Helen Hayes Theatre Company Home Sold; Future of Theatre in Question

News   Helen Hayes Theatre Company Home Sold; Future of Theatre in Question The future of the Helen Hayes Theatre Company, the Nyack-based theatre company named for one of the greatest actresses of the American stage, may be in jeopardy.

Daniel Rodriguez, who sits on the Board of Trustees of the company — which presents both new work and classic revivals — told Playbill.com that the theatre that houses HHTC has been sold to Millbrook Properties, a New York-based company that will take ownership in a little over a month's time.

The theatre, which presented its last mainstage production in December, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, has been struggling financially for some time, but it was within the last year that the company's finances became truly overwhelming.

"For the last ten years," explains Rodriguez, "we rented the facility [that houses the theatre]. In our lease we had an option to purchase [the building, and that option] came up last year. The Board made the decision to purchase the building because it wanted to have more control of its destiny." The price of the building ended up being more than expected, and the purchase "had a devastating effect on us."

Rodriguez said the Board was committed to closing out the season, but was forced to cancel the HHTC's Youth Theatre because the revenue generated did not come close to the costs of that program. "We ended the season," Rodriguez said, "and the bills just kept piling up. Ticket sales weren't generating the revenue that was necessary to sustain the theatre." Rodriguez said the weekly cost of running the theatre is approximately $18,000 and when a production is running, that price can be as much as $85,000 a week.

"The bottom line," says Rodriguez, "is the bills kept surmounting. The debt was already there, and it had a snowball effect because we had to pay more for the building than we had anticipated. . . .We looked to the people who had been our benefactors. We had some commitments, and unfortunately they fell through. Our president [Joseph R. Lagana] made a commitment to keep the theatre going. He personally provided a loan to pay for weekly operational expenses. Some of us pitched in what we could, but that's not how you can run a business. The only asset that the theatre had that was of greater value than the debt we had was the building. So we made the decision to sell the building, pay down our debt, clean the slate for the theatre and reorganize — try to figure out how we can move forward with the theatre [having] no debt." A public meeting was recently held with the Nyack community to solicit ideas for the struggling theatre company. "Some people want to put a movie theatre in there," said Rodriguez, "[while] some want to have a mix of movies, community theatre, youth theatre." Rodriguez also said that Nyack boasts several prominent artists and actors, including Rosie O'Donnell, who recently expressed an interesting in purchasing the theatre.

"[Rosie O'Donnell's] partner Kelli approached us," said Rodriguez, "but what they're interested in is actually buying the building." In fact, on her daily blog, Rosie O'Donnell recently wrote, "I love Nyack. I live here. We have the Helen Hayes Theater. It was sold last week and no one knew. . . I will buy it, fix it, make it work for this community, for my children, for me, but mostly for the queen of Nyack, the first lady of American theatre, Helen Hayes."

"The problem [with O'Donnell's offer]," said Rodriguez, "is that we already have a contract [with Millbrook Properties]. If we break a contract, we can be held for damages, and we don't want that. And plus it's not good business practice. The bottom line is this company that purchased it made us a good offer, and it's a good deal, and they were extremely flexible with us with regard to the option to lease it."

Rodriguez said that Millbrook Properties has granted HHTC an option to lease the theatre and "at the town hall meeting, their representatives indicated to the community that they're willing to slash our rent [by half of what the company previously paid]. They're making a real effort and commitment to make sure that the theatre moves forward."

The Helen Hayes Theatre Company is located at 123 Main Street in Nyack, NY. For more information visit www.hhtco.org.

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