Next Theatre Company closes after financial troubles

Paige Leskin, City Editor

Evanston nonprofit Next Theatre Company closed Monday after years of financial trouble put the theater in significant debt to the city.

The company, which operated of the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., for 34 years, was unable to stay open after experiencing decreased attendance for its performances, according to a news release from the theater.

“Unfortunately, the theater’s audiences have shrunk dramatically in the past few years and it has not been able to build a contribution base to compensate for that,” said Rob Andalman, president of Next’s board of directors. “The Board concluded that it was not responsible to continue operations.”

Since its opening in 1981, the company has provided innovative programming and played an integral part of the theater scene in the Chicago area, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said.

Bobkiewicz said the show’s progressive themes failed to attract ticket sales to sustain Next.

“I think there’s always a balance in producing theater by companies like Next, to make sure you have a balance of things that are a little edgier, as well as things that are a little bit easier for folks to understand and appreciate,” he said.

In July, aldermen allowed Next to remain a tenant in the art center for the 2014-15 season, despite the company owning the city more than two years of rent. The theater had accumulated more than $75,000 in overdue lease payments by July.

“It’s an unfortunate occurrence — the Next Theatre has been a tremendous asset,” Bobkiewicz said at the July meeting. “It has put on some of the most interesting, innovative theater in Evanston. It has seen the growth and the emergence of several national actors and national playwrights.”

The committee allowed Next to stay at the art center for its season, running from September through May 2015. Bobkiewicz recommended to aldermen in July that the company remain due to the production it had already scheduled.

Bobkiewicz told The Daily on Monday that Next’s closing coincided with the end of its most recent production.

“We look forward to hopefully attracting another theater company to continuing in that tradition at Noyes,” he said. “They’ll never replace Next, but certainly they’ll bring other interesting types of theater productions to the Noyes center.”

The closing of the theater is a huge loss to Evanston’s art community, said Joanna Pinsky, artistic director of Art Encounter, another tenant at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, whose space was once adjacent to Next’s room.

Pinsky called Next a “first-rate company” whose cultural significance was felt throughout the Chicago area.

Although Art Encounter, a non-profit dedicated to visual arts, had to cut back its staff several years ago due to financial problems, it has not experienced major economic issues as Next has, Pinsky said.

“There is definitely an ebb and flow in not-for-profit arts work,” she said. “As other tenants in the Noyes building, they’ve always been just lovely, supportive to us and very easy to be with. We feel just terrible about it.”

The city did not expect Next to vacate until the end of the theater’s season, so staff will reach out to companies who expressed interest in leasing space in the art center, Bobkiewicz said. The number of interested applicants should increase when companies’ seasons come to a close and he hopes to see a new company in the space by early 2015, he said.

In the news release, Next’s board of directors thanked the city and the community for supporting its “edgy” productions, many of which have received awards and much notoriety.

“Next had a great season planned,”Bobkiewicz said. “But it just was perhaps too little too late to right their financial issues.”

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