There’s no business like show business, unless you don’t want to be in the business, that is what the city of Carmel made clear when it handed over management duties of the two theaters it owns, Sunset Center and the Forest Theater, to Sunset Cultural Center, Inc., a nonprofit. Now the city finds itself back in, playing the role of mediator between Sunset and the performance groups that have used the city’s theaters for decades.
When the city put Sunset in charge, it was with the direction to give historic groups priority. But for the last two years the groups that include Forest Theater Guild, Monterey County Symphony Association, Carmel Bach Festival and Pacific Repertory Theatre have had difficulty getting the dates they need, in some cases, with not enough time to market upcoming seasons. PacRep’s founder and executive director, Stephen Moorer, blames putting a competing organization in charge of the calendar.
“Now we’ve got a landlord who is in competition with their tenants. That’s the problem,” Moorer says.
Christine Sandin, Sunset’s executive director, disagrees and contends the groups have priority booking status. “Nothing has lost a date to Sunset Presents, ever,” she says. Sunset has asked groups to be flexible to accommodate high-income private events, for example during Car Week, but Sandin says they would not force groups to lose dates.
Guild representatives went to the Carmel City Council in December to express frustration over a contract offer that gave them no dates to produce live theater in 2020. Since then, Sunset offered the Guild six weeks to produce one show, but Carrie Glenn, Guild board president, says they rejected the offer. They want a full season for two shows, April to July.
Managing the Forest Theater has been more challenging than anticipated, Sandin says. The city charged Sunset with running the theater more like a business as well as bringing in more diverse offerings, she says.
In January, Lee Rosen, president of the Symphony’s board, went to City Council asking the city to intervene on behalf of the arts groups, citing the “disconnect” between their needs and Sunset management. Afterward, Mayor Dave Potter invited arts group representatives to lunch, and a meeting with Sandin is being planned. The city attorney is reviewing the theater contract. “[It was] a little alarming to hear historic users are not getting booking opportunities,” Potter says.
Rosen says, “We’re pleased the mayor and the city administrator are taking our concerns very seriously.”