By Jenny Neyman
Though a traffic accident Aug. 25, causing significant damage to their building, may mean curtains for the fundraising arm of the Kenai Performers, the organization is planning what its next act will be. After all, in the parlance of theater, the show must go on.
“That’s one of my favorite phrases recently,” said Ian McEwen, president of the Kenai Performers Board of Directors.
A little after noon Aug. 25, a man driving a 2000 Chevy Blazer veered off the Kenai Spur Highway and into the front of the Kenai Performers’ building at 1212 1st Ave., in Kenai, just off the highway behind the strip mall that houses Katina’s Restaurant and Sharps Billiards. McEwen said that he didn’t know how fast the man was driving but, judging from the state of the building, it was a high rate of speed.
“He went through the Sharps Billiards’ parking lot, across that next street and right through the front of our building and all the way back into the shop. Yeah, he was moving,” McEwen said.
When he first got the call that someone had driven into the building, McEwen assumed it must have been a car parked or pulling up to the front of the building, where the driver accidentally hit the gas instead of the breaks.
“That’s what I thought at first, and then I got there as they were pulling the car out. He took out one interior wall, some metal clothing racks and took out another interior wall — including all of the dressing rooms — and ended up partway in the shop in the back,” McEwen said.
The driver was taken to the hospital but no one was seriously injured, McEwen said. Had the incident happened on a Friday or Saturday, there would have been people in the front of the building. As it was a Sunday, the building was empty.
“That was the one thing that we all thought, was it’s lucky it was Sunday, because it could have taken people out,” McEwen said.
He said that the organization still is working with its insurance company and doesn’t yet have an estimate on damages, but expects the figure to be substantial.
“A lot of merchandise was damaged, if not destroyed, and pretty much everything in Curtain Call will at least have to be laundered because of the dust and everything else that was kicked up. Obviously we’ve got a hole in the (exterior) wall, and then two interior walls inside. Luckily, he avoided the security system so that saves us some cash there. I don’t have the numbers yet but it was pretty drastic damage,” he said.
The back of the building is warehouse space, serving as a shop and storage for the community theater company. The front of the building houses Curtain Call, a clothing, shoes and accessories consignment boutique started in 2009 that has served since its inception as the primary fundraising arm of the Kenai Performers. The boutique is now closed and organizers are figuring out, first, what to do with the inventory, and, second, what to do with Curtain Call.
“We’re still up in the air. We’re in the process of just deciding what that next step is,” McEwen said.
Anyone who had items on consignment with the shop can expect to be contacted soon to make arrangements to either pick up their merchandise, if it is undamaged, or a check for its value if it is destroyed, McEwen said. The shop itself will remain closed for the time being, and perhaps permanently, he said.
That poses a costly problem for the Kenai Performers, as the boutique has brought in the lion’s share of the organization’s income in recent years. That puts operations in jeopardy, particularly the elaborate winter community musical for which the Kenai Performers have become known.
“There is a very good possibility that because of this we just won’t fiscally be able to do the big show this year,” McEwen said. “Those run anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000 to do, and if we don’t have the income to back it up, we can’t do it. Unfortunately, most of our fundraising has come through Curtain Call recently.”
The organization has begun cleaning up the space. The next step will be to find storage and decide whether to repair the building or move somewhere else, McEwen said. The Kenai Performers had already been investigating selling the facility, purchased in 2010. The original plan was to renovate the back warehouse space into a small theater, but renovations proved more extensive than originally expected, especially since doing so necessitated a change in zoning to public assembly, which meant bringing everything up to code — including, among other things, paving a parking lot, upgrading the heating system, installing an air-exchange system and adding bathrooms.
The current board has been investigating finding a space already zoned for public assembly or that otherwise would require less renovations, and selling the building on First Avenue. The damage complicates matters, but might actually have a silver lining if it helps the process along, McEwen said.
“It’s not the ideal situation but neither was this building. Pretty much the whole board has discussed this, we’re looking at this in the perspective of moving in a new direction that will help lead to a more ideal situation, and just seeing where this takes us,” he said.
The organization is accepting donations to help with expenses, as well as help in cleanup and moving to storage. McEwen said that anyone interested in helping, donating or keeping abreast of further developments should visit the website for updates, at www.kenaiperformers.org, and sign up to receive the organization’s email newsletter, if not already receiving it.
Though this is more drama than the theater company would like, this is not the first time in the Kenai Performers’ 40-plus-year history that it has operated without a facility. For most of its existence, in fact, the organization has lived in people’s garages, basements and storage sheds, and staged community theater productions in gyms, restaurants, schools and anywhere else available all over the central Kenai Peninsula.
McEwen said that plans for an old Hollywood-themed New Year’s Eve gala still are in the works, and suggestions are being sought for shows. Anyone interested can visit the website, click on the Seasons link and submit a suggestion or proposal.
“We would love to have people that have been with us before, and new people getting involved so that we can have a season and start getting our feet under us as we move forward into what the Kenai Performers are going to look like in the future,” McEwen said. “If people can just be checking the website to see how they can help us, so we can keep providing quality theater for the Kenai-Soldotna area, that would be great.”