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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Focus on Playhouse future

Now that Vincent Marini has announced his resignation as creative director of the Flat Rock Playhouse, maybe the community can finally focus on the theater's future without rancor and ill will.


For whatever reason, many people in the community have been hellbent on scapegoating Marini throughout his tenure, as if he were responsible for the housing bubble, subprime lending and the Lehman Brothers collapse.
It would be a welcome tribute to Marini on his way out the door if the supporters of the State Theatre of North Carolina and its skeptic joined together in a dispassionate and reasonable discussion of the best way to solidify financial support and ensure the survival of the Playhouse for years to come.
Finances are still fragile. The Playhouse has not fully recovered from the decline in ticket sales and resulting $1.4 million loss of 2010. Marini, to be sure, does not stand blameless for a series of decisions that widened the gap between the revenues and expenses. He was on board for the expanded programing but he did not cause the recession. The near-financial collapse of the Playhouse in 2012 was owed in part to a perfect storm of bad timing. The Playhouse took on debt to complete the Robin R. Farquhar YouTheatre Education Center the same year that ticket sales plunged by 16 percent.
The Playhouse Downtown, which is more profitable than the Mainstage, has proved its power to draw people to Main Street. Downtown plays and Music on the Rock performances drew 35,707 people last year. Surely a few of those ate at a restaurant, browsed downtown and stayed overnight.
Last week the Hendersonville City Council agreed to donate $30,000 to the Playhouse in the upcoming budget year. That's $70,000 less than the Playhouse requested but triple the $10,000 the council gave last year, when local leaders were suffering from Playhouse fundraising fatigue. After shelling out $100,000 each to help save the theater in 2012, the City Council ($10,000), Board of Commissioners ($20,000) and Flat Rock Village Council (zero) turned off the spigot. Understandable from a political point of view, maybe, but shortsighted when it comes to economic development. Last year's Berkeley Young study estimated the theater's economic impact at $14 million a year. It makes sense to invest in that kind of tourism driver, and not just for the sake of growing the product and creating more tourism. The Playhouse can pull in more foundation grants and private donations when it can show strong, consistent local support.
Vincent Marini brought many memorable moments of high drama to the Rock — and we don't mean the drama of the theater's near-death experience. That drama had more than one father. We mean drama and joy on the stage. As this chapter of the Playhouse comes to a close, the smart way forward would be to continue meeting the high bar Marini set artistically while designing a strategy for financial growth and long-term sustainability.