Tuesday, July 26, 2011

No last act yet for Act One Studios

Posted By on 07.26.11 at 05:15 PM

Another business strategy for a bad economy: act like a nonprofit. Over the last few weeks, Act One Studios, longtime actors' training ground for commercial work, film, and more, has been issuing some desperate calls for help. Act One has always been a business, not a charity, but director and owner Steve Merle and his partner and wife, Anne Jacques, say their situation forced them to turn to friends and supporters for donations. “It's really embarrassing," Jacques said last week. But it worked.

According to Merle, their problems started about six years ago. With the studio “busting at the seams,” they expanded. Six months later, a major (but short-lived) competitor came to town and stole 20 percent of their business. After that, he says, the recession hit, they got one devastating review on Yelp, and the IRS tried to slap them with a $40,000 penalty for paperwork it couldn’t find for 2006. The final straw was a phone system that went down during the last two registration periods, impacting enrollment. It looked like they might have to shut down.

Then, late last week, things took a turn for the better. “We just did a major renegotiation of our lease that cuts back on our space, but will allow us to stay here another five years,” Merle said. (An announcement on the Act One website says their landlord at 640 N. LaSalle has kicked in six months free rent.)
Contributions are still welcome, Merle added, but, “we’ve gotten our debts under control. We’re in a position where we can make it work. People who love taking classes here are stepping up. It’s been wonderful.”

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