Budget woes spark arts groups' fears, rumors

At Lucie Stern Theatre, resident performing groups say they'll stay, but some wonder about changing organization

With city budget pressures causing changes and cuts throughout Palo Alto, rumors about the future use of the Lucie Stern Theatre have been flying in the local theater world.

Some directors and other regulars have been speculating that Palo Alto Players, West Bay Opera and TheatreWorks -- the three companies that regularly perform at the Lucie Stern -- will have less access to the Middlefield Road facility that has long been their home. One rumor has the Palo Alto Children's Theatre moving in to take their places altogether.

City officials deny the rumors, and the three companies say they plan to stay at the Stern. Still, some in the theater world have expressed uncertainty about how budget woes will affect priorities at the theater.

The facility operations previously fell under the purview of Palo Alto's arts and sciences division head Linda Craighead, until she retired in 2009. Her position was left vacant "due to the budget crisis," Community Services Director Greg Betts said, and the city eventually consolidated theater operations under Children's Theatre director Judge Luckey, who now manages operations both at the Children's Theatre and the main theater at the Lucie Stern Community Center. As arts manager, Luckey also oversees the Teen Arts Council and some programming at the Cubberley Community Center theater, Betts said.

Luckey said he has no plans for the Children's Theatre to perform at the main theater.

"The Children's Theatre ... is an ideal training ground for children, with good acoustics; they don't need amplification. The Lucie Stern is really too large for that."

Regarding Palo Alto Players, West Bay Opera and TheatreWorks, Luckey said: "The only thing we're taking over is the management of the theater. Those three user groups are very set in their position. They have a very loyal subscription base."

The Children's Theatre does make some use of the set shop at the main theater, and sometimes uses its rehearsal hall as a classroom, Luckey said.

Classes have been an increased focus of the Children's Theatre since Luckey came on board in 2009. The theater has been bringing in teaching artists and has turned a library room into a classroom, he said. In fiscal year 2010, the theater's income from class registrations was 42 percent of its $240,837.25 in revenue -- compared to 38 percent for ticket sales from its core productions.

Luckey does have a city mandate to increase revenue at the main theater, he said. At the moment, "It does not generate enough to cover the cost of keeping the doors open."

According to city budget figures, direct operating costs for running the theater (such as cleaning and supplies) totaled $122,303.09 in fiscal year 2009-2010. User-group revenue from Palo Alto Players, West Bay Opera and TheatreWorks came to $58,671.

The three groups pay no theater rent, and the city covers maintenance and utility costs for the building. Instead, the groups pay the city a surcharge on each ticket sold. The $1 surcharge goes up to $2 this year.

"We are looking at organizing, making it more efficient. That is the only goal we have," Luckey said.

Some of the organizing changes mark a significant adjustment for the groups that have been at the theater for decades. The Lucie Stern was built for the Palo Alto Players, who have performed there for 80 years. West Bay Opera has been there for more than 50 years, and TheatreWorks for 40.

"What we're finding now is that there is a shift from the normal routine that we've had for many decades," West Bay Opera general director Jose Luis Moscovich said.

Moscovich emphasized that his company has not had its hours cut back and said he has a "very good working relationship" with Luckey. But he said he's feeling more pressure to justify and plan his company's every hour in the theater, something that's difficult to do in an organization powered by many volunteers.

"The pressure to make money is generating pressure on small companies to be much more organized and much more efficient. It can be done up to a point," he said.

"It may be that even though it's a small issue right now, it does give us an opening to start thinking about what the goals should be in terms of supporting these long-standing companies that are operating without subsidy except for use of the theater."

Luckey is also trying to increase revenue by attracting more one-time rental events, such as lectures. But there's not much wiggle room; he estimates the theater is filled some 42 weeks a year by its three resident companies.

City space overall is at a premium, with the Palo Alto Art Center and the Mitchell Park Library currently closed for renovations. Performances and classes have been relocated throughout the city as a result, including to the Lucie Stern complex. The Fortnightly Music Club, for instance, moved its concerts from the art center to the Stern ballroom.

"I feel for Judge," Moscovich said. "He's been put in a position to have to generate revenue from what's essentially a cultural facility."

For their part, Palo Alto Players officials issued a statement saying: "Palo Alto Players are happy to be celebrating our 80th season of performances in cooperation with the City of Palo Alto. ... Our patron Lucie Stern provided the theater for Palo Alto Players, and we look forward to being there for many years to come."

Players officials declined additional comment.

At TheatreWorks, Managing Director Phil Santora told the Weekly: "As far as us being in the theater, we have no indication that there's going to be any problems with scheduling or doing what we need to do."

TheatreWorks, which also puts on shows at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, has often looked at other venues for performance, rehearsal and shop space, Santora said. At the moment, there's nothing concrete, he added. "If something evolves, that would be great, but we love being in Palo Alto."

Moscovich, too, said he's "always looking at other venues" but that he doesn't have any plans at this point. His desire for another venue wasn't sparked by debate over city policy, he said, but by a more prosaic concern: The Lucie Stern's orchestra pit is too small for all his musicians.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann contributed to this story.

