Campbell And Willows Theaters Go Dark

The community theater board has laid off employees and is speaking to lawyers. Meanwhile, the Martinez City Council will meet Wednesday to discuss the situation.

After 37 years, the Willows Theater Company is on the verge of shutting down completely. What began as a popular community theater in 1977 in the Willows Shopping Center in Concord grew into a Martinez cabaret and outdoor amphitheater as well, but that growth, and a downturned economy, may have ultimately spelled the end for the organization. 

A show scheduled for the Campbell Theater on Saturday was cancelled. A Willows board member, Dennis Woodard, blamed it on lack of ticket sales. An Esses Productions spokesman, Steven Shore, said it was due to lack of support staff. And on Wednesday, Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder said the city council will meet to discuss the distribution of the Campbell Theater's assets.

"The Willows group has been struggling," Schroder said Monday. "The board thought that by opening the main stage in Concord, they would attract back the folks they lost. What they hoped would be their rebirth turned out to be their demise." 

The Willows group opened the Campbell Theater in Martinez in 2007, and opened the Kenney production building, next to the outdoor amphitheater near the waterfront, shortly thereafter. The group installed nearly $800,000 of improvements into the Campbell, including lighting, sound and seating. In 2008, the group closed the Willows Theater in Concord and moved everything to Martinez. In late 2010, the city forgave a $40,000 loan to the group. 

The loan was for rent owed to the city. The Bisio family owns the building, and the city leases it from them. In turn, the city was renting the building to the Willows company.

Shortly after the loan was forgiven, Willows directors announced a return to Concord and the main stage at the Willows Shopping Center, raising the ire of Martinez officials and residents, who felt the group should have remained in Martinez and focused its efforts there. 

Now, the group is facing a bleak future. 

"We've got some real bad financial difficulties," said Willows Board of Directors President Dennis Woodard. "The Willows may not continue, but we're doing everything we can to make sure the Campbell Theater continues." 

Schroder said that both the Campbell and the amphitheater could now become facilities available for community groups to use. Because of insurance and other reasons, neither facility was available to non-Willows promoters or performers. 

But now, Schroder said, it's likely that the Campbell and the amphitheater will be available to groups like Armando's, the Martinez Opera and even the school district, for locally-based productions. 

"We have at least another year on the lease," Schroder said. "It's not the end of the Campbell by any means." 

Roxanne Cole August 13, 2012 at 07:23 PM
There is several ways to use the Campbell Theater. It is my understanding that there is money subsidized by the city to help the Campbell. Is that going to still be made available?
Tony Shrum August 13, 2012 at 07:44 PM
If the Campbell Theater was turned into an all age music venue so many people would be pumped! Myself included. I'd help run sound and book shows. :)
Mark Edmondson August 13, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Two words: Stand Up, ummm, Comedy.
Theresa August 13, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Stop throwing good money after bad let it go - you can't take it with you If you don't have money to keep it going, who's paying for the lawyers?
Greg August 13, 2012 at 08:15 PM
If tickets aren't selling, then maybe the shows are not worth watching Another example of why a city goes into bankruptcy I say no government bailout Romney/Ryan 2012!
Chris Kapsalis August 13, 2012 at 09:02 PM
And people under 21 need more places to go like adults have, teens, stay out of trouble more. I agree and think this would be in the best interest of everyone.
Chris Kapsalis August 13, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Money for the art's I feel is important. And when there was a show so many walked over to Main and ate and around town, it drew people here. I think we need more draws not less, even if they do not directly show a profit, Martinez does.
gayle goldblatt August 14, 2012 at 04:46 AM
Kayleen Parks August 14, 2012 at 02:35 PM
I think Martinez and local communities could really benifit and make use of the Campbell Theater, especially with publicity. Opera, music for both over 21 and all ages, comedy, improv, dance, even workshops and classes... There is definately huge potential here
Patrick J. McNamara August 14, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Greg there's no need for the city to bail anyone out here. The shows that were held here were limited to the Willow's genre of local dramatic theater. Now the options will open, and could demonstrate to the Willows folks, sincere as they were, why diversifying your product line is a good idea. The city does not need to manage or run or subsidize the plethora of potential uses. The big ? is always the liability costs.
Bill Wainwright August 14, 2012 at 06:05 PM
It's disturbing to learn that the City is now considering buying the Bisio building. Given the City's other commitments and tortorous efforts to keep its budget afloat, such an acquisition now would seem irresponsible, all the more since no dependable use or tenant is in sight. We have come to this pass because the Willows people treated the building as their private domain, always discouraging its use by others. Perhaps, if they had been more welcoming, they might have developed a more loyal local following, and established the site as place to go for entertainment of all kinds. Unfortunately, the fate of the Willows has the air of "just desserts."
SD August 14, 2012 at 06:09 PM
I wonder if I just lost the money I spent on four tickets to Meet Me in St. Louis in December??? Does anyone have information on how I would go about getting refunded? Sad that the Theater closed, but please don't leave a bad taste in my mouth by not refunded me now, that would just suck!
Linda Meza August 15, 2012 at 01:48 AM
I am saddened to learn of the sudden loss of jobs this news represents and I wish all those who were full time employees well in their job searches. I am intrigued by the opportunity this now opens up to the theatre in hosting a wide array of entertainment/educational events. Personally I believe a Martinez showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show could be a blast. I might even be tempted to publicly embarrass myself and allow the cast to paint a huge V on my forehead. That is what they do when you've never been to a showing before, right? I'm reminded of the final scenes of Shakespeare In Love when Burbage learns The Rose has been closed; Martinez now has a stage in search of The Admiral's (Wo)Men...
Shannon Page September 13, 2012 at 05:15 AM
The Campbell had GREAT shows! I am so sad! It is a fabulous venue for Martinez and was always packed when I was there.
Samson September 16, 2012 at 03:11 AM
So the Campbell theater in Martinez will still be alive right? Iv been going there for years! They also had the evil dead musical there with a splatter zone where they would cover the audience in fake blood. This cant be the end of the Campbell theater! Its ok if the close the on in concord if they have to iv never been there and seems like no one else really goes there either. If they close the concord one then they can put all their effort into the Martinez one and keep it alive!
Rick October 16, 2012 at 03:33 PM
So disappointing that the Campbell Theater had to close. We live outside of Martinez and always enjoyed going to plays there. Hopefully some kind of agreement can be come to and keep the theater arts alive !
John October 20, 2012 at 04:03 PM
RIck, I'm with you there! Been going, taking my daughters, then grandchildren, and friends for years. The venue is intimate and awesome, and the shows were top notch. Let's keep the faith that it reopens soon. John


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