Musical may be silenced

State budget cuts mean WWCC will not supply seed money for the annual production.

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WALLA WALLA -- The lights may not light up, the popcorn could stay unpopped and the singers may not sing.

Walla Walla Community College Foundation's annual outdoor musical might be silenced by budget cuts this year, said foundation Director Doug Bayne.

Traditionally the upcoming musical is announced by this time of the year, and plans for informational meetings and auditions are well under way. This fall, however, officials at Walla Walla Community College made an "executive decision" to not supply the seed money for a 2012 production, he said.

That money goes toward royalty fees for materials, solidifying the director's contract, supporting some students in the production and helps fund some paid positions, Bayne explained.

Add that to "dramatic" state funding cuts to education and it puts the immediate future of the yearly event in question. "It made us look at what can we do and at what level?"

The summer musical, birthed in 1981 with a presentation of "Oklahoma," traditionally runs three weekends every July, Bayne said. "If we go forward, we will have a budget and that budget has to be covered."

A summer musical can run $100,000 to $150,000 to produce, "depending on set production, costs of rights and what we determine is needed to meet those rights," he said. "It is not an inexpensive event."

Jessica Barkl, who directed several of the foundation's biggest hits, is leaving her positions at Walla Walla Community College, perhaps due in part to the uncertainty of the 2012 summer musical, he added.

Barkl is part-time media tech and adjunct instructor at the college.

The event, which helps support the foundation's student scholarships, requires large audiences to support the venue of the Fort Walla Walla Amphitheater and not every show brings those numbers in, Bayne explained.

The attendance for this summer's "Hairspray," for example, averaged 600 per night, he said. While it was a "tremendous success" for Barkl, $80,000 in ticket sales was $10,000 less than production costs.

Ultimately, paid attendance is the make or break for the summer musical, Bayne said.

Several people have expressed interest in moving forward for this coming season, but Bayne and his staff await the green light from the board of governors. If a decision is reached to do the summer musical, immediate action will be required to make that happen, including support of about $30,000 from the community, he said. "And that is a significant amount of money for a summer musical. And there are other events in the summer that people are being asked to give to."

With a number of professional events springing up in the Valley, maintaining the quality of the summer musical, which is "held dear" by many in the community, is paramount, Bayne added.

When the Walla Walla Community College Foundation event began, there were not as many other choices for summer entertainment, both for the consumer and the thespian, Bayne said. "The summer events have grown and people have options for their entertainment dollars that weren't there even three, four, five years ago."

The foundation will maintain its contract with the city's parks and recreation department for the amphitheater, doing whatever tasks that calls for, until the contract comes up for renewal, he said.

The summer musical was skipped in 1984 and resumed the next year, he noted. "Again, there are ramifications of budget cuts and state funding reductions and this is one of them."

If Bayne hears "go" from his board, he will begin reaching out to potential sponsors and past creative team members, he said. "It's a very challenging time and requires a lot of community input."

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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