Majestic Theatre Melodrama & MythBust

By Rob Goffins

MajesticRarely does theater see more drama offstage than on, but the attendant musing from many a quarter over the Majestic’s implosion and next act seems like something out of a script, albeit hastily written and somewhat overwrought. In fact, some of it has become so melodramatic that a little calm debunking and myth-busting seem in order.

To recap, the non-profit contracted to run the City-owned Majestic Theatre has asked the City to take control after it ran through three executive directors in four years and as many board presidents in just the last 18 months. Fortunately, both the current management and the City seem to be on the same page about presenting the season as scheduled.

Less fortunately, the hand-wringing and second-guessing over what happened and what might be a path forward continues.

For instance, some believe that the model of a non-profit and city partnership is not sustainable. However, cities and non-profits partner all the time with compelling results over issues ranging from social services to art and just about everything else. Moreover, in matters of art and drama, to what extent would we want a bureaucracy answerable to political folk, no matter how progressive, to be the arbiters of what’s on onstage? Can the city even operate the theater as cost-effectively as an organization that sees a high percentage of its labor come by way of volunteers?

It seems fair to say that this non-profit did at some point lose its viability, but to damn the whole model seems a little much.

Assertions over the Majestic’s viability alongside the likes of the Whiteside have also resurfaced as of late, but this seems to deny the weekends where both venues ran sold-out shows concurrently.

We’ve also heard calls that a smaller venue like the Majestic cannot break even with only 300 seats. But then, there are shows that are not going to fill 600 to 800 seats—and these need a smaller room. From a curatorial standpoint, the size presents both challenges and opportunities. Let’s not forget the even smaller rooms upstairs that have hosted highly successful lab performances. In fact, some of these smaller shows have been pure profit.

There have been calls for a more cohesive, unified effort among the city’s venues, and probably there would be substantial benefit in that, but there is not one venue for which this is likely a requirement for success, even the Majestic. In other words, togetherness would be great, but there’s no reason to force that issue.

One can see City staff running the theater, but this would necessarily mean an aversion to risk, both artistically and financially. That said, the prior management was sometimes a little overly prudent and therein may lie the crux of this whole thing. Not that we haven’t said this before, but where’s the drama, the risks that compel an audience?

Corvallis is filled with the flame of aspiring talent just seeking the oxygen an audience might offer, and there is space for them, but the room is too often denied by management for lack of cash on the barrelhead, which seems a bit inexcusable in a publicly owned space.

It’s not that some examination is not called for; it does seem best for the City to take the Majestic over for a time and explore some options, possibly putting out a request for proposals and taking time to carefully negotiate a path forward. That said, after of course determining some criteria, passion and generosity may be the ultimate predictor of success here, because in the end, overly pragmatic gets boring quick and nothing will kill a creative enterprise faster than that.

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