EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 24, 2013

City looks to cut auditorium fees

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — The city hopes to trim by half the $5,500 it was expected to cost a local theater group to use the City Hall auditorium for five shows this fall.

Spotlight Playhouse, a Haverhill-based nonprofit community theater company that rehearses and performs exclusively in the city, wants to rent the Nicholas J. Ross Auditorium for its October production of “Lend Me a Tenor.”

But the troupe cannot afford the estimated $5,500 in city fees and other charges for five shows that would take place on two consecutive weekends.

The fees include $1,280 to rent the auditorium, $2,325 for a custodian, and at least $1,845 for separate police and firefighter details, according to a breakdown of the cost provided by Scott Helmers, president of the theater company.

The theater company has asked the mayor and City Council to waive or reduce the fees. Councilors were receptive to the request when it came before them two weeks ago and again last night.

David Van Dam, Mayor James Fiorentini’s aide, told councilors last night that he is working with the group to reduce the fees, but that he needs at least one more week to finalize the arrangements.

Van Dam said the state Fire Marshall’s Office offers a free online course in which anyone can get certified as a “house manager” to perform the duties of a fire detail, subject to approval by local public safety officials. The city’s fire and police chiefs have indicated they would accept such a person in place of a firefighter for the theater group’s shows, Van Dam said.

Van Dam said the ordinance controlling the auditorium allows the city to waive $250 in general rental fees, but no more. The biggest expense is for custodians, because they would be working the weekend shows at overtime pay rates, Van Dam said. Any time custodians are used during their regular City Hall hours, there would be no charge to the private group, Van Dam said.

Councilors agreed to table the matter until their next meeting in two weeks.

“I’ll definitely have an answer by then,” Van Dame told councilors. He added later that he believes the cost of renting the venue can be reduced to less than $3,000 for the five shows.

The theater company, 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 the 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.

Helmers said the high school auditorium is the preferable venue, but that school officials told him it would be too much of a disruption to have the stage set up for the play over two weekends during the school year.