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Big crowd problem at Rio Theatre: There are no big crowds at shows

Morgan Lund addresses the Helper City Council.

Sun Advocate associate editor

Since its groundbreaking 13 years ago - with minor dispute because its foundation encroached into its neighbor's property - it has been one thing after another for Helper's Rio Theatre.

But every problem that arose in construction, operation and financing was solved, leaving the city with a nearly complete performing arts venue and a debt that is just about $40,000 from being paid off.

The problem facing the city then and now is getting people into the new seats to have a good time watching a stage performance of some kind. There haven't been many capacity crowds at the theatre in more than a decade of operating.

That background set the stage for Morgan Lund's entrance at last Thursday's city council meeting. Lund is a professional actor and artistic director for the OtherSide Players, a small group of pros who staged a season's worth of dramas and comedies in 2010-11 but had to forgo the next season. He approached the lectern and faced the council. Here's the dialogue:

Lund: "You have a building to do business in. That business is entertainment...but there is not enough expertise to market it in a way that creates jobs or brings about social, environmental and economic benefits. The city must either learn the business or hire someone."

Kirk Mascaro (a councilman who knows the Rio's history well): "No argument there. You're 100 percent correct."

Robert Bradley (a councilman): "We recognize the value. We would like a manager but we still have debt. We'd like some contractor to manage it. I would propose you come to us with a proposal."

Mayor Dean Armstrong, noting that there was not enough time for a full discussion at a regular council meeting with other matters on the agenda, asked for a motion to set up a special work meeting where the Rio management would be the only topic. The motion passed and that meeting will be May 15 at 4 p.m. in the city hall.

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