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In mostly $100, $200 and $500 increments, local musical theatre company Lyric at the Birch is inching its way toward averting crisis.

The musical theater company, which owns and operates the Birch North Park Theatre, has raised about half of the sum it said last month it desperately needs, the company’s general director Leon Natker told me this morning.

“We’ve raised just about $100,000, and we’re aiming at another $100,000 by the end of the year,” he said.

But even if that fundraising goal is met, the company might sell the historic theater it owns (and carries a $4 million mortgage on) to a company that could better manage the leasing of the theater to other performing groups, Natker said today.

“That’s a possibility,” he said.

Natker said the financial stress of maintaining a theater when ticket sales and donations are down is significant. Bring in a recognizable name that can sell out the theater, and you’re usually having to pay that act an amount that is difficult to cover and still make any profit, he said.

He said his company, formerly known as Lyric Opera San Diego, is looking for a major events management group that books acts around the country to take over the theater and route those major acts to it. Natker said Lyric has begun the search for such a buyer. “We’ve been having informal discussions with some of them, yeah,” he said.

Another nonprofit arts organization wouldn’t be the right partner, he said.

“Why sell it to someone that’s going to be right back in the same situation?” Natker said.

Though Lyric’s situation is somewhat unique because of its effort to run the theater and produce plays, similar arts groups around town must be making the same kinds of tough decisions. Natker goes to plays himself and sees how many open seats there are, he said. But Lyric’s been more open with its distress.

“I know a lot of my colleagues will want to put on a happy face, as the song goes,” Natker said. “I don’t think there’s any sense in putting on a happy face and then suddenly telling your patrons you’re going to cancel a show or postpone a show.”

The company is currently performing the Barber of Seville.

I’m the arts editor for VOSD. Have a story tip you think I should pursue? Please contact me directly at or 619.325.0531 and follow me on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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