Theater Groups Merge So Shows Will Go On

By Michael J. Toscano
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, March 19, 2006

Two theater groups, the Great Falls Players and C.A.S.T. in McLean, are merging, a move resulting from slumping ticket sales, increasing competition and new guidelines issued by the Alden Theatre of the McLean Community Center, where both groups perform.

Their boards have formed a committee to hammer out bylaws and a charter under which the organizations can unite. They hope to complete the merger and announce a name for the combined group in time for the fall season.

"It's been a very rough couple of years for the community theaters working out of the Alden Theatre," said Bill Glikbarg, president of the Great Falls Players. "Financially, it's been very hard for us."

Concerned about weakening sales numbers, Alden Theatre set minimum attendance figures. It also required that theater companies involve a certain percentage of local residents in productions to get desired stage times. More recently, the Alden said it would cut the number of shows staged by the Great Falls Players and McLean Theatre Alliance. C.A.S.T. has traditionally done one production a year, as has the McLean Drama Company.

"All that certainly affected our thinking, and I don't know if we'd have done this on our own," Glikbarg said. "But, certainly, it had an effect on us."

Although many people active in the three major Alden groups have agreed that it might make economic sense to merge, the companies' differences have made that difficult. Sue Kahn, artistic director and founder of McLean Theatre Alliance, recently said she believed that merging would be impossible. Her group has not been part of the talks.

"A few things have changed," said Jeffrey Shue, president of C.A.S.T. "I became president here last February, and Bill Glikbarg recently became president of Great Falls, so there's been a change of leadership. . . . There has really been a change in the economics in theater the past few years."

Shue said the companies plan to offer combined season tickets this fall. July's production by C.A.S.T. of "The 1940s Radio Hour," its last before the groups merge, offers some clues to what Shue hopes to achieve with a "heightened presence in the community." It will offer multimedia educational sessions for children, a post-show party featuring big-band music and pre-performance events. The Great Falls Players have created an underwriting partnership with a bank to help with their production of "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off" in May.

Claire Kiley, performing arts director of the Alden Theatre, said she believed the merger will strengthen community theater in the area but declined to say how many slots for shows the new group would get. Shue and Glikbarg say they plan three shows for the new group each year, a combination of musicals and plays, and other community events.

Members of the Great Falls Players and C.A.S.T. may have to make adjustments, Shue said. "But we've been cooperating on shows for a long time and sharing resources, so I'm confident this will work out," he said.

The challenge, Glikbarg said, will be meeting the Alden's requirements and seeing that McLean area residents are substantially involved. "We have always picked our casts and crews based on who is best for the particular part or job," he said, "so I'm not yet sure how we're going to make that work."

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