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Cultural icon facing dire financial reality

By Staff | May 21, 2020

A Cape Coral landmark that has produced community theater and entertainment and provided educational opportunities for youth and adults alike, could be facing its final act due to financial issues wrought by COVID-19.

Cultural Park Theater, a staple in Southwest Florida for nearly 60 seasons, has not been able to stage productions and has now reduced its summer camp schedule.

No shows, no tickets sold, no revenue.

“We have been trying to figure out a way through this, just as everyone is trying to in the world,” said Cultural Park Theater Executive Director Michael Moran. “When the people stopped coming through the front door, that literally stopped all sources of revenue for the company.”

He hopes the theater will be able to see another season next year.

“I would say if we don’t find any significant donations or grants, we’ll be lucky to make it through the year, it’s that serious,” Moran said. “We will get the doors open again, but because the doors are open, especially in the beginning, I don’t know if that means people are going to be comfortable yet to attend.”

The Gunterberg Charitable Foundation has pledged to match every dollar donated to Cultural Park Theater.

“Luckily, the Gunterberg Foundation did step in and said they would match what anybody else donates,” Moran said. “It has made a big difference. Now, if someone wants to donate to the theater and can only afford $20, now they know that equates to $40, and that makes them feel better about the money they’re donating.”

A big challenged the theater will face when they are allowed to perform once again, is that they have to pay for the productions they are to put on before hand; otherwise they are not allowed to advertise for the show.

“Before we can reopen and have a list of productions and things are going to be done on stage, those have to be paid for or we’re not allowed to advertise we’re doing them,” Moran said. “And that’s rather costly to say the least. With no funds coming into the theater since March, we pretty much have gotten tapped out with what we’re looking at doing.”

The theater has also been hosting virtual fundraisers on their Facebook page every Friday night, where viewers can tune in for some entertainment. Last week, Dave Rode, “The Piano Man,” performed a tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel.

Fundraising efforts aside, the theater had to shut down still in season, losing revenue from three shows.

Moran said that hit cost the theater tens of thousands of dollars in immediate losses.

The theater’s second-highest steam of revenue, summer camps, has also been impacted heavily by the coronavirus.

His team has been preparing a way to safely have campers come into the theater, even if they have to reduce the number of children admitted each session.

“We’ve been very carefully redesigning our camps so that we can try to get them open,” Moran said. “The city reviewed our plans on how we’re going to social distance the theater and were very happy that we’ve gone to extreme measures to reduce the number of campers and separate them into different rooms within the theater.”

Normally, the theater can take 45 campers per three, three-week session.

This year, the camps are only two weeks in length in three sessions, taking 25 kids per session.

Previously, the camp cost $100/week for three weeks. This year, camp is $142.50/week for two weeks.

Going from nine total weeks to six total weeks of summer camp for the theater also is costing them thousands of dollars, Moran said, even with the price increase.

When the theater is actually able to put on productions once again, it will have to be in front of a limited audience, another blow to the theater’s purse.

Instead of 160 people in attendance for a show, the theater will only be able to seat 70 with social distancing.

“The numbers keep mounting and mounting,” he said. “It’s like half of our money is gone. You can imagine we’re in trouble but we’re hoping for the best and trying to move forward.”

Moran hopes that as the state continues to recover, more grants and economic relief will be available for the theater as well.

In the meantime, the theater will be hosting a large gala event through its Facebook page on June 6 in an effort to raise more funding that can be matched by the Gunterberg Foundation.

There will be an online auction, live performers streaming in and information on the theater, their plans, how the public can help and lots of smiles and great tunes.

“We’re hoping a lot of people will tune in,” Moran said. “Think of it how the Jerry Lewis Telethon used to run.

“We’re really rearranging our outlook now — that we need to put forth major efforts as we reopen in to trying to do specific fundraising events at the theater. We’ll keep looking for grants we can apply for, try to develop some new sponsors through local businesses, it’s a weird world for everybody.”

At the end of the day, Moran said it would be tragic to see a theater close down that has given, and continues to give, so much to the community in the form of the arts — and has for 58 seasons of Broadway shows.

“The best that I can hope for, that as a community theater, it’s reasonable to ask the community to support us where they can,” Moran said. “The community is what we are a big part of, and it goes through the various layers of what the theater is.

“Yes, we put on plays, but we educate children and teach them to grow through the arts. We provide opportunities for seniors to come in and meet other people and apply crafts that they did in previous years. We train adults in musical theater and drama. What people get out of Cultural Park is a lot more than seeing a stage play.”

This weekend, Cultural Park is streaming “Showstoppers,” a show they did in 2006. You can watch the first act this Friday at 7 p.m. and act two next week at the same time on Facebook.

To donate to Cultural Park Theater, visit culturalparktheater.com/donate or call 239-772-5862.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj