Theatre group's last curtain call
By BELINDA SCOTT
COFFS Harbour's most profitable amateur theatrical company has carried out its threat to withdraw from the Jetty Memorial Theatre. The Coffs Harbour Musical Comedy Company (CHMCC), which produced this year's hugely successful Oklahoma! musical, has cancelled two months of bookings for 2007. The CHMCC had booked the theatre for April and October 2007. CHATS Productions will decide at its next meeting whether to follow suit. The secretary of the CHMCC, Maureen Burgess, has advised Coffs Harbour City Council that the group had taken the step, although reluctantly, because there was still no resolution, or any significant progress, on the issues about the theatre raised in May. These issues included increased fees for theatre use; booking fees and compulsory use of the new booking system and groups being banned from using the theatre kiosk. A spokeswoman for Coffs Harbour City Council said yesterday five or six meetings had been held with different groups involved with the theatre, and a report on the main issues raised would go to the councillors in September, as part of a wider report on culture in the city. Cr Ian Hogbin admitted this week that 'the speed in resolving these issues has been excruciatingly slow and disappointing'. But he said the theatre fees had not gone up as originally resolved and he was sure the canteen could be constructed to allow use by amateur groups, although the ticketing issues still had some significant way to go. The CHATS Productions performance of The Sentimental Bloke, directed by Shirley Barnett, has just ended its run at the Jetty Theatre. It is the first local amateur production to run under the new booking system, which includes on-line access. Teething problems were to be expected, but director Shirley Barnett says the group has lost control of its finances under the new system. The lack of choice, the pressure on prices in a low-wage community struggling for every dollar and the loss of the community service provided for the theatre by the hundreds of volunteers who fill hundreds of roles in amateur theatre all concerns her. "Our two biggest block bookings customers have said they are not happy and would prefer to deal with us directly and these are people who take 100 seats at a time and take a big responsibility with booking," she said. Mrs Barnett said the kiosk had raised more than $1000 and with the Sentimental Bloke costing $25,000 this sum could mean the difference between profit and loss. CHATS Productions' secretary, Daniel Billing, is currently preparing a report for the group on the theatre's booking and billing system, as part of a larger report on cultural changes at the theatre since its $1.6 million renovation.