Everyone’s theater

Published 12:24 am Sunday, November 13, 2011

Washington cannot afford to lose the Turnage Theater.

But the Turnage Theater cannot afford to continue operating at a substantial loss.

On Wednesday, we told you that the Turnage is having serious cash-flow problems.

In a written report dated Oct. 25, the treasurer of the nonprofit Turnage Theaters Foundation told his board he had projected $71,000 “in cash obligations for the balance of the year with only about $14,000 in cash available to meet those obligations.”

Most anyone can see these figures represent an untenable reality for this struggling organization.

Simply put, the landmark Turnage may have to “go dark” for a time.

The doors might have to be closed until further sources of funding can be discovered or the theater can be reopened under new leadership.

Either of these options would be a tragedy for our city and all of Beaufort County — especially for the donors and volunteers who have given so much of their time, money and energy to the Turnage.

Also tragic would be the effects closure of this facility would have on the hard-working, intensely dedicated staff that has helped bring theatrical joy to the lives of thousands.

The apparent failure of the Turnage is not the exclusive property of any single group or individual. Though mistakes have been made in the operation of the theater, at this point it’s useless to assign blame for the reduction of the foundation’s coffers.

Like countless businesses and nonprofits nationwide, the Turnage has suffered under the relentless weight of a floundering economy.

Yes, the theater’s ticket prices have been high on numerous occasions, but, responding to its critics and patrons, the foundation has offered more free and lower-priced events along with community-based offerings. All too frequently, the community has failed to attend these free and lower-priced shows in great numbers.

It’s also worth noting the Turnage doesn’t prosper — in fact, it barely breaks even — on much of the programming that scores of ticket-buyers like to see. This is a grim reality for any theater of this type, especially one that has such limited seating. You see, the Turnage is not a massive arena, it’s an intimate setting for smaller productions.

So, what’s the solution?

We don’t have one.

The solution lies with the community.

Basically, it should be up to us, as a city and county, to decide what the Turnage should be and what programming it should offer.

After all, more than $1.5 million in state and local funding has been expended on this theater. In our minds, that makes the Turnage an essential public property. In the future, the public should have its say as to how the theater is run and what shows are placed onstage.

And, make no mistake about it: the public has an obligation to get involved in this. If you care about what happens to the Turnage, let your voice be heard. If you don’t speak out, you’ve no one to blame but yourself, whatever happens to that building.

For now, all that’s left is to note, with sadness, that we can’t imagine Washington without this vital economic and cultural engine we call the Turnage.

We don’t want our community’s theater to go dark.

And, if it comes, that darkness should not be allowed to persist for long.

Let’s hope, and pray, that marquee goes on blazing for generations to come.