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Why is the Follies Really Closing?

By Greg Purdy, Follies Senior Communications Manager and Chairperson of the Canyon Corridor Neighborhood Organization

As residents have undoubtedly heard, The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies closes permanently on May 18, 2014 after an unprecedented 23-year run—an accomplishment rare in the theatrical firmament.

There are numerous rumors as to why this is happening, but there is actually only one real reason: Economics.

When the 2008 recession hit, the Follies felt the same impact as everyone else. Fortunately, there were cash reserves sufficient to carry the show for the next several years, but the rebound hasn't been felt equally and those reserves are now gone.

According to a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts study (as recently reported by the Los Angeles Times), live theatrical attendance has taken the biggest hit among all cultural categories. And according to their 2008 study, arts consumption was declining even back then, as well. As evidence, Broadway attendance was down 6% last season, but compensated with higher ticket prices, something the Follies is loath (and unable) to do. Los Angeles' Center Theatre Group (Ahmanson, Mark Taper and Kirk Douglas Theatres) reported its fifth consecutive year of losses, now totaling a $15-million cumulative deficit. New York's Radio City is making (unprecedented) two-for-one offers for their iconic Christmas show and Branson is struggling, as are venues in Las Vegas, especially for mid-week show attendance.

"At this point," say Follies Co-Founders Riff Markowitz and Mary Jardin (Canyon Corridor and Mesa Neighborhood residents, respectively), "we really have no other option than to close our doors. Our half houses of the past several years, while still over 400 patrons per show, are insufficient to support the caliber of show the Follies has always delivered. The million dollars required to produce each new edition, plus the costs of 122 employees, 9,000 square feet of office space, an enormous warehouse, music licensing, utilities and making a 77-year-old movie house somehow function as a Broadway-caliber performance space (with none of the labor-saving efficiencies of modern theaters) all combine to now make the Follies a money-losing proposition. None-the-less, 'bringing down the curtain' is still heartbreaking for us both. The Follies has been our lives for 23 years."

Perhaps bittersweet, but immediately after the announcement that this would be the final season, the phones started ringing, and the Follies is now nearly 200% ahead in ticket sales for its 23rd edition (appropriately) titled "The Last Hurrah!"

"We care deeply not only about our fans," adds Mary, "but for the restaurateurs, retailers and hoteliers . . . and their dedicated staffs . . . who have worked so closely with us for over two decades. We didn't want to just announce that 'last week' was our final show. We wanted to give everyone an opportunity to prepare and, naturally, have a fabulous finale season right along with us. Nearly 900 motor coaches have already booked, but that's only one-third of our total business. It seems that everyone who's ever attended is returning for one last trip to FolliesLand. And we're hearing countless reports from folks who've been meaning to attend for years and realize that it really is now-or-never, so are making plans to visit Palm Springs this season."

Riff adds, "Reports that we're following Cher's lead and making this the first of many farewell seasons are, unfortunately, untrue. The warehouse is being emptied, the City is preparing to upgrade the theater for its next tenant(s), and we're hard at work assisting our extraordinary (and loyal) staff to secure their next positions, upon the closing of our season. As they say in theater, 'It's not over until the fat lady sings,' and, sadly, she's now warming up backstage . . . metaphorically speaking."

"We are indescribably grateful for having had this magical experience," Riff and Mary share in closing. "To our patrons, we simply want to say—from the bottom of our hearts—thank you for permitting us this journey. We also want to thank our downtown merchants for their many years of loyal partnership; the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism who has steadfastly (and wisely) promoted a diverse visitor base; and, of course, our City Council, starting with (then) Mayor Pro Tem Tuck Broich who championed the Follies cause—as unlikely a notion as anyone could have possibly imagined. He saw the potential and it is our hope that another 'crazy idea' might somehow surface so that the footlights of this theatrical grande dame, The Historic Plaza Theatre, will stay lit for another quarter-century.  Long may her marquee shine and warmly welcome the next four-million enchanted Palm Springs visitors."

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