Deadline Looms for Shakespeare Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, CA – Dana Werdmuller has fond memories of the Festival Glen. It's an outdoor stage surrounded by redwoods behind the Theatre Arts Department at UC Santa Cruz. Here the Shakespeare Santa Cruz Theater Company has performed summer shows for the past 27 years. Werdmuller first came as a fan, then as an employee. She handles marketing for the theater company. "That piece of wood out there is a powerful space," she said pointing to the stage, "And it will remain powerful if we're not here, but not in the same way and not for as many people and that breaks my heart."

Shakespeare Santa Cruz may not perform this summer or ever again. This last season, the theater company lost about $500,000. It has operated at loss since 2002 with the University picking up the tab. But faced with state budget cuts and a crisis of its own, UCSC can no longer make up that difference. The University has given Shakespeare Santa Cruz a short deadline. It has until noon Monday to come up with $300,000 or the theater company will go dark. "A lot of people have said well you'll go dark for 2009, but can't you come back? In practical terms, the answer is no. What will happen is staff will be terminated, positions will be eliminated, the program will cease to exist," said Werdmuller.

In this economy, many arts organizations are facing similar problems. Alberto Rafols with The Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County says his phone has been ringing off the hook. The council provides financial support to area arts organizations, including Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Rafols says if the theater company goes dark, the impact will be far reaching. "Theater in Santa Cruz without Shakespeare Santa Cruz is not going to look good. You have the economic implications because Shakespeare has been one of those few organizations in the County because of the quality of what they do and the excitement of their productions they attract a lot of people from out of the community," said Rafols.

Back at the Shakespeare Santa Cruz on campus office, the staff of seven is keeping tabs on their future as the donations steadily come in. With just a few days to go, they're more than halfway there. Managing Director Marcus Cato says if the 2009 season moves forward, they'll also cut back in other ways. Plans include furloughing staff in the off season or reducing hours. Also, they will do three shows instead of the usual five. "You know we're trying to be smart. I mean one of the plays were doing, Shipwrecked, is a three actor play where two of the actors play multiple roles, like 10-15 roles each, those two actors. It's a play about imagination, story telling, so there's not a lot of lavish costume or scenery," said Cato. The 2009 season will also include some Shakespeare. A Mid Summer Night's Dream and Julius Caesar will be performed in the Festival Glen, if they reach their goal. If they don't, all donations will be returned.