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Columbus' 2Co's to Close

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COLUMBUS, OH -- Columbus' 2Co's Cabaret will fold on Feb. 25 after six years of cabaret-style theatre and music, although some performers and staff members will be moving to Shadowbox Cabaret, 2Co's older and larger sister company. "It's a hard pill to swallow," said 2Co's performer Tom Cardinal, who of the many artists making the move.

Launched in 2000 in a converted 99-seat space at 790 N. High St., just north of downtown, 2Co's offers themed shows blending short plays, monologues, and songs backed by a house band.

Keeping the nonprofit 2Co's going during Ohio's continuing poor economy has been "too much of a financial struggle," said Steve Guyer, who served as executive producer for 2Co's Cabaret as well as for Shadowbox Cabaret in Columbus and Shadowbox Cabaret Newport in Newport, Ky., which are both for-profit operations.

"A lot of people saw the writing on the wall in the past year," Cardinal said, explaining that although 2Co's improved financially year by year, the group never broke even. "We were slowly building a new audience, but it didn't grow at Shadowbox's fast early rate. And after Sept. 11, when the economy went downhill, 2Co's took a hit and didn't recover."

The professional non-Equity troupe operated during this past year on a $400,000 budget but generated only $229,389 in income, mostly from ticket sales and 2Co's food service, which offers pizzas, nachos, salads, appetizers, desserts, and drinks.

Shadowbox, which typically raised about $186,000 annually to support its nonprofit sibling, follows a similar theme-show formula, adding original comedy sketches, a more aggressive performing style, and more rock-oriented music.

Most actors, singers, directors, and other staff members have rotated between 2Co's and Shadowbox, which performs in a 214-seat space at the Easton Town Center entertainment and shopping mall, and at a similar mall in Newport, Ky. The three sites, Cardinal said, have "split the focus" of the creative team, which wrote, directed, and produced 18 shows a year. After 2Co's closes, Shadowbox Cabaret--a professional non-Equity troupe with a $1.4 million budget--will become a nonprofit under the umbrella of ShadoArt Productions.

Guyer hopes the switch will bolster the company's solid ticket sales and relentless marketing with private donations. But Shadowbox will maintain its longstanding philosophy of refusing government grants, he said. He also anticipates some staff departures, indirectly tied to 2Co's closing, and of the 15 staff members at 2Co's, manager Tom Cardinal and a number of others (to be announced later) will move back to Shadowbox in Columbus, he said.

Overall, the organization, which currently has 83 full-time employees, expects to lose 12-15 performer-staff members in Columbus and Newport through "natural attrition or the usual turnover," Guyer added. About half a dozen staff members are expected to leave in the next month or so, although some layoffs, he said, may be necessary by January if that many do not leave voluntarily.

As a result of Shadowbox's decision to close 2Co's Cabaret, the overall Shadowbox budget is projected at about $2.5 million for 2006, down from $3.1 million this year.

If there is a silver lining, it is that, with an average of 20 staff members typically departing annually through attrition, Shadowbox does plan to continue to hire new performers. Guyer expects to hire six "multitalented" performers in 2006, mostly through Shadowbox's annual auditions at the Southeastern Theatre Conference, which will be held March 1-5 in Orlando, Fla.

"We hire people mostly for one performance skill, such as 'big' acting or singing, but once they're in the company, they invariably unveil other skills. And our attitude is to let them try new things," Guyer said.

2Co's will be missed not only because of its gentler blend of monologues, playlets, and music, but also because the company was a training ground for Shadowbox talent. It "created some very bright lights for Shadowbox, but we're fiscally stretched thin, and we don't foresee significant improvement for the economy in the near future," Guyer said. After Christmas at 2Co's, which runs through Dec. 30, 2Co's will present Best of 2Co's in January and February as a farewell show.

Guyer hopes 2Co's closing will allow Shadowbox to concentrate on productions at Easton and in Newport while beefing up other projects, including Shadowbox Wired for television. The troupe has aired TV-friendly versions of its shows on late-night TV in Columbus and is searching for a national outlet, he said.

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