THE REAL GOODBYE: Actors Pepita Little and Brian-Ray Moore in Internet Affair at the Pantry, September 2013.
By December 2014, New Kingston's iconic Pantry Playhouse should be in the early swing of its new incarnation as a rentable events hall. "That's my plan for the place. It's gonna be like a banquet hall which hosts things like weddings, anniversary parties, graduation parties and birthday celebrations," explains proprietor Karl Hart, who also has major renovation plans in the works. "It's flexible enough to host different kinds of events that I know people will want to use it for."
When TALLAWAH broke the story of the theatre's impending closure last month, the news went viral and met with strong reactions ranging from genuine shock to feigned indifference to urgent calls for Hart to reconsider. But for the veteran businessman and (part-time) playwright, shutting down the theatre to focus on endeavours new and old is a business move plain and simple. "It's been two years that I've been weighing the pros and cons. The theatre has become a liability to my other business as operator of the pantry's catering business, and I really feel the time has come," Hart explains.
In recent times, he points out, the theatre has not been pulling its weight to cover its own expenses, business agreements with show producers who rent the theatre are often not met, and he has some 22 employees on payroll and a power bill that climbs upwards of $380,000 per month. "It's become a major disadvantage for me, and every little thing adds up, and people need to understand that," Hart says. "It's time for me to close it and move on to other things."
Opened in May of 2000 as a cozy spot to enjoy a good meal and wholesome family entertainment, the Pantry will officially roll down its curtains when For My Daughter wraps at the end of this month.
Does Hart have any parting words for his fellow theatre practitioners? "Theatre in Jamaica is going through a metamorphosis, and a lot of people don't realize that if you're not an experienced producer you shouldn't book a theatre space," he advises. "Audiences are not coming out as much as they used to, and if you don't sell benefits you're in trouble. The business of theatre is what we don't focus on enough."