Foothills Theatre in Central MA Suspends Operations

By Kenneth Jones
April 30, 2009

The board of directors and artistic director of Foothills Theatre Company in Worcester, MA, announced April 30 that it will "suspend operations" following its current production of Doubt and will not be able to complete its 2008-2009 season, which was to offer You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

The Equity-affiliated Foothills Theatre "has been faced with an unprecedented combination of obstacles that has sent us into a dire financial state," according to a statement from artistic director Russell Garrett. "As with all theatre companies, we depend on box office revenue along with a combination of corporate sponsorships, foundations and grants, and private donations. But attendance has sharply declined in recent years as have donations and sponsorships, and grant money is ever harder to come by."

The current economic crisis "arrives on top of several other things that have factored into our decision: longstanding debt, competition for entertainment dollars, and the imminent reconstruction of Citysquare which would force us to move our location, even if only on a temporary basis," the board announced.

A recent plea for money, along with a fundraiser, allowed Foothills to continue with the season's planned productions of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and the current production of Doubt. The support was not enough to take the troupe to the end of the season. The summer's education program was scuttled. After the May 10 close of Doubt, a plan to secure and vacate the building we be made.

Garrett told Playbill.com April 30 that "suspends operations" is a better term than "shutting down." The board is still "working to find funding" and a new local home. In the past year, a staff of 12-14 had been reduced to a skeleton crew and many volunteers.

A white knight to bring cash to the Equity-affiliated company would we welcome, and feelers are being put out, Garrett said.

"There are many things in the works behind the scenes that may signal the continuation of the theatre, perhaps in a new form and at a new location," according to the statement.

For more information about the Central Massachusetts company, visit foothillstheatre.com.

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Foothills Theatre Company seats 349 and includes on-site rehearsal space and set and costume shops. They mounted eight mainstage shows each season with 21-25 performances per show. As of June 2007, Foothills had presented 222 productions since its founding.

Marc and Susan Smith founded Foothills Theatre Company in 1974 with a mission "to create, develop, and produce works to entertain, educate, and enlighten a broad-based audience." For its first eight years, the theatre operated from a 200-seat theatre in downtown Worcester, vacating that space in 1982 when the building was sold. Foothills then spent several interim years presenting theatre and other entertainment events in a variety of Worcester venues. Since its 1987, the theatre has enjoyed its current home at CitySquare (formally the Worcester Common Outlet).

In 2001, Foothills debuted the professional Foothills Children's Theatre, producing adaptations of famous stories to entertain youth and parents of Central Massachusetts. January 2002 saw the inauguration of The Foothills Theatre School, headed by Bob Dolan, who served as executive director and also the director of Children's Theatre.

Marc Smith served as artistic director for the company's first 25 years. He was succeeded by Michael Walker, and then by Brad Kenney; both strove to continue the excellence of the theatre by bringing innovative and newer productions to the stage. Russell Garrett assumed the role of artistic director in December 2005. In this position he aimed "to recognize and utilize more New England talent, to create more diverse programming to appeal to an even wider audience, and to forge a Foothills identity that stands apart from reproductions of other companies' work."