California Conservatory Theatre Suspends Operations

The downtown theater group said declining season ticket sales and the changing demographics of San Leandro made it too risky to start a new season.


San Leandro may have lost a cultural institution.

The California Conservatory Theatre, which has been offering plays since 1978, will not schedule a new season, it was announced Monday.

Martin Vitz, president of CCT's board of directors, said the group was likely to end the current season in the red, and couldn't be certain that it would have the financial strength to put on five shows next year.

"We didn't want to start the season and not be able to finish," he said.

The problem, he said, is that the city has been changing in ways that undercut the theater group's financial underpinnings

Vitz said CCT appealed mainly to an older white audience that was declining in numbers. It was unable to hold on to that base and also draw younger theater-goers in a city that is increasingly diverse, in racial, ethnic and cultural terms.

This was exactly in a Patch profile when he returned to CCT last September in a turnaround bid that apparently fell short of what had been hoped.

The tough economy has also conspired to make it difficult for patrons to shell out the roughly $100 for a season ticket to see all five CCT shows.

The group's exact financial picture isn't clear. It just concluded its final show, "," and the bottom line won't emerge until after the end of the month.

Vitz said it cost about $100,000 to run a five-play season. CCT has a lease on a city-owned space on East 14th Street that costs something under $600 a year and expires in the Spring of 2013.

What happens next is fluid.

Vitz said other theater groups could approach CCT about using the 67-seat space; or work with CCT to create a joint operation that split the use of the facility. CCT had used the theater 40 weeks a year to put on five plays -- each with four weeks of rehearsal and a four-week run. Or other performing artists could sublet the space for such venues as musical recitals that couldn't fill a larger auditorium.

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jeni engler June 25, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Thank you to Martin Vitz, his board, and Dick and Kim Vetterli for working so hard to try to keep CCT afloat. The productions this year have been superb, I love seeing the high quality and know that to actually pay actors (including the equity actors CCT employs) is a real challenge. We will miss CCT and hope that the community will work to help revive this theater group.
Larry Smith June 25, 2012 at 09:19 PM
This is a definite loss for the San Leandro community.
Terri June 25, 2012 at 09:57 PM
We tried to get 4 tickets to Sylvia on a Friday but they had only 4 seats scattered around. So we enjoyed the play on Saturday. Given that we couldn't get our preferred date, I assumed they were doing well - especially since Saturday's show was sold out. And I was thinking about getting season tickets next season. Truly our loss.
Pat Davis June 25, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Oh my, I am sick at heart! A group of us have been season ticket subscribers for at least 2 decades. When my husband died in 2001, in lieu of flowers I requested donations to local community theatres including CCT. I have loved the comfort, the easy parking, the excellence of the productions, the talented staff (Kim and Richard Vetterli, Michael Ryken etc.) I laughed my way thru Sylvia last Saturday and had already talked to Richard about seating next season. What a sad loss to the community.
Tom Abate (Editor) June 26, 2012 at 07:28 PM
Maybe this will prove to be a near-death experience article rather than an obituary.
Leah Hall June 26, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Indeed. I also wonder if there is more to the story than merely demographic shifts. It doesn't seem that CCT has much of a regional draw. Folks who really enjoy live theatre (like my family) are only minutes away from Cal Shakes in Orinda and Berkeley Rep. These venues receive regional and sometimes national attention and the vibe attracts young and old alike. Cal Shakes also has a fairly ambitious program of taking Shakespear to local schools in an effort to broaden the demographics of its audience. That said, attend a regular evening performance, like we did earlier this month, it is definitely WASP city central. ;-)
Leah Hall June 27, 2012 at 12:58 AM
"Shakespeare" :(
David June 27, 2012 at 01:39 PM
A marginal local theater is by definition marginal and local. A downturn plus "demographic" shifts is enough to kill such a business. There's no broadening of demographics. Last time I attended a play anywhere, I was by far the youngest person there, and the audience was pretty much 100% people of pallor. Only exception to that was one play in NYC, where, the only non-pallorous person was in Hillary Clinton's Secret Service detail.
Terry Guillory June 27, 2012 at 04:42 PM
A huge loss to our city. CCT is an institution, and an inspiration to local artists and theater patrons. Goodbye to a wonderful theater company! Terry Guillory; San Leandro Arts Council & San Leandro Players Theater Company
Leah Hall June 27, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Lol! One thing's for sure, the marketing and facilities are top tier for the two groups I mentioned. We purchase the cheap season tickets which come out at just over $100 per person for 6 fantasitc shows. On summer Wednesday evenings, there is no place I would rather be than with my peeps and a bottle of wine at the Bruins Amphitheatre. Makes me feel like one of "The Californians." http://www.hulu.com/watch/359510
Wendy Wilson June 28, 2012 at 04:33 AM
I certainly hope something can be arranged so that CCT can have a season next year. When you consider that a movie costs $12, live theater at $20 is such a bargain. Thank you Richard and Kim Vetterli for all your dedicated service to CCT, we so enjoyed going to the performances: the intimate theater setting, excellent casting and great location. We are season ticket holders at both Berkeley Rep and Cal Shakes, and really value our local CCT theater. Definity sad to lose CCT just as city has committed to the theater arts with the new high school facility. Some more fundraising ideas from Berekley Rep/Cal Shakes: have buckets for spare change. Charge more for intermission treats. Have a special program/viewings and pricing for young adults. Maybe Peets Coffee and Tea can help out?


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