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Group proposes taking over Cumming Playhouse
Council hears presentation from Forsyth Academy of Performing Arts
Cumming Playhouse

A large crowd was present for a city of Cumming work session on Tuesday.

During the work session, members of the council and Mayor Troy Brumbalow heard a presentation by Leigh Ann Cannady, owner and director of Forsyth Academy of Performing Arts, about the organization taking over operation of the Cumming Playhouse.  No action was taken during the meeting. 

“My plan for the Playhouse is if we are allowed to lease that space, we would begin producing in-house work there. We would begin producing … community theater there,” Cannady said. “We would also be open to all of the other groups … we just want to help it become a fiscally responsible building.”

According to information on display at the meeting, the Playhouse lost an average of nearly $150,000 per year since 2005. In 2017, the Playhouse brought in $373,701 in revenue and spent $560,319 in expenditures. 

Brumbalow said the group would pay $3,150 each month to rent the facility, totaling $37,800 annually and incurring other costs, such as cleaning.

“In 2017, we paid salary and benefits [totaling] $159,589. That would go away. Contract services were $70,000. That would go away,” he said. “Legal and accounting, in essence, would go to zero. Maintenance and repairs, who know what that’s going to be, but it’s been between $21,000 and $33,000 for the last four years. Advertising and printing were about $51,000. That will go away.”

He said the city would still handle maintenance on the building. 

Martin Baker, whose production company is planning to use the Playhouse this year, said he had concerns with the proposal and felt the city should form a group to look at options for the facility. 

“I request that the city of Cumming form an independent, ad-hoc committee to investigate the best way to [operate] the historic Cumming Playhouse,” Baker said. “In an open-meeting forum, the tough questions can be asked and the best solutions can be determined, then forwarded to the mayor and city council.”

Baker said the facility was never meant to generate revenue, which he compared to the city’s police department, which Councilman Lewis Ledbetter agreed with.

“It was not built for a profit for the city of Cumming,” Ledbetter said. “It was built for the people to go to enjoy the arts.”

The meeting was heavily attended by members of the community, with the majority of attendees having to stand through the discussion. No public hearing was held during the meeting, though attendees did attempt to ask questions and break out into applause after some comments. 

There were also concerns from some about children using a historical building. 

Among Cannady’s proposals were lowering ticket prices with the goal of selling more tickets, having a concert series and increased programming for adults. 

“The Playhouse is a beautiful space, and it’s a treasure for our community. Nothing that I proposed there would be a detriment to that,” she said. “I believe in a collaboration of the arts. There’s no part of me that believes that there is only a little bit of pie. I believe there is enough pie for everybody, and I believe there’s nothing that has to feel exclusive.”

Cannady said she had not seen the city’s contracts with other production companies but wanted to have as many organizations as possible to use the Playhouse.

No decision was made at the meeting, though Brumbalow said he was open to hearing options from others. He said the issue could possibly come up at future meetings.

“I’m sure this issue isn’t going to die tomorrow,” he said.