What Went Wrong that Killed the Firehouse Theater

in Fort Wayne, Indiana

Back to Firehouse Theater Home Page Screenshot

-My inexperience and optimism.
- Underestimated costs.
- Started without enough crew and key people.
- Assumed the neighbors would come to shows. They did not.
- Assumed the families of actors would come regularly. Didn't.
- Started shows before stage, lights, curtain and procedures were done.
- Did not take time off from constant shows to work on publicity, stage, procedures, organizing.
- Did not crack down on actors who weren't trying hard enough. Afraid they'd quit.
- Let someone's theater debt build while I struggled to pay the bills.
- Local Newspaper Entertainment Editors do not go see shows, yet decide which theater directors to interview about their upcoming show.
- I averaged about two volunteers at any time, rarely more, often zero especially at first.
- Yet we did over 75 different shows, many of them very good.
- Most of the time there were more people on stage than in the audience.

March 29, 2010
I officially left the building Feb. 17. I peeled off scotch tape, patched and painted the walls, had the carpets cleaned. I have paid all my rent and utilities. I paid the water, gas and electricity of the interim director.

I had left the Firehouse Theater to that interim director middle of June 2009, and took it back in October 2009 after he was evicted Sept. 28. Since then a few people have been happy to get back their valuable belongings that got locked inside when the interim director was evicted. The landlords Ray Easterly and Mark Nelson thought the interim director would be pressured by these people to pay up the 2+ months of back rent so they could get their stuff back, but the interim director simply told his angry actors that I was jealous of the improvements he had made to the stage and that I had convinced the landlords to kick him out because I wanted the place back. He had told people he was all paid up, and told them he had an attorney who would take the landlords to court to get their stuff back. He had no attorney, it was another lie to get more time. People came by to collect their expensive stage lights, electric keyboard and an upright piano, expensive tools, costumes, and a long table.
He had gotten people to pay for all the materials to improve the stage; it really did look good (wish I was good at getting people to help me) and it all had to be taken apart and given away when I couldn't pay the bills as the winter wore on.

Sat. Feb 6
We did not get enough ticket sales to pay the bills. December's "A Christmas Carol" show lost money. January shows covered utilities but not enough for February's rent. I had to use my family's money to pay the back rent, and that is what I swore not to do anymore.

I asked and asked for people to come to shows, to pledge to come to future shows, to rent space in the building, to do shows here. I got very little response. I think I've been on the brink of closing so many times but pulled through, that people didn't believe me now, they think I was just complaining before. There was also a person who ran up a huge theater debt to me last year and that didn't help my finances, in fact, it explains a lot.

As of yesterday, Saturday, Feb. 6, we have removed the costumes, props, most of the furniture, the lights, grid, curtains, and stage carpet and are starting to dismantle the proscenium. A theater group willing to put all that back together could still waltz in here, pay the rent and have it all, but on Tuesday, Habitat for Humanity will take away the platforms and lumber and this will go back to being an empty building.

I would like to thank the parents and actors who worked on shows and came to see those shows. I would like to especially thank the few people who came to other shows and helped me ongoing. I will thank them personally.

I will write up details and add to the History of the Firehouse and Past Shows page, which has a link above, in two weeks, maybe. Right now I have plenty of work dismantling the platforms and proscenium and getting the rest of the stuff out. And I still need to paint and clean. I'd appreciate help with that.

Thank you Rachel and my family for helping me haul out all those costumes, props and furniture, load after load. And thank you Al for helping get the lights down and for catching me when my ladder tipped off the platform.

If you are feeling sad, so am I. Go look at the History page or check out the photos. And come back in a few weeks and I'll put up more photos that I never had time to do before. And I'll have time to make DVDs of most of the 75 past shows we did here, so if you were in a cast, hopefully I'll be sending a DVD notice to you soon. And I'll be going back into video production.

This has been a learning experience for me to put it mildly. I will write up what I think I did wrong, what I couldn't control, what I did not understand and the story of the Firehouse Theater's 3.5 year life.

-- Jeannette Jaquish

-----A Journal of a typically difficult time:

Dec 5, 2007 UPDATE
The building owners have improved the heating system so our heating bills will go down! Hurrah!
I have announced the Spring 2008 list of shows and are good titles. I have put up an orderform on the website that uses PayPal to take orders with credit cards. I have people who want to sell season tickets for commission and if they pass out flyers with their name on them, the buyers can click on their name on the online orderform and the sellers get their commission. The tickets have a satisfaction guaranteed refund policy if they just request it within 24 hours after the final performance.
I really need someone to volunteer to organize the many volunteers I have. There are many simple jobs that I do not have time to do that would greatly help the Firehouse. I am just so busy with rehearsals and getting the next show up, I cannot even go down the list to call potential helpers.
Courtney Jodway, a 14 year old girl, is directing Frog Prince which performs in January. She is young but driven and eager to learn. I hope I can find directors for most of the other shows in our 2008 Spring Season.
Our attendance at the Quirky Plays Festival was very low even though the audience laughed and laughed. For some reason the News-Sentinel didn't run our notice the last 2 of the 3 weekends, I don't know why. Whatzup? did, and I don't know about Journal-Gazette. As usual the audience was mostly family of the actors. The last show 5 customers showed up, all with free or dollar off coupons that I passed out (I passed out 200 at Pine Hill, 200 at Franke Park School, 500 at Imagine School, and 30 in the neighborhood. My son Rigel (who was acting) 's teacher brought two of his school friends as a reward for good scores and two from the neighborhood came. Why can we not get people to come to shows?

