not a great personal businessman," Hennessy said. "I've been stewing for months about whether to pour all the rest of the money I have into re-creating Star Bar. And I've just come to the point where I don't think I can do this."

Members of the arts community have offered help.

"I'm sure they think I'm a big jerk because I haven't mobilized them," he said. "But we have to figure out what we're going to do first."

Others in the theater community want to help, if Hennessy will let them.

For instance, Eve Tilley, a long-time Star Bar president and board member, said she welcomes the opportunity to harness local theater lovers to get the company back on its feet.

"To have it lie fallow for too long could be a tragedy," she said.


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