Published in KPBS On Air Magazine November 1990
Seven year-old Adam offered his $10 life savings to help rescue the theater. He understood “the biz,” already having written a play-and-a-half of his own. Of course, he’d been hearing about the theater trouble at the dinner table for some time. His mother, after all, is Kit Goldman, managing producer of the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Company (GQTC). And his father is Dan Pearson, part owner of the Horton Grand Hotel and the building that houses the GQTC’s Hahn Cosmopolitan Theater.
“I feel like the fog is lifting,” says Goldman, whose ten year old theater company was forced to suspend operations last spring, due to seemingly insurmountable difficulties: a $900,000 debt, the second backout by a major benefactor (Elizabeth North), Goldman’s firing of the theater’s co-founders (artistic director Will Simpson and designer Bob Earl) and diminishing box office takes following what some considered a succession of tired, old-fashioned plays, with a heavy reliance on the works of Noel Coward.
“A lot of people didn’t think we’d still be here in November,” she says with a smile, leaning back in her small, cluttered office above the Hahn Theatre. But here they are, gearing up again for a season of Gaslamp productions.
“Ninety percent of the time I look at this whole situation as a renaissance, not a crisis. You don’t give up the old ways till there’s a trauma…” Could the financial problems have been avoided? Did the theater try to move too far too fast? Goldman won’t take full responsibility. “It wasn’t just my decision,” she asserts. The company started in 1980 with the 90-seat Gaslamp Quarter Theatre (currently, perhaps temporarily, called the Elizabeth North Theatre). “But,” claims Goldman, “Will Simpson, Bob Earl and I all couldn’t make a living with just 90 seats.” So in 1986, by mutual agreement, and with the blessing of their Board, the second, 250-seat theater was opened (first named for Charles Deane, but after he withdrew his support amid mismanagement accusations, it was re-named, the Hahn Cosmopolitan Theatre). Says Goldman, “We were looking ahead to the Convention Center, and responding to the promises of the City and all the redevelopment going on around us. We were on schedule, and they were three years behind…”
Then there was last year’s ill-fated fundraising gala at the Convention Center (“America’s Dance Awards”), a producing project which took up all of Goldman’s time and instead of earning lots of money for the theater company, cost them dearly.
Things began to turn around in August. Goldman stopped smoking again, and her Board unanimously approved a new plan for the theater which focused on financial issues — including debt reduction, budget and cash flow — as well as staffing, programming, a new mission statement and an organizational chart. Confesses Goldman, “We’ve never had a definitive business plan in ten years; we just produced plays one after the other. Now we have financial managers, consultants, and a master plan.” And, apparently, a future, which will include a slightly different artistic focus: “Intimate plays,” as Goldman calls them, “small-cast productions that are fresh for San Diego audiences but have a proven record of success in other urban theaters. Terrence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (opening November 15 at the Hahn) is the perfect choice. So’s Will Roberson” (the director, best known here for his work on Suds and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill).
“Roberson discussed his plans with the playwright. The two became friendly when McNally was in San Diego working on Up in Saratoga at the Old Globe. “He agreed with my take,” Roberson says in his rapid-fire, ultra-enthusiastic style. “He’s a major opera fan” (so’s Roberson, who started the West Coast Opera company in San Diego ). “And Frankie and Johnny is a very operatic love story, even though it’s blue collar. It’s like an aria for two people, very tender and moving, with very large passions.”
Kit Goldman seems pleased; things are definitely looking up. And she’s looking ahead: “I want to encourage works by and from other cultural groups. I want color-blind and non-traditional casting here. This was not the case before; I was not at all proud of our record. We are an inner city theater, and we need to reflect that in our staff, too” (not yet the case; everyone is white thus far, as before).
“We’re running these celebrity staged readings as fund-raisers, which have been enormously successful. And we’re starting a new subscription drive for 1991. We plan for six plays on the mainstage, and we’re exploring rental options as well as co-productions for the North… I hope to act again, but I’ve vowed to my colleagues not to get back onstage until we’re financially stable.”
Sounds exciting. And convincing. Adam doesn’t have to close out his account yet, but he should keep it active, just in case.
©1990 Patté Productions Inc.