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Playhouse beach proposal draws fire from critics

FLAT ROCK — Flat Rock Playhouse administrators have been negotiating with businessmen in North Myrtle Beach a plan to bring shows to the beach but have no plans to own a theater there, the Playhouse director and a chamber executive at the beach say.

News that the Playhouse is considering taking shows to the beach has further electrified an already emotional debate over the Playhouse's financial condition amid a pending decision on granting the theater proceeds from a 1-cent occupancy tax increase.
During a turbulent Board of Commissioners meeting last week, Playhouse critic Steve Carlisle said that Playhouse leaders "are now in discussions about opening another theater in North Myrtle Beach, S.C." County Commissioner Larry Young, who is leading the charge against giving the Playhouse $225,000 a year from the tourism tax, echoed Carlisle's concern. "They're going to take our occupancy tax money and take it to North Myrtle Beach for the Playhouse down there," he said.
Playhouse critics have got it wrong, the theater's producing artistic director, Vincent Marini, and the chamber official at the beach said.
The Playhouse would not own or invest in the theater, the chamber CEO, Marc Jordan, said in an interview with the Hendersonville Lightning. He said talks have been under way for about 18 months mainly with Marini on behalf of the Playhouse.
"We're very interested in it," Jordan said. "We would like to open a venue that would provide a number of performances here for family entertainment. It would be like Flat Rock at the beach."
Jordan said a group of investors has been working to draw up a business plan for the theater, although it has not yet found a performance space it could remodel for Playhouse productions. Jordan disputed the claims made here that the Flat Rock theater is exporting local money for a high-risk venture.
"I can assure that that ain't the deal at all," he said. "That is not at all what they have in mind. It's a revenue generator for them at no risk."
Jordan said theater patrons a while back saw a show by Flat Rock Playhouse performers at Brookgreen Gardens and expressed the hope that more would come.
"As it went along somehow they got real interested in North Myrtle Beach," Jordan said. A group of investors would build the theater to specifications that Marini has set forth. The Playhouse would have no financial stake in the theater building. "All we're trying to do is to locate a high premier-end sort of family attraction to North Myrtle Beach."
Jordan said the Flat Rock brand is known and admired among the tourists who visit the Grand Strand. "The people that come here to visit, they know Flat Rock," he said. "They're from North Carolina and South Carolina and all over the East Coast."
Marini, too, described the venture as low-risk and high payoff.
"We've been working for the past few years on opportunities to take our shows that are successful here and move them to other venues after they're finished here," he said. "In North Myrtle Beach there's a consideration right now about the possibility of us bringing some of our programing. We have nothing to do with the theater. We don't have any financial stake in any of that. All they would do is pay us to bring our product there."
In fact, the Playhouse is sending one of its most popular Music on the Rock shows, the Music of Abba, to Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach in September.
"It's something that theaters do all over the country," Marini said. "It's something we've actually done in the past. For years they did a tour around North Carolina back in the '50s and '60s. It just allows us to, when we spend money on a production, have that production travel so we can continue to make money on it."
Jordan said a theater the investors had an eye on had been bought by a church, setting back the effort.
"It's really kind of in our lap whether we can find an existing theater" to renovate for Flat Rock productions, he said. "They don't own anything, they don't invest anything. So really from the perspective of Flat Rock it seemed like a pretty sweet deal."



Here is a want ad for the producer the Playhouse sought to manage the North Myrtle Beach venture:

State Theatre of North Carolina is seeking a full time Producer to manage a new touring venture for the Playhouse in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The Producer will report directly to the Producing Artistic Director and will be responsible for the successful execution of the theater's first major touring initiative. Position will require at least part-year relocation to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Job responsibilities include: managing production transfers from North Carolina to South Carolina, interfacing with series sponsor and local marketing/pr firm, representing FRP in the local and regional community, managing the touring budget, developing strategic partnerships with local businesses, managing local technical, box office, musician and house management staff, and collaborating with the Producing Artistic Director on programming choices.

The successful candidate will be a charismatic, outside-the-box theater professional with strong public speaking skills, and experience in managing theatrical related activities with budgets in excess of one million dollars. Salary is negotiable 43k-50k with enormous growth potential in subsequent years.