County Budget Cuts Could Close Curtains On Helen Hocker Theatre

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -Shawnee County's budget cuts could bring down the curtain on Helen Hocker Theater.

Performing Arts Supervisor Jo Huseman posted on facebook that Shawnee County Parks and Rec is looking to contract the theater to an outside group.

If that is unsuccessful, the Topeka children's theater in Gage Park could possibly be on its own.

Shawnee County Parks and Recreation's budget will drop from $18 million in 2010 to $15 million come 2013.

Helen Hocker alum took turns Wednesday night sharing passionate speeches about the cultural, mental, and life-long benefits that the theatre has provided them. They say any structural change to how the theatre is run will affect the impact the theatre can have.

Supporters showed their strength in numbers. Theatre alum Laura