What’s Next for Beleaguered Majestic Theatre and Others?

By Bethany Carlson

majestic-front1_650The ongoing saga of the Majestic Theatre’s management took a new turn last Thursday when the board of directors of Majestic Theatre Management (MTM) announced, “MTM is currently negotiating with the City of Corvallis to transition operations of the city-owned venue to the City Parks and Recreation Department.” Further plans will be discussed at the Tuesday, Oct. 7 Human Services meeting.

The high turnover of board members and executive directors made consistency and stability difficult in both programming and fundraising, according to the board’s press release. On Sept. 2, the Majestic’s executive director, Tinamarie Ivey, resigned. Ivey declined to comment to The Advocate about her decision.

Steve DeGhetto, assistant director of Parks and Recreation, said that plans are fluid until the Oct. 7 meeting, and that the Human Services department will present its report to the City Council in November. In the meantime, he said, “I believe that the City would want the Majestic to honor their existing contracts,” although the City has not yet received a list of the season’s performance contracts from the Majestic. He said it’s unclear whether the City will take over the theater entirely. Parks and Recreation had previously partnered with the Majestic’s management to maintain the building, while requesting that the theater provide programming which enhances the Parks and Recreation Department’s focus on community engagement and youth education. Successful theater models used in other communities will be considered, DeGhetto said. “This is a great opportunity for people to improve their quality of life with the theatrical arts,” he concluded.

Ivey is the third executive director that the Majestic has had in four years. There has also been a complete turnover of the board of directors since Corey Pearlstein’s 2013 resignation. Former board president Laurie Zink, who resigned in May of this year, was involved in the search and hiring process for Ivey. “I had high hopes for the board,” she said. “I thought we had a wonderful candidate in Tinamarie Ivey, but reality hit, as it always does, and personalities and ideas clashed.”

“Part of it was that she didn’t feel like she had all the support she needed to do the job properly,” said DeGhetto of Ivey’s resignation. Her email of resignation included a phrase which has sparked question, “The stewards of Majestic Theatre are fiscally and ethically responsible for the operation of the venue. As the executive director I take this responsibility very seriously. At this time, I have come to the conclusion that I must submit my resignation as of Sept. 2.” Asked to comment on Ivey’s ambiguous statement about fiscal and ethical responsibilities, DeGhetto agreed,“That stirred the pot. My reaction was, let’s get a third-party audit of the books.” The Majestic had previously made an annual report to the city. Asked if the plan for an audit is concrete, DeGhetto said, “I believe that would be a requirement for the City to move forward in a more active partnership.”

Meanwhile, Christine Hackenbruck, Fall Festival’s executive director, has a different perspective. She’s a former employee of the Majestic, and noted that the phrase Ivey used was a direct quote from MTM’s contract with the City of Corvallis. “I was really surprised to hear that Tinamarie had left. I had really high hopes for her,” said Hackenbruck.

Of the Parks and Rec takeover, Hackenbruck said, “I see that this is probably the best-case scenario for the theater right now, given its recent history.” She expressed sorrow for the Majestic, saying, “It’s kind of like my home—it was my home for a long time. It was the first job I had when I moved to Corvallis.”

The Majestic’s struggle for financial success has been a theme for years. The board’s announcement stated that this year has resulted in a small budget surplus, while acknowledging years of deficit budgets. The theater building and property is assessed by the county at $897,036. The Majestic’s tax returns show expenses exceeding revenue by $47,416 in 2011, $75,943 in 2012, and $93,011 in 2013. The theater is in the difficult position of being an arts organization in a downturned economy, and sharing their audience with OSU’s performances. The financial instability rooting back to the time period when the economy tanked—that’s made it difficult to hire the number and quality of personnel that would be ideal,” said Zink. “Who’s going to work for the kind of salary we can offer?”

Cynthia Spencer, executive director of the Arts Center, feels that the Majestic’s difficulties stem in part from what she sees as a troubling lack of respect for the arts. She mentioned as examples the absence of visual arts in elementary schools, “a City Economic Development Commission that failed to recognize the value of the arts when drafting an economic development strategy [while some thriving communities in our state have based their turn-around strategies on the arts],” and the decline of daVinci Days.       

“We have not always done a good job of expanding our audiences, and keeping everyone actively engaged,” Spencer said of the arts community. However, she cites the good work done by the Arts & Culture Commission to highlight the importance of arts and culture, and said, “I applaud the leadership of our City’s Parks & Recreation Department for helping fund this work even though their budget has been slashed in recent years.

“Until the entire community values the arts in a much greater way,” Spencer continued, “it will be difficult to sustain the wonderful programming provided by organizations such as the Majestic Theatre and daVinci Days Festival, and it could eventually undermine organizations that currently are on more stable footing.”