Portage theater group takes final bows at Yacht Club
By John ROBBINS Post-Tribune correspondent June 18, 2012 1:34PM
Updated: June 19, 2012 1:16PM
PORTAGE — You can go “Over the River and Through the Woods” to see a Portage Community Theater production at the Portage Yacht Club this weekend — but that will be the last time the group puts on a play there.
The theater group will no longer be allowed to use the facility it has called home for nearly a decade. There are no immediate plans for future performances of former Broadway hits like “Over the River,” or for a new performance space.
The group has been operating without a contract and has paid no rent to use the Yacht Club. “A gentleman’s agreement existed. The group had asked for a contract under the prior (mayoral) administration,” but no written agreement was ever created, according to Matthew Byerly, Portage Community Theater board member and spokesman.
“We’re referring to it as a hiatus and reorganization. We hope to continue productions in the future,” Byerly said “We continue to look for facilities, whether it’s to remain at the Yacht Club, school, church or storefront.”
Founder and president Stanlee Hodsden is saddened at the loss of performance space. “I founded the theater in 2001 in honor of my late daughter and my heart is breaking with the current situation. Theater isn’t a building, it’s people and the theater family will continue to produce the quality of show that we always have,” said Hodsden.
“The city has a new administration and new administrators at the Park Department. Due to budget constraints, they have had to re-evaluate programs,” said Byerly.
It’s no secret Portage faces a serious fiscal crisis. All city departments have been asked by the mayor to tighten budgets, reduce spending and increase revenue.
The Park Department is no exception and is the first department to have met the goal of eliminating red ink.
Park Board member Ken Lorenz is sympathetic but says they can no longer afford to offer the group space rent-free. “The community theater uses 70 percent of the facility year-round. It costs the Park Department $80,000 annually to maintain the building. We offered them a 50 percent non-profit discount. If they can pay the rent they can stay the rest of the year,” Lorenz said. “We want to work with the theater but we need proof of insurance, rent and a contract.”
Most community theater groups are loose associations of volunteers that generally operate on shoestring budgets. Portage Community Theater is no exception. The group could not afford the fee structure that was offered, and now faces the task of finding somewhere to store 12 years’ accumulation of props, costumes and set pieces that are stored at the Yacht Club.
The group would face the need for new quarters in 2013 anyway, according to Lorenz. The Park Department is not making reservations for facility use then; no one will be using the Yacht Club in order to carry out needed repairs and upgrades. “There are issues with the parking lot, stairs, doors — the list goes on and on and on.”
The Redevelopment Commission owns the building and leases it to the Park Department at no cost. John Shepherd, development finance adviser, isn’t surprised the building is in need of repair but was unaware of any plans for renovation. It was built in 1974, originally as a club for National Steel employees, Shepherd said.