When the Sugar Factory Playhouse chose the British comedy "See How They Run" to open its season, production staff had no idea the title would describe their hunt for a performance space.
The 90-year-old building was abruptly closed Monday by the city of West Jordan after an engineering report showed a brick wall to be seismically unstable. The closure has left cast and crew scrambling for a new venue just days before "See How They Run" opens Thursday.
The wall in question, 50 feet tall and solid brick, does not adequately support the concrete roof and could topple on audience members in a large earthquake, according to the engineering report from BHB Consulting Engineers, which recommended that public access be completely restricted.
The building has been at the heart of a debate over spending taxpayer dollars on arts programs during a recession, said Mayor Melissa Johnson. West Jordan Theater Arts has begged the council to refurbish the old factory to create an arts center, complete with a theater. But with the city facing a budget crunch, mandating the loss of 17.5 employees through layoffs and attrition, the Sugar Factory is a low priority.
Former mayor David Newton is asking Johnson and the council to keep the building open for two weeks while the show finishes its run, but Johnson feels the risk is too great.
"I can't in good conscience put public safety in the background," she said.
Though devastated by the news, the cast is looking for another performance venue and holding rehearsals at a cast member's home, said producer Vic Groves, whose wife Michelle is directing the show.
Groves and the mayor have begun calling around the valley to find other options, including the Jordan School District and the South Valley Theater Association. Though sets and costumes remain in the condemned building, Groves is confident the show will open Thursday, wherever it finds a home.
"When you get in a pickle like this, you really find out who your friends are," Groves said.
Though the building is closed, there are no plans to tear it down just yet. Even demolition would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Johnson said, because of an asbestos problem.
Former mayor Newton would rather see that money go to rebuilding, and is willing to help with fundraising. The long-time supporter built the existing stage himself, and estimates the playhouse building could be refurbished for $1.5 million. He suggests tearing down the dangerous wall as a start, allowing the theater company to continue.
Though "See How They Run" will go on, the rest of the season is up in the air. Auditions for the summer show, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," were scheduled at the Sugar Factory next week. With nowhere to rehearse or perform, its possible the season could end with its opening show.
Sugar Factory production staff are still trying to find a performance venue for "See How They Run," but plan to open the show Thursday. For an update on the show, visit www.sugarfactoryplayhouse.com.