Hilton Head Island theater closing

tbarton@islandpacket.comJanuary 17, 2014 

The last curtain call for the S.C. Repertory Company on Hilton Head Island will be May 11, when it closes its doors after 22 years.

Officials of the 73-seat theater on Beach City Road sent a letter Jan. 10 to supporters announcing that this season would be its last.

"We're 80 years old," said Hank Haskell, who founded the theater company in 1992 with his wife, Pat. "We have lots of interests, and running a theater has been a full-time endeavor and (we) are ready to move on to other adventures. Of course, financial matters are always contributing factors in a decision like this."

In recent years, the company's fundraising and grants from the Town of Hilton Head Island have declined, matching a trend among small, nonprofit theaters across the country.

The theater sought $27,000 in revenues from the accommodations tax, which is collected on short-term lodging. In December, Town Council awarded the group $12,000 for 2014.

"SCRC has been fiscally responsible. Our production costs are kept at a minimum, and our overhead is minimal," the company's application said. "Despite that, SCRC's costs are still rising quicker than incoming funds can keep up."

The company trimmed its budget from $219,000 in 2012 to about $189,000 last year by shortening the season from six to five productions and eliminating a full-time associate producer, according to the Haskells and the theater's financial statements.

This year, the theater will host four productions with an average cost of about $35,000, Hank Haskell said. Ticket sales bring in about $22,000 per show. Donations and government grants account for the rest, which have dipped in recent years, according to financial statements.

Last year, the theater partnered with others in South Carolina, Maine and Tennessee to co-produce shows, in the hopes of attracting plays that would appeal to a wider audience, especially island visitors, Hank Haskell said. The theater, on average, fills about 85 percent of its seats per show, he said.

From the beginning, the company fought to distinguish itself as a professional, black-box theater among larger, more popular performance venues on the island, such as the 350-seat Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.

"We've had a niche in the arts world that was somewhat of a miracle these past 22 years," Hank Haskell said.

In 2010, the nonprofit and its supporters launched a letter-writing campaign urging town officials to continue support for the theater after a tax advisory panel suggested the venue was too small and served too few tourists to warrant ongoing funding. Council disagreed and chose to award the group a small portion of tax money.

"We shared the belief that there is a power in ideas that can be best explored on a stage within an intimate setting and with an intensely engaged audience," the Haskells wrote to supporters. "Now, more than 110 plays later, we appreciate that you have served as our sustenance and inspiration."

Kaye Black, a member of the company's board of directors, says Hilton Head is losing "one of the jewels in the arts crown of the community."

"It's sad, but we have to respect the fact this was a labor of love for Pat and Hank Haskell over the past 22 years," Black said. "We need to be grateful to them and show our appreciation for what they've done for Hilton Head Island, allowing us to enjoy this small, intimate theater where the audience feels like they're part of the production."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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