Sept 17, 2007

To All Those Interested in Community Theater,
The Firehouse Theater at 1245 E. State can be a continuing profitable success if multiple producers are filling its stage slots.

Recently, Wizard of Oz and Stars & Stripes had sold out crowds. If we could put out such shows every weekend we'd be rolling in the dough. But quality shows take weeks of preparation, and the Firehouse needs more producers.

In less than 15 months we’ve done 16 shows and over 100 performances. No other theater group in town can touch that. We have finally become known, and have many other advantages.

If you haven’t seen the building you should call me for a look. Its layout is near perfect for a theater. The stage room has great acoustics, backstage has 2 dressing rooms, 12 costume and prop closets, two nice restrooms, a comfortable upstairs rehearsal space same size as the stage, a large costume room and storage. The 1926 firehouse architecture is charming. East State Street is upgrading with paving, streetlights and trees.

We built a 2 foot high stage and tiered audience seating in 9 inch steps, and upholstered the seats ourselves. There is a 78 seat capacity and 73 fit comfortably.

A tremendous amount of work has gone into this building since its days as Enginehouse #10. Two firemen bought the building and remodeled it. I used my family's money to build platforms, erect curtains and a lighting grid, and got variances for parking and sprinklers, added exit signs and made the doors swing out. We ran at a loss for many months building up community awareness and putting out all those shows.

Right now, I must find at least one other producer, or people to take on major responsibilities such as costuming or sets, to create more shows to pay the bills. And, since my family plans to leave town next summer, I am looking for a responsible individual or group to pass on the platforms, equipment, costumes and stuff to continue the theater. The holidays approach when people habitually go to theater -- I want quality shows and to be able to safely sell season tickets for next year. Come do a show and share the profits!

I must decide now whether to contract to pay $400 for Firehouse to be in the Best Book phone listings, and decide whether to invest $300 in bumper stickers. If no other producers or prime players show up, these would be wasted investments because I am one person and cannot produce enough shows to pay the bills.

An internet search shows many classy “firehouse theaters” across the U.S. With just a few more producers, Fort Wayne's Firehouse Theater can become a thriving success story.

Jeannette Jaquish
Unpaid Exec. Director
Firehouse Theater
1245 E. State, Fort Wayne, IN 46805
E-mail: firehousetheaterfw@yahoo.com
Website: www.firehouse-fw.com

Update July 24, 2007

The Firehouse has been doing a lot better lately, mostly because wonderful Kim McCutchan came in and helped me with theater camp and produced Stars & Stripes with no help from me at all. However, she is mortal and has to go on with her life, but with her help we actually earned more than the month's expenses.

We also have an increasing number of bands who want to play here and are happy to split the ticket sales, and two improv groups who have zero expenses yet still can sell $5 tickets for shows.

Things are looking up, but I'm afraid it is not enough. I have come to the conclusion that the Firehouse will have to close.

Two main reasons:
1 - I will not do this forever and no one seems to be stepping forward to do the volume of work that I have been doing. I can continue to provide new scripts and still help, but I am not willing to work this hard for no pay much longer, and besides, my family plans to move within the year.

2 - The building itself is too expensive to heat during the colder winter months. It is a beautiful building with a layout nearly perfect for a theater, but it has 14 foot high brick walls between us and the weather. When outside it is 6 degrees below, the bricks transmit that cold to the inside. Last February's utilities were $700. There is also a, let me say, "unusual", configuration for the moisture drainage pipe on the upstairs heater/cooler that requires the upstairs to be kept at 45 degrees F. As there is no insulation on the roof and a few small air passages to the outside, heating the upstairs is a constant expensive struggle. This past February we could not get the building warm enough to be comfortable. I recall one day that we came in to rehearse and the heater could not get it above 39 degrees.

It also has, let me say an "unfortunate", configuration for the intake and outake ductwork: They are both in the ceiling and near to each other. Warm air is propelled down from the ceiling and as it is warm, stays up at the ceiling, until it is sucked in the intake vent to be reheated. The warm air simply has to build from the ceiling down to ever reach the people on the floor. Fans are the simplest remedy for this.

I can imagine maybe not solutions but improvements to both these problems of the drain pipe and the ductwork, but the owners do not seem interested in changing anything, and though are very polite friendly, and say they'd like me to stay, seem to think there is nothing that can be done. I think if a 1 or 2 year lease were dangled in front of their faces they might do some insulating improvements.

(They also will not budge on letting me attach, even with a skinny 1/4 inch screw, anything to the ceiling so the lighting grid and stage curtain suports look very amateurish.)

