Theater community anxiously awaiting library board's vote on fee increase

The Las Vegas Clark County Library District Board of Trustees meetings are more often than not routine affairs. But some local community theater groups will be keeping a close eye on Thursday's get-together at 6 p.m. at 833 Las Vegas Blvd. North. Seems there's a proposal to substantially raise the fees for troupes who use the performing arts facilities. Karl Larsen, the founder of the highly celebrated Signature Productions, claims the raises "will put us out of business." Here's a letter Larsen wrote to the board:

"We have become aware that there is a proposal to be introduced at your next board meeting concerning raising the use fees for the Library and Performing Arts Center. I spoke with deputy director Robb Morss and asked if I could make a presentation to the board. He told me that there would probably be no public comments before the vote and we probably could speak after the vote. If this is true then I want you to know our feelings before you take a vote on this proposal. We realize this is a tough issue to have to vote on.

"Signature Productions is a non-profit community theatre company. We have been producing 'Quality Family Entertainment' at the Performing Arts Center since May of 1995. We do three to four major productions per year. We have performed 35 shows at the theatre. The Las Vegas Review-Journal voted us the 'Best Theater Company' for 2010. Our productions bring in an average of 5000 people to the library with each show. We believe that we are an asset to the community and to the library. We have been good renters, with our actors performing at schools, reading for library story hours and providing free shows to the under privileged, Child Haven, low income schools and providing scholarships to worthy drama students.

"We agree that fees have not been increased much, and need to be raised. We are more than willing to absorb some increases in fees. But the increases should be smaller and increased in a more gradual way depending on the economic conditions of the Las Vegas area.

"As I understand the proposal, it raises the theater rental fees to $50.00 per hour for non-profit and commercial clients. We are currently paying $50.00 for the first 2 hours and $10.00 for each additional hour. The technician fees would go up to $35.00- $70.00 per hour from $12.00 - $18.00 per hour... The dark days are proposed to be raised from $40.00 to $100.00 per day. This represents a 300-400% increase in fees. Since we book the theater one year in advance at 50% of the estimated cost this would tie up large sums needed for the current shows.

"This rise in fees will essentially put us out of business. Our shows are priced to be able to cover the costs of the productions. We are funded primarily by ticket sales. Our only grant is a grant that was slashed from $11,000.00 to $5200.00 for the whole year. I looked back at the last 10 shows and found that half of them lost money and the other half made a small profit. The net result was we were at a break even position.

"We are all volunteers and receive no money for our efforts. The actors are not paid, although a few professional technical staff members receive a small stipend. Our productions average $85,000.00 per show. We bring quality Broadway-caliber theatre to the community at an affordable price. Our ticket prices range from $15.00 for children to $25.00 for adults and $23.00 for students and seniors. To absorb these fee increases we would be forced to charge our patrons $50.00-$65.00 for a ticket. You can imagine the results of this move.

"If we are put out of business there is not another company that could afford to take our place. As you are aware many theatre companies are now out of business. We have been a community theatre company for the last 21 years. In my conversation with Morss he mentioned that we could look for another venue. Let me assure you that there are no venues available for our large musical theater productions, with the exception of the strip hotel theaters. Your theater has the essentials of a Broadway stage that we need.

"We realize you are faced with a difficult financial situation. We hope that we can continue to be part of the libraries continuing service to the Las Vegas community. If you would like to meet with our board or me I am available at your pleasure. We have worked well with the library and theater staff and hope to continue to be able to produce 'Quality Family Productions' at the Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center. Thanks for this opportunity to express our concerns."

--Karl M. Larsen