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Like this comment
Posted by Scottie Zimmerman
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2011 at 11:21 am

Seems to be a logical disconnect in PA's City Council. No money to spend, and yet.... There are plans currently to build a road from the Main Library parking lot to connect it to the Art Center parking lot. This involves cutting down two large, handsome pine trees, paving over part of the Community Garden, and destroying the shed/carport next to the Community Garden. Aside from the non-green aspects (removing trees, grass, gardens), one wonders how the city plans to cover the COST of this project. What is the NEED for another road/thoroughfare? When did people in CARS take priority over gardeners growing food? Who's PAYING for this parking lot extension? How did it get by without public discussion? Same team that cut down the trees on California Avenue?

Like this comment
Posted by Dennis
a resident of Downtown North
on May 5, 2011 at 12:01 pm

If Scottie Zimmerman's assertion is correct, it appears that, in Palo Alto's value system, trees and gardens are mere roadkill. After destroying the tranquility of the library/arts center campus, Palo Alto should focus on removing El Palo Alto to facilitate making Alma Street a through-way for auto traffic. Maybe that would share with Middlefield, the burden of Menlo Park DUI drivers.

Like this comment
Posted by There's-No-Such-Thing-As-A-Free-Lunch
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Maybe it's time that these arts groups start raising some money and paying their own way. Once they are no longer riding the coat tails of the City/taxpayers .. they will have far fewer reasons to be "concerned" about what the City plans to do with its money.

Like this comment
Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Scottie: The plan to cut down the trees and remove grass & part of the community gardens likely got past any public discussion by being included with all the details of the Arts Center building--in other words, we were all distracted by the plans of the building, and our attention wasn't equally drawn to the plans of the landscape.

Much the same happened with the plans for the new Mitchell Park library.

Like this comment
Posted by Kerry
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Why are the "arts" subsidized by Palo Alto? It has never made any sense to me. Does Palo Alto fund Little League baseball, or various soccer teams? I am not talking about providing facilities, like parks, I am talking about operatinal budgets.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Very simply, any group using Palo Alto facilities should pay the full cost for the use. So if the Lucie Stern Theater costs 122,303.09 to operate, that is what West Bay, Theaterworks and the Palo Alto Players should pay. Period.

Like this comment
Posted by Sim Lowe
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 6, 2011 at 5:08 am

The politicians budget cuts are causing chaos all over this nation. They are hurting many families. Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by No-Such-Thing-As-A-Free-Lunch
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 9:34 am

> The politicians budget cuts are causing chaos all over this nation

Ahh .. the problem is that the "politicians" have been spending money that they didn't have any right to (meaning they were borrowing from the future by selling bonds to finance their "give-a-ways"), and the money stream has dried up. Printing money to pay your bills is both unwise, and effectively theft from those holding that money, or promissory notes.

Ideas like "The Great Society" have led us to a point where half the country doesn't pay income taxes, one-in-seven families is on food-stamps, more people work in government than in the manufacturing sector, and we have massive trade imbalances, because the American worker is demanding ever-increasing salaries that make his/her labor uncompetitive on the world stage. Functional illiteracy calls into question the value of the American education system, as has been revealed again this week when it was announced that 47% of Detroit adults can not read, or are functionally illiterate.

Some people might want to blame "the politicians", but really, the American people have no one to blame but themselves.

Like this comment
Posted by Willy SM
a resident of Atherton
on May 6, 2011 at 9:48 am

no such thing:

You moan about manufacturing losses, trade imbalances, functional illiteracy, etc... Please take a look at when that all started going downhill. You'll find it has nothing to do with the New Deal or the Great Society. It started in the 80's.

Granted, NAFTA was a 90's thing, but much of the downturn you listed started earlier.

As an aside: Look at food stamp usage by state - check out the south Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 6, 2011 at 10:55 am

Interesting article - thanks.
Remarks about other venues reminds me Stanford is building (not sure of status of the process) a state-of-the-art theatre, which Lucie Stern Theatre most assuredly is NOT; and at one point, there was some thought that city of PA might share with Stanford in this new facility in some way. This might have helped West Bay and the other groups; but I guess the idea fell through. A shame. Cultural/performing arts groups contribute to the community in a meaningful way and I hope there are ways to for them to continue in a BETTER facility sometime...

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Posted by There's-No-Such-Thing-As-A-Free-Lunch
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 1:17 pm

> You moan about manufacturing losses, trade imbalances,
> functional illiteracy, etc

And you don't?

> You'll find it has nothing to do with the Great Society

Over $5T has been transferred to "the poor" since the GS, which was supposed to "list people out of poverty". Well, it didn't.

> nothing to do with the "New Deal" ..

The "New Deal" set the stage for activist government, which ultimately carried on, in one way or another, after WWII. Maybe the "New Deal" itself wasn't all that bad, for a 3-5 year time frame, but its ideas have not been productive in the recent past .. just expensive.

> It started in the 80's.

