When singer Kenny Rogers croons that you’ve got to “know when to fold 'em,” it strikes a chord with the artistic director of St. Louis’ HotCity Theatre, Marty Stanberry.
Stanberry will close the company after the run of its Dec. 5-20 play, called “Reality.” Reality is also something Stanberry’s struggled with during his 17 years on the local theater scene.
“I’m at the point where the daily battles of running a theater company have just outweighed the fun,” Stanberry said.
Closing Highlights St. Louis Problems
Stanberry founded HotHouse Theatre in 1997 after moving to St. Louis from Chicago, with a goal of exploring modern-day issues through contemporary theater. In 2004, it merged with the iconic City Players to form HotCity.
Money was always an issue but HotCity's staff managed to keep it together while also holding down full-time jobs. Stanberry works as a commercial insurance broker. As his managing director Bess Moynihan contemplated pursuing other opportunities, that figured into his decision to close the company.
The final season included “The Normal Heart,” which was well-received. The fact that it still played to empty seats was another factor in the decision to pull up stakes.
“The reviews were outstanding but the subject matter was the early days of AIDS, it’s a dark play, a very sad play,” Standberry said. “With the reviews, we should have sold out every night and been able to extend, and that wasn’t the case.”
Ticket sales make up about half of HotCity’s budget, with donations and grants comprising the other half. But it was never really enough. Stanberry said the support of local and global corporations would have made a huge difference in their regular season and for the GreenHouse New Play Festival Series.
“They give to The Rep, they give to The Fox, they give to the Black Rep or Stages,” Stanberry said. “For a company like HotCity who delves into the more edgy, the more controversial new play development, nobody seems to want to give any kind of sizable money to keep that going.”
One Greenhouse play, “Cockeyed” was published and performed elsewhere. Two original works by HotCity associate director Chuck Harper played in Fringe Festivals in New York City and Prague. Stanberry is proud of these creations as well as the modern classics HotHouse produced including “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” and “Divine Sister.”
But the St. Louis theater-going public wasn’t always as excited about the HotHouse fare.
“They’ll go to the safe shows. They’ll see a Neil Simon play a million times. But to take a chance and spend $20 on a new play, not so much,” Stanberry said.
“Reality,” the season-ender, goes behind the scenes of a reality -TV show called “Looking for Love.” It’s a world premiere, and a perfect finale for HotHouse, according to Stanberry.
“We wanted to end on a high note, on our terms, when we wanted to and not when we had to,” Stanberry said.
Where: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand Blvd., 63103
When: Thursday-Sunday, Dec. 5-20 (preview performance Thursday, Dec. 4)
How much: $25 adult, $20 seniors
Tickets/Information: HotCity website hotcitytheatre.org/
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL