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Story, Not Spectacle 

How George Green resurrected the Lake City Playhouse through business savvy and back-to-basics theater

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When George Green took over the position of executive artistic director at Lake City Playhouse in 2010, the justifiably skeptical assumption was that he’d have little choice but to help guide the 50-year-old Coeur d’Alene community theater gently into its grave.

The number of season-ticket holders had fallen below 70, only around 40 of which had paid. Lake City owed publishing houses $13,000 in back royalties, and those same publishers were refusing to license new plays until they received a further advance payment to the tune of $14,000. The theater had a paltry operating budget of $60,000. The building was rotted, leaking and the equipment was ancient.

Instead of making incremental changes, Green immediately began the sweeping reform that was necessary to transform the playhouse entirely. He started soliciting donations, thinking of ways to give subscribers a reason to commit to an entire season in advance, and establishing tighter financial monitoring.

More importantly, however, he thought about his theater and how it was unique.

“Anytime someone came to Lake City Playhouse, they were expecting to see big production value at a low ticket cost. And it was never pulled off,” says Green, 41, a Texas native who’s been a notable member of the local theater community as both an award-winning actor and the former director of development at the Spokane Civic Theatre.

So he used the stage he likens to a “bowling alley” to create more intimate settings and deliver new takes on old warhorses — like Oklahoma!, which officially kicked off Lake City Playhouse’s current season and runs through October 13.

“When we do Oklahoma!, we’re going to do [the songs] ‘The Farmer and the Cowman.’ We’re going to do ‘Many a New Day.’ But you scale it down and you make it something different. Our Oklahoma! is all about the front porch. We’re going to focus on the lovers. And there’s some macabre about the smokehouse scene now because it’s up close and personal,” says Green.

“We have an understanding of our space now. We don’t rush from number to number. Audiences now come to Lake City to see how we’re going to pull it off.”

Compare the dire situation of two years ago to that of today: An operating budget of nearly $200,000. A state-of-the-art lighting system and soundboard. Top-to-bottom structural and cosmetic renovations. A subscriber base of 400. At least seven shows per season, many exceeding or on a par with bigger-budget or professional theaters in the region.

Still, there are some boundaries that needn’t be pushed for their own sake. Even after unflinching contemporary musicals like Rent and Spring Awakening, Green is considering something relatively safe for next year’s “Stage Left” production. “We’re leaning toward Avenue Q. If we do Hair, [director] Troy [Nickersen] will want to do full nudity, and we’re not quite ready for that in our community.” 


NEW DIGS AT INTERPLAYERS

Interplayers Theatre has been undergoing hefty interior and exterior renovations that have improved the building’s safety, layout and aesthetics.

The mezzanine area has already been converted from an under-utilized office into an administrative office and conference room. With the help of donations, the theater library has grown to accommodate a 32-year archive of posters, photos and press releases. Recently, a new box office was created out of a former storage area.

The next improvement, already underway, is the conversion of the former box office into a classroom and art gallery.

“I’m very proud of the tremendous work that has been done, largely behind the scenes, to make this building more attractive and safer for our work,” says Reed McColm, Interplayers’ artistic director. “The roof, office improvements, alarm system, new entrance doors, new box office and lobby remodeling have lately made it a pleasure to come to work every day.” 

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