Hearne: American Heartland Doomed from Get Go

39043a0ca87f97353a59395dc4c15b5dTwenty-six and out…

Word that the American Heartland Theatre at Crown Center is on death row begs the question, WTF?

For the 26 years the Heartland banged out mostly middle-of-the-road fare using largely local actors for a crowd composed predominantly of blue hairs.

And for the past 26 years the theater failed to make a profit.

Which likely explains the decision for American Heartland’s upcoming dirt nap in August. However, in the theater’s exit interview with the Star, neither the company’s executive director nor the spokesman for landlord Crown Center identified whose decision it was to shut it down.

“You know, Hallmark ran out of patience,” says one insider. “First of all it was stupid to have done that theater as a for profit. They should have been a non profit from the beginning.”

As a non profit, American Heartland would have enjoyed any number of cost savings and financial advantages, the insider says.

“You know, little things like 42 cents apiece for mailings versus 17 cents – things like that add up. They could have applied for grants. I mean, they certainly are grant worthy, and the theater downstairs, the Coterie does just that.

“And they could have asked their subscribers to contribute to them. But they couldn’t do that because it was not a charitable contribution.”

28501And while Hallmark and Crown Center succeeded in getting the Star to pass on identifying who was responsible for pulling the plug, it seems clear that it was the landlord who did the dastardly deed, the insider says.

“Hallmark looked at the bottom line and said, we can’t afford to support this anymore. But they support other not-for-profit theaters in town and they could have given the Heartland a $20,000 grant, then the theater could have saved $20,000 a year on postage along with other savings and they could have gotten other grants. Then suddenly, they’re up $275,000.”

One reason Hallmark may have opted not to save the Heartland:

“Look at what Crown Center is doing with Legoland, the aquarium and the Coterie,” the source says. “They’re going for young and the American Heartland skewed older.”

Which appears to be what Crown Center’s spokesman meant when he said, “Crown Center’s needs have changed.”

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11 Responses to Hearne: American Heartland Doomed from Get Go

  1. smartman says:

    Younger demo? Lot’s of discretionary moolah? Perfect space to resur-erect the Old Chelsea.

  2. Super Dave says:

    That’s one place I have never been. So I asked around real quick thinking maybe it was just me and out of 4 other people I asked only one had been there and it was because the company he worked for as a Christmas gift treated them to a show there.

    Must not have been too exciting of a place. Hearne’s word blocker won’t allow me to quote my friend and his opinion of the place.

    • Hearne says:

      It’s not a “word blocker,”it’s a word approver. Run the quote and I’ll approve it.

  3. ex Hallmarker says:

    The current generation of the Hall family is all about “younger”. After all, they’ve been shedding older workers and replacing them with younger workers for 4-5 years now. That being said, based on my own experience of attending several shows for free, I’m surprised it’s lasted this long. I thought it was a total snooze-fest but then I’m not retirement age.

  4. smartman says:

    I was just there recently for a corporate event. As a performance space it’s great. It has all the theatrical lighting and audio bells and whistle’s you could want. Seating is comfortable and nicely tiered. Hopefully it won’t go to waste.

  5. gerald bostock says:

    Crown Center was a decent attraction 25 years ago, with the Friday night free concerts and Happy Hours at the Crystal Pavilion; but now its allure has faded significantly. Not a surprise that Heartland is getting last rites; what would surprise me is if anything in there is performing the way it did in the 80s and early 90s; since then, we have had liquor by the drink in Joco bringing nightlife out there, the unplanned rise of the Crossroads and the overplanned rise of Power & Light, all of which give people a myriad of options that have made Crown Center an afterafterthought.

    • Hearne says:


      But it’s stillnot a bad place to roam around in if you’re Christmas shopping or want to grab a quick lunch while you’re downtown.

  6. balbonis moleskine says:

    The Coaterie was always the neat theater company. I hope it’s still a regular destination for jaded Pem Hill kids. It wouldn’t be spring at Pem Hill without a wrapped maypole (are we communists here!?!?) and a trip to the Coaterie.

  7. Lee says:

    It was always a loss leader and was never expected to turn a profit. It was an attraction to get traffic to Crown Center and a benefit for conventions in town so their people could have something to do in the evening without wandering off premises. The Hall family (Crown Center) covered the losses over the years. I think the family thinks that the movie theates, legoland and the aquarium are plenty of entertainment for Crown Center.

    I don’t think it is any surprise that the greeting card business has been going downhill for a while now. The Hall family is extremely generous with it money to Kansas City. They may have thought that enough was enough and I could not guess what the losses have been.

    It is also possible the Coterie might take over the space and expand their productions and seating. I would bet the Coterie, a non profit, is probably greatly subsidized by the Halls in rent subsidies, etc.

    To continue as a non-profit theater would require paying rent, utilities, maintenance, etc which they never had to do. As well as raising the money to cover the above and then cover the projected losses. No one gets rich on non profit theater. And then they would be competing for grants from foundations who already grant to Unicorn, Missouri Rep, Coterie, and other small venues.

    The director is a smart woman. She was formerly with the dinner theater people. While not my taste, she puts on decent middle of the road titles with local people in inexpensive productions with inexpensive tickets. They do ok. I have gone half a dozen times over 20+ years when they have something rare that interested me. If she thinks she can make it elsewhere, you will hear an announcement sometime soon. If not, it is unlikely to be that missed except by the employees who will be let go and for local actors who have one less venue to perform in and get a paycheck from.

  8. Obvious says:

    Insider = Mark Edelman

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