hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

August 21, 2013

Fee cut saves theater performances

City Hall auditorium made affordable for community groups

By Shawn Regan
Staff Writer

---- — The show will go on.

The city has agreed to cut the cost of renting the City Hall auditorium in half for a local theater company that was in danger of not presenting its performances this fall.

Spotlight Playhouse, a Haverhill-based nonprofit community theater company that rehearses and performs exclusively in the city, will pay a maximum of $2,500 to use the Nicholas J. Ross Auditorium for the October production, Mayor James Fiorentini said.

The acting troupe appealed last month to Fiorentini and the City Council to reduce the city’s original $5,500 estimate for the venue, which the group said it could not afford.

That estimate included $1,280 to rent the auditorium, $2,325 for custodians, and $1,845 for separate police and firefighter details.

The mayor said Public Safety Commissioner Alan DeNaro agreed to waive the requirement that a separate police officer and firefighter be hired to staff the auditorium for each show, instead requiring just one or the other. Fiorentini said he agreed to charge the theater group for a custodian only when one would not be at City Hall as part of their regular work hours, such as on weekends. That reduced the custodian fee from $2,325 to less than $1,000, the mayor said.

And last week, City Council voted to reduce the general fee for renting the auditorium by $250, the largest reduction allowed under the ordinance governing the venue.

The mayor added that the possibility exists that the theater company can further reduce or even eliminate any public safety charges if it can find a police officer or firefighter willing to staff any of the shows for free.

“What this showed is that the changes we made to the rules for the auditorium worked, such as allowing the public safety commissioner to waive the police or fire details,” Fiorentini said of the city’s negotiations with the theater group. “But the best thing that happened is that we learned about some safety issues in the auditorium and were able to fix them.”

DeNaro was willing to scale back the safety detail provisions only after the city repaired lighted exit signs in the auditorium, the mayor said.

The city’s efforts to improve the facility and reduce the cost of renting it drew rave reviews from Scott Helmers, president of the theater company, which plans five performances of “Lend Me a Tenor” for the City Hall auditorium.

“We are very pleased with all the help the city gave us to make this work,” Helmers said. “We received excellent cooperation from the mayor’s office, Chief DeNaro and of course the City Council, which was heavily on our side from the beginning.”

Fiorentini said an Andover children’s theater group rented the auditorium last week and that he is hopeful more community groups will use it in the future.

“It’s a great resource and I’m glad it’s being used,” the mayor said.

Spotlight Playhouse, which formed in 2007 and has performed at various Haverhill churches and at the high school, needs the City Hall auditorium because the churches it has used don’t have stages that are large enough to accommodate its October production and the high school is unavailable at that time.

The set for “Lend Me A Tenor” consists of two adjoining hotel rooms with multiple doors that actors and actresses are constantly using, Helmers said.

City Hall auditorium fee cut in half

:Original cost: $5,500

Reduced fee: $2,500