It’s the final curtain for the Downey Civic Light Opera, and this one could be a tragedy

DOWNEY – This season of the Downey Civic Light Opera will be the group’s last, executive director Marsha Moode said this week.

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.

Click here for story about Hume and the Downey Children’s Theater.

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.



13 Replies to “It’s the final curtain for the Downey Civic Light Opera, and this one could be a tragedy”

  1. John A from Downey

    Why would the city just GIVE the box office operation to venue tech? Venuetech should have to pay in to the system by renting out the whole theater and make their money back through ticket sales. how about a little personal investment, no?What are they, a no risk money grabbing org? what is the mid point between our longstanding community theater and getting rid of the theater altogether? I’m so sad that piece by piece this beautiful town is selling its soul….for nothing. Thanks for the lazy outsourcing, city of Downey.

  2. John Ashley

    Why would the city just GIVE the box office operation to venue tech? Venuetech should have to pay in to the system by renting out the whole theater and make their money back through ticket sales. How about a little personal investment, no? What are they, a no risk money grabbing org? What is this, the mid point between our longstanding community theater and getting rid of the theater altogether? I’m so sad that piece by piece this beautiful town is selling its soul….for nothing. Thanks for the lazy outsourcing, city of Downey.

    • Stefan R.

      I am also deeply saddened by this news. But it doesn’t surprise me. Cities tend to run “their” business and everybody else’s. They know nothing about “show business” and when push comes to shove, out goes the baby with the bath water. Very sad, because we will all suffer artistically. The City of Downey’s lack-of-theater-savvy, along with their lack of support of “One-Of-Their-Own”, is an embarrassment to us all. Especially at a time of such economic strife within our city & nation, you’d think that someone on “board” would have the common sense to back-off, and support DCLO with: “What can we do to support & assist you? Instead DCLO gets: “Do as we say!”, and, “Pay up or get-out!”

  3. Bbmomof3

    How sad that the city is more concerened about money than keeping such a precious treasure alive. Marsha has given her heart and soul to Downey Civic Light Opera. She is an icon to theater for the city. They should not treat her with such disregard. DCLO has for so many years put on beautiful broadway caliber productions at an affordable Price for the public. How disappointing that the city wants to destroy what is good, and has worked so well, by bringing in an outside company to run the box office when it has never required it before! So many generations of actors have gone through DCLO, what a shame to see it destroyed.

    • Steven Stanley

      I agree. The city council’s treatment of Marsha is shameful and disrespectful. They should be offering her a Key To The City, renaming the theater after her, anything but this!

      • Kathryn H.

        I also totally agree …. this is so sad… hasn’t it been hard enough for Marsha to run the DCLO(single-handedly while keeping it in the black) and now this! Such an INSULT to a woman who has provided great AFFORDABLE musical theater entertainment MAINLY for the community of Downey as well as those in FAR-REACHING surrounding cities. What a slap in the face, running the Executive Producer out of her box office! This is unheard of in the legit theatre world; something that would never happen to a CEO! I sense the GREEN-EYED-MONSTER at work here. And we all know who this is: JEALOUSLY!!! It never seems to fail; IT always tends to get in & show ITS UGLY FACE somehow. Shame on you City of Downey!

  4. Steven Stanley

    I am deeply saddened by this news. It’s a shame that the city won’t let Marsha end DCLO the way she would like to, gracefully and with dignity and pride in a job well done. It would be great if someone or some group of people could step in and keep Downey Civic Light Opera alive. It’s truly unique in Southern California theater and deserves to keep putting on shows for the community, for the performers, and for Los Angeles theatergoers.

  5. Alicia Edquist

    It’s sad that this is even occurring in our city. You know all these years I have grown up here, I have wanted to live here and build my family here, yet we must not be small town anymore and be more corporate. DCLO has been apart of my family whether it was attending performances for fun or see friends perform. The Downey Theater is apart of the community…the school performances, the dance shows, comedy shows and so on. Just because someone is retiring doesn’t mean the city can just step in and tell DCLO what they need to do. If it has to happen let her do it her way and go out gracefully! Now we are going to be fighting for the ARTS again in Downey. The DCLO is a strong organization and I think we need to attend the public session on this.

  6. Robert Mitchell

    We have a small number of performances each year. If the city fathers decided to pay the fire chief $300,000 instead of $400,000 last year, maybe we could afford to continue the decades-long program that has caused my family and friends so much joy.

  7. Alistair Hunter

    City of Downey Theatre  Meeting Sunday 9-10-12

    City offered win win to DCLO and DSo by making the rental increases effective July 1, 2013, but put DCLO on notice that they cannot continue to subsidize it to the amount they have in the past as funding is coming from the General Fund and they have shut down a Fire Engine and are Laing of City Staff, and delaying maintenance. So DCLO needs a new game plan for 2012-13. DCLO can operate their own box office this year as DCLO has made to commitment to provide the City with their pateon’s list, subscriber’s list, mailing list, and professional box office reports for each performance. DCLO claims the Secretary of State website is out of date and false when it lists DCLO’s non profit status as suspended. DCLO claims it was an issue a number of years ago with a tax man who died, and since then DCLO has filed the required Annual Report. Marsha Moode claims she will not leave DCLO at the end of this season as she previously announced. DCLO needs to have a new plan for 2013-14 when rental fees increase, etc. In my opinion, the current DCLO operating plan, policy, procedures, vision, productions, need to be revised to provide significant theatre performances with powerful performances. Moode reports a good weekend attendance is 250 in the 720 seat house. Audience development, outreach, arts in education, an effective Board of Directors to bring DCLO into touch with the community are needed.

  8. Dennis

    As a 30 year season thicket holder from a neighboring city, we are saddened to see the City of Downey take such a destructive action. Certainly our money will not be going to Downey restaurants or other businesses as we now have no reason to go!

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