In early December, Scott Phillips, artistic director of Sonoma County Repertory Theater, let it be known that the 17-year-old company was in serious financial trouble, and that unless at least 40 grand was raised by Jan. 1, the company would be forced to close its 75-seat theater in Sebastopol. Though some members of the theater-loving community did step forward with sizable donations, it was all too little, too late. On Jan. 12, Phillips announced that the Rep’s production of Cyrano, opening a three-week run this Friday night, will be its last. The company founded by Jim DePriest and Shad Willingham in 1993 will officially close its doors Feb. 20.
“It’s an incredibly sad moment for Sonoma County theater,” Phillips says. “Times have changed, and the foundations that once supported companies like ours are no longer funding us. We’ve cut every bit of fat there was to cut, and there’s nothing left to cut. It was a very hard decision, but we just can’t continue, not at the same level of artistic craftsmanship we’ve always been known for.”
The irony is that the closure comes after one of the Rep’s strongest years, with last season’s shows selling between 80 and 90 percent of capacity.
“No theater company can survive on box office alone,” Phillips adds. “In the past, we’ve had incredible support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Hewlett Foundation and the community. But grants are just not available anymore, given the state of the economy.”
Phillips reports that enough money has been raised for the company to pay all of its debts. For season subscribers, an agreement has been arranged with Santa Rosa’s Sixth Street Playhouse in which Rep subscriptions will be honored for certain shows. The Sebastopol Shakespeare Festival, which the Rep has produced for several years, will continue in Ives Park, with King taking a leadership role.
As for Phillips, he says that he won’t be a part of future efforts by the Rep, since he’ll be relocating to San Francisco.
“I’m done, what can I say,” Phillips said. “I’ve put heart and soul into this company, and I’m exhausted. I started out as an actor, so I plan to return to just acting, starting over in San Francisco. That said, I will always be proud of the work we’ve done at the Rep, and of what we’ve accomplished here. This has been an incredible experience.”