And as the venerable institution closes its books, there’s drama unfolding between the city and the theater company.
Moode, who has served as the executive director for 12 years, said she is ready to retire from the DCLO and that the theater company will wither without her leadership. The company typically puts on three plays a year at the city-owned Downey Civic Theatre, one in the fall and two more in the spring. Each play is performed 10 times for a total of 30 shows per year.
“It’s not the work it takes to run it,” she said. “It’s the money. It’s an incredibly expensive thing to sustain, and I, me, I’ve been the one to do it for the last 12 years.”
Moode wants to wind down the DCLO’s work, settle its accounts and walk away gracefully, she said.
The city has told Moode that after the scheduled run of ‘Crazy for You’ from Sept. 28 to Oct. 14, the DCLO needs to hand over control of its box office for the last two runs of this season to VenueTech, a private company brought in by the city in 2010 to manage the theater.
VenueTech would have control of ticket income for the spring shows and then reimburse the DCLO for its costs.
Moode said she won’t give control of the box office to VenueTech.
“Our tickets are our income,” Moode said. “That would mean that everything would go to VenueTech and then we would have to ask them to cut us a check whenever we needed to pay bill. It’s not going to work.”
She said the theater has to pay for royalties and other costs.
“I don’t know why they’re changing everything for the last two shows in our long history,” she said. “I might as well close the office and go home.”
She addressed the City Council on Tuesday and asked them to reconsider. Mayor Roger Brossmer said the city would be willing to discuss the matter in a public session.
Downey’s interim director of community services, Arlene Salazar, said that the city is charging the DCLO a discounted rate for use of the theater. For years, the rate has been about $400 per day, but the price in June increased to $900. The city has agreed to allow the DCLO and the Downey Symphony Orchestra to pay $400 a day this fiscal year.
Other than the switch to using VenueTech to run the box office, the only other substantial difference this year compared to previous years is that the DCLO is being asked to pay a $600 deposit so VenueTech would have cash on hand to reimburse customers in the case that one of the shows had to be called off. Every other group that uses the theater lets VenueTech handle the box office, she said.
Regardless of the outcome of the box office dispute, Moode is certain this will be the 57-year-old organization’s last season.
Moode said she has worked for the DCLO a total of 26 years, including the last 12 as executive director. Moode, by all accounts, is the organization’s driving force.
The theater company owes its beginnings to the Downey Children’s Theater, a group started in 1955 by an actor from northern California named John Hume who wanted to work with the county to put on children’s theater shows in Downey.
The plays were packed, and Hume spun off other acting groups. Hume and the city’s actors and musicians pushed the city for the eventual construction of the Downey Civic Theatre. After changes to tax laws in the 1970s limited how cities could raise money, the Downey City Council decided to cut its support of theater programs. The Downey Civic Light Opera turned a small profit, so it survived, annually putting on three runs a year for its subscribers and anyone else who wanted to see the productions. Hume died in 2002 at age 85.
The acting group is sustained by people who subscribe to the DCLO, paying a lump sum for tickets to all three of the group’s annual plays.
Moode declined to say how many subscribers the DCLO has this season, but she claimed that a good weekend show usually brought in a crowd of about 250.
Tax documents from 2010, the most recent year available, show the DCLO earned $272,792 and spent $289,613.
Moode said she is the only full-time employee of the DCLO, but tax documents do not list any income for Moode.
The only income for any employee listed on the 2010 tax form is $16,900 for Florence Moode, Marsha Moode’s mother.
Florence Moode is listed on the DCLO’s website as: ‘casting, house manager, program sales, reception.’
City officials said they are worried that Moode has no plan to keep the DCLO alive after she leaves.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Lana Wahlquist of the Downey Arts Coaltion said she hoped the city could somehow keep theater’s use rates low enough for the DCLO and the Downey Symphony Orchestra to survive. The discounts afforded to the two groups is set to expire next year.
Wahlquist also said that a few younger artists in the community have reached out to Moode to try to form a plan for the theater to survive after Moode leaves, but that no partnership has materialized so far.
Hume’s theater companies predate the 1956 incorporation of the city, she said. If the DCLO closes, it will be the first time in 57 years that the Downey did not have a theater company.