Maybe .. but if one were to look at these sorts of declines, one might see that manufacturing began to move overseas after WWII. It certainly moved out of the "rust belt" in the '50s and '60s, given the high (and growing) costs of labor, and the rancorous (and sometimes violent) labor unions. The politicians didn't case this, but they didn't do a lot to help stop it either. In the 1980s, as Japan Inc. was gaining stature, Washington politicians pocketed billions in money from Japanese/Asian lobbyists.

AS to food stamps in the South, this graph is a little less than helpful, since it doesn't delineate how many of these people are recent immigrants (legal or illegal). A lot of Mexican immigration has moved into the South to do farm work.

> functional illiteracy started in the 1980s ..

Really? Got any cites to prove this point? High school graduation rates rose from about 6% in 1900 to about 70% in the late 1960s, and have been stagnant since that time. In some places (like LA) some of the high school graduation rates have dropped into the mid-50%s.

As for people wondering what this has to do with "the arts" .. well, tax money, as well as contributions, are more easily justified in prosperous times. As our manufacturing has disappeared, a goodly source of tax revenue also disappeared.

Like this comment
Posted by Tend2LookDeeper
a resident of another community
on May 6, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Seems to me that the city and residents of Palo Alto get millions of dollars worth of arts programming at the Lucie Stern Theatre from the combined creative talents (and budgets) of West Bay Opera, TheatreWorks, and Palo Alto Players--programming that would cost the City many millions if it were to provide it without the involvement of these three exceptional nonprofit companies. But instead of millions, and according to the article, the City cost in this is merely $63,632 after the groups kick back $1.00 of each admission sold (and less next year if or when $2.00 per admission is kicked back). Folks, this is a win-win! Not only for the City and the groups, but also for local businesses, including restaurants. One only has to look at how huge the taxpaper subsidy is to operate the City's children's theatre program in order to see what an absolute non-issue the cost of operating the adult theater is. And as for the rumors...if there are any City staff members impeding or threatening the good work of the three companies, be that Judge Luckey or whomever, then this must definitely be addressed because THAT must be what the persistent rumors are about.

Like this comment
Posted by Willy SM
a resident of Atherton
on May 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm


"> functional illiteracy started in the 1980s .."

Snip two disparate parts into a quote you wanted to object to....

The New Deal remains the cornerstone of America. Every time folks like you trash it, it shows how out of touch you are...

It saved us from the great depression. it built the middle class. Social Security. Unemployment. Organizing workers and giving them voice.

Like this comment
Posted by There's-No-Such-Thing-As-A-Free-Lunch
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2011 at 2:32 pm

> The New Deal remains the cornerstone of America

Oh yeah! It's a lot more important than our Constitution, personal liberty, a capitalistic system that gives everyone the right to achieve what they are willing to work for. Right, what we need are more CCCs, and WPAs .. more government handouts.

> It saved us from the great depression.

Every credible economic analysis agrees the Net Deal did little to end the Depression. WWII, which took 1-out-of-6 men (and women) out of the job pool, and put almost everyone else to work in the War supply industry is how we were "saved from the Depression".

> it built the middle class.

Silly me .. and I thought that hard work built the middle class. Where do I sign up for the handouts?

> Social Security.

The greated Ponzi scheme ever created.

> Unemployment.

Oh yeah! .. a solid middle class is almost all on unemployment.

> Organizing workers and giving them voice.

You mean like the workers of the now-defunct maritime industry? or the now-defunct steel industry? or the workers of the now-moribund auto industry?

Like this comment
Posted by Alfred E Newman
a resident of Atherton
on May 6, 2011 at 2:52 pm


Why do you hate America so much?

You want to go back to the 20's? Where robber barons ruled, working folks had no protection, where elderly starved, no healthcare, etc...

Watching you two go at this morning, I'm sure I'm not the only one who noticed how out of the mainstream you are. Evidence?

Social Security: you hate it. When the Bushies tried to privatize it, America stood up and threw the GOP out of the House in 2006. YOU are out of the mainstream. Americans support SS in every poll.

The Great Society: you hate it. Medicare is the signature program of that era. Just this month, when Paul Ryan and the GOP passed a bill trying to privatize Medicare, they got spanked by the American public and have spent all week backpeddling. Americans support Medicare in every poll.

And the kicker? your Rush/Beck drivel to try to re-write history: "Every credible economic analysis agrees the Net Deal did little to end the Depression."

Bull. Prove it. Should be easy, if your statement was correct. It isn't. Show me GDP number prior to March, 1033 and after. Unemployment numbers, too. They all disprove your Rush fantasy re-write. The only blip was in 1936 when the republicans in Congress cut spending.

There's a reason that presidential historians put FDR in the top five of presidents, and Bush in the bottom five.

You are out of the mainstream of America. Americans want to rebuild and return to greatness. You hate, and want to tear things apart.

Why don't you move to a country where you have no government in your life? Try Somalia or Afghanistan.

Leave America to those of us who love it.

Like this comment
Posted by Alfred E Newman
a resident of Atherton
on May 6, 2011 at 2:54 pm

make that "March, 1933"

Show your cites. That's what you wanted from Willy, above.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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