Money, staffing cited in closing travelogues

DOWNEY - After 30 years of transporting visitors to exotic locales around the world, city officials are citing staffing and monetary considerations as the reasons they pulled the curtain on the Armchair Adventure Travelogue Series at the Downey Theatre last month, a decision that has rankled some Downey residents.Although ticket sales helped cover most of the expenses, the city did not profit financially from the travelogues, said Thad Phillips, director of community services and acting theater manager. "It was my recommendation not to continue it," Phillips said. "The economic situation everywhere is uncertain. I was not able to commit this early to a program when we don't know what resources we have." When former theater director Kevin O'Connor, an active proponent of the series, retired late last year, his position was not filled. Instead, his duties were spread to other theater staff and Phillips took over as acting manager. Each travelogue cost about $18,000 to produce, Phillips estimated. That does not include the cost of printing tickets or time spent by employees booking and promoting the shows. Downey resident Paul Winslow, 90, said he and his wife subscribed to the travelogue series for 16 years. He wasn't convinced that travelogues were a drain on city resources. "I didn't think they required that much personnel," said Winslow, a 60-year Downey resident. "The travelogue itself is put on by someone else. And an advantage to the city is it utilizes the theater, which sits idle a good part of the year. So the city gets rent from the travelogue - just heating and cooling is what they have to pay for." Mark Keller, the theater's house manager, said about six employees and one volunteer worked each travelogue, which were presented Sunday afternoons. Travelogue producers doubled as narrators during the shows and were paid for their time. Keller declined to say how much travel producers were compensated, but conceded "it was comparable to what other venues that do travel series pay." Each travelogue showing sold a couple hundred seats, Keller said. "Some films we sold well over 100 tickets on walk-up if it was a popular subject, others, not so much," he said. "It really depended on the subject matter." Phillips said there are currently no plans to reinstate the travelogues, which last month wrapped its 30th season. In the meantime, Phillips said city officials are working to define the theater's exact purpose and target audience. Officials have openly expressed a desire to "revitalize" the theater and make it more accessible to the community. "One of the things we have to determine is what is our purpose?" Phillips said. "You can either bring in programming that someone maybe culturally believes is important but is more expensive, or you can go more commercial and sell more tickets. "What we need to do is identify our niche, at a price point people locally ould be willing to pay."

********** Published: May 1, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 2