Guest Column: Why close NAT, especially before ending Oliver! run?

I am writing to express some thoughts that I and others have regarding the closing of the New American Theater. I need to make you aware that I am a parent of one of the 30 young actors in the production. The kids and the adult actors put much hard work, time, and their hearts into this wondrous production. This was an excellent learning opportunity for the children and young adults to “rub elbows” with a choice selection of professional actors. The respect that was shown among the young and the old birthed a camaraderie that made the production a natural for professionalism.

The production was an uncompromising success. I believe that Edith McCauley hit the nail on the head with her review. The strong cast and crew brought to life the storyline and message that Charles Dickens intended. Tony Vezner made perfect choices in his casting and crew. (This was my son’s first opportunity to act in a real theatrical production. He had been to NAT many times to watch the productions and was finally able to participate. This was his dream.)

Now, for the difficult part. It was no secret that NAT has had financial problems in the past. Things did seem to get better in 2004, until this year. Where is the community support for the arts? Times are hard, but must we forget the importance of the arts and talents of our own? Theater has been with us through the ages, and will continue. Why not here in Rockford? Tonight, while outside NAT, I heard a comment that “Rockford is a depressing town.” It seems that Rockford is quick to attempt to keep up with Chicago in other venues—the airport, train system, sprawling retail businesses—why not the arts? Must we rely on whoever wants to “book” Rockford, for entertainment? We have plenty of our own talent, and some close by, that we should be taking advantage of.

And what about Larry Morrissey’s plan to “rejuvenate” the downtown area? Isn’t NAT downtown? Doesn’t the theater bring business to the restaurants in the downtown area? If the city knew that this was going to happen, why wasn’t some offer made to help NAT get out of it? Why would Larry Morrissey offer to talk with the Coronado, rather than brainstorm with NAT? Seems like Rockford will continue to be “just a lot of talk.”

I guess it is up to the public to come to NAT’s rescue. I am not sure we even have it in us. This is another example that Rockford doesn’t care about the downtown area, or for reaping our own.

This is a “heat of the moment” response, I realize that. I also realize that 30 young actors (and their families) are heartbroken tonight, and the professionals that were counting on Oliver! to put food on their tables, and be another successful stepping stone in their careers.

Please go to NAT’s web site, click on reviews, click on the Oliver! review, click on the cast bios. Read what the kids and actors wanted others to know. Most of all the kids wanted to thank NAT for giving them the opportunity of a lifetime! (It seems they won’t get that chance again!)

Paula Pronko is a Rockford resident.

From the Dec. 20-26, 2006, issue

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