I had hoped to get this theater started and that other people would take it over but with these cold weather expenses it seems unlikely.

One solution I can see is to lose our amateur status in the community.

With costs of $800 a week last year, I was trying to put out shows every weekend and so there was never enough time to do them right. We never had enough rehearsal time, we never had costumes, props or tech done on time, or were able to get enough publicity out or take advantage of many opportunities to really make it good. I think some people saw what was missing, and what was wrong and thought that this was how I allowed or intended things to be, that I just had low standards or was incompetent. I think this created an "amateur" status for the Firehouse that we cannot shake.

It just seems to me that there is another class of people who act in and attend the other "better" theaters in town. To put it simply, I know, or know of, many respected theater people who I have never seen in the Firehouse. I find this strange, for, were I one of them, I certainly would go check out new competition or go to support theater in general.

I explain this because I think if we could somehow gain respectability we could fill more seats and maybe charge more and maybe get some money socked away to survive the cold months. Perhaps spend the money on space heaters and the electric bill to warm the audience, or close the place down and just have a few snowsuit wearing techies and actors preparing the next show in a cold building.

Or more people could get involved and more money-making events: classes, a cafe, dinner theater, more kinds of low tech shows. We are halfway there now - we have had large crowds for Wizard of Oz and Stars & Stripes, but it takes work to make these events happen.

More events, reduce the building costs for each and people could actually start getting paid.

But it is useless for me to spearhead such an effort because the Firehouse will only continue if others start doing the work.

So I'm telling you that if no one calls me and says they want to start producing shows or taking on a major responsibility, such as publicity, or cafe, or costumes, or assisting the director, or organizing volunteers, that Alice in Wonderland will be our last show and we will end mid -September.

(I think I will be able to do a good job on Alice because I still have nearly all the scenery and costumes from our last production of it, so I will have more time to prepare for rehearsals. It might be the first show here that shows what I can do when I have enough time.)

If anyone knows how to contact the "respectable" actors in town please tell me. Where do they hang out? Do they have a webforum? Maybe some of them would like to form a troupe and do a show here.

But whatever, it needs to start now. I need to give the owners 30 days notice.

Jeannette Jaquish 750-9013

April 23, 2007 UPdate
The Firehouse Theater is going on a month by month rental and another director, Kim McCutchan is co-directing the summer camp, and directing the Stars & Stripes Musical Revue. Bands are scheduling nights and the East State Street Merchants Association improvements have begun. It looks as if we will have a streetlight right in front of the building so we won't be in such a dark hole.

Today I talked with Sam from the Rib Room and he was agreeable to the idea of doing dinner theater with them. I have a small Mystery Theater Troupe that would love to do shows for dinner theater, but that I'll need help to costume and crew it.
Bands have discovered the Firehouse and are happy to split the ticket sales to have an all-ages venue for their performances. (And I love not having to produce the show, just unlock the door) So far all have been exceptionally polite and considerate. We have two scheduled in the next 2 weeks.

All this is looking good, but it is not enough yet to muster the money for next month's rent. Ticket sales for "Senseless Acts of Comedy" are poor. We earned $30 and $28 in the first two performances. We have $93 in the bank. We need about $2,400 by May 12. I have not signed the new 2 year contract yet because I will no longer obligate my family and lose money.

I wish someone could figure out why people don't come to our shows. I have re-sent the press release changing the title of "Senseless Acts of Comedy" to "The Strange Saga of Lucky the Leprechaun" in hopes that the familiar name will bring in customers.
Where will the rent money come from? I don't know. We must keep plugging away. I need a good idea.

We still need lots of help. Please volunteer to join a crew to do costumes, publicity, etc. And most importantly COME TO A SHOW!!!

The Firehouse does not take grants - we depend on a paying audience to decide if we should exist. If you want to donate, your money will be used on free tickets to the needy.

Jeannette Jaquish, the leaseholder will no longer pay for losses from her family's savings account (checking account now, actually). If ticket sales do not pay the bills, the Firehouse will close.

For now I am still plugging away, going on with the next shows and the camp. I will not cash anyone's check for an event that might not happen, but will hold them until the event is ready. I don't think we will have the rent on time, but maybe the landlord will wait if I can show lots of registrations for camp which should bring us in almost $4,000 on the first day, June 7.

Written Jan 2013:
Notes nearly 2 years after Firehouse closed: Well, I did continue using my family's money, because when I did taxes, expenses exceeded income by about $10,000 per year.

The camp did not bring in $4,000. Maybe $400 from campers minus food and expenses, it was a struggle to get enough kids to fill the cast. Ticket sales made maybe $1,200 for 6 performances, not even rent. The show was very rough because Wizard of Oz is very difficult and these were ordinary kids, and it was just me making costumes and supervising kids making scenery. We performed it during Three Rivers Festival and sold more tickets, than ever before, though. I learned that people want familiar already successful titles, and that TRF is an unusual time when people will go outside of their routine to do something different, like see a play. TRF listings are expensive though. We re-performed that Wizard of Oz show at least twice every year. It and Alice in Wonderland and A Christmas Carol actually brought in people who did not have kids in the show.