The American Heartland Theatre announced Thursday it would close in August at the end of its 26th season.
More than 160 productions have been performed on the American Heartland Theatre stage since opening on April 1, 1987 on the first level of Crown Center shops as a professional, for-profit theater. The first show: "We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!," a 1974 Italian play written by Dario Fo about two working-class couples and their struggles with rising prices and falling wages.
In a 2012 article marking the 25th anniversary of the theater, The Kansas City Star's Robert Trussell looked back at the history of what was a "bold new venture" in 1987:
"The artistic founder, the late James Assad, was a director who had been closely associated with what was once called Missouri Repertory Theatre. And in the early going, the programming demonstrated a certain tension between the demands of commercial theater and loftier artistic goals. Obscure Italian farces, American dramas, Broadway hits, frothy musicals, silly musicals — you could see all of that and more as the Heartland looked for its groove.
In some ways the Heartland in 2012 isn’t so different from the 1987 version."
Rick Brown, Crown Center's marketing manager, told The Star on Thursday that "Crown Center was an entirely different place" in 1987, with fewer entertainment offerings. He added, "A for-profit theater is very difficult to sustain."
Lilli Zarda, AHT's executive director, confirmed this when she told The Star in 2012 that despite an 85 percent retention rate among subscribers and an estimated annual attendance of 80,000: "We're a for-profit that doesn't make a profit."
In a statement released on Thursday, Zarda said that "we're obviously very sad that it will close":
"AHT's founder, Jim Assad, believed live theatre should be a love affair between the theatre and the audience...We think this final trio of shows is a wonderful way to conclude what's been a remarkable love affair with Kansas City audiences."
The American Heartland Theatre's season continues with "Life Could Be A Dream" through April 21; "Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage," May 10 - June 23; and "The Bikinis - A New Musical Beach Party," July 12 - August 25.