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Lyric director explains financial crunch, city's need for live performance

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Leon Natker has been general director of Lyric at the Birch since 1990. In 2005, Lyric reopened the newly renovated North Park Theatre and took over ownership of the building a year later.

In addition to running the company and the theater, Natker frequently conducts, directs and performs in Lyric productions.

Q: Lyric is celebrating its 32nd year, and five years in the Birch North Park Theatre. How has owning your own venue affected your business?

A: At first it was a great benefit, but as the economy went south it's been a tremendous drag on the company. To put it bluntly, the developer backed out of the original deal, for his own benefit, and saddled a not-for-profit arts organization with something we should not have had to do -- owning the theater.

Q: You run the company, run the theater, conduct and direct some of the productions, and in March 2011 you'll be singing Tevye in Lyric's "Fiddler on the Roof." What's the most challenging part of wearing all those hats?

A: Running the theater. The economics of the last few years have hit us very hard.

Q: Why is it such an important part of Lyric's mission to find and nurture new talent? How does the Lyric Summer Academy fit into the company's mission?

A: It's important because our art form has to be passed down by hand. Training and mentoring young artists is the only way we ensure the survival of the art form. There are artists who perform and don't teach or mentor, but for me it's very exciting to see a young artist develop over the course of time into a mature performer with a successful career ahead of them.

Q: How do you and Artistic Director J. Sherwood Montgomery determine which shows you produce each season?

A: First we think about the shows we'd like to do. Then we see if we can assemble the right cast. Finally we work up a budget, and then decide if it's a feasible project.

Q: In this age of electronic media, virtual reality and high-def broadcasts, what is the role of live musical theatre performance in people's lives?

A: There is nothing like a live performance. No matter how great a recorded performance is, it is still not live. There is no interaction with the audience. Live musical theater is a unique experience for everyone involved. I don't think we'll ever see a time when people don't feel the need for the excitement and immediacy of a live performance.

Q: How has the recession affected the performing arts scene in San Diego?

A: It's been devastating. Attendance has been down, ticket sales are down, and everyone has had to cut back what they do and how much they do. It is really a shame because the value of the arts is immeasurable. Check out the numbers for the Commission for Arts and Culture about how much business is generated in San Diego because of the arts. The commission invests about $6 million per year; that supports $181 million in direct expenditures and approximately $750 million in ancillary funds being pumped into the local economy. Think of the effect if that were to dry up. I think there needs to be more educating of the general public about what a benefit the arts are to the community.

Q: What is the greatest challenge facing organizations like Lyric today, and what can fans of the arts do to help?

A: Money! We all need cash to do what we do: ticket sales and donations. Every time someone decides not to give or not to buy a ticket, they are driving another nail into the coffin of this city's quality of life. The real sadness is it's a very small investment for a very large payoff.

Addison chef William Bradley will join forces with Suzette Gresham of San Francisco's Acquerello, at 6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 18 for the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival's Tastemaker Dinner Series which brings together culinary masters from all over the country, San Diego's top chefs, and wineries to create the ultimate food and wine pairing experiences.

Presented by the Wine Spectator and held at Addison at The Grand Del Mar, the seven-course meal will be paired with wines from Domaine Serene, with a percentage of proceeds from the dinner benefiting the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA. The dinner is $175, plus tax and gratuity.

Call 858.314.1919 for additional information.

The Gaslamp Quarter has "cut the cord" and gone Wi-Fi, in partnership with California Micro Systems and Free WiFi San Diego.

The historic district now offers two hours of free wireless internet in all public spaces of the Gaslamp Quarter and will be able to sustain heavy internet usage even during the most traffic-heavy conventions.

FreeWiFi San Diego has also partnered with a growing list of Gaslamp Quarter establishments to provide their patrons with two free hours of WiFi within their establishments.

Additionally, the Gaslamp Quarter Association will once again be presenting their Gaslamp For the Holidays program this holiday season.

Part of the program includes illuminating the many trees in the Gaslamp Quarter every night from sundown to the early hours through Jan. 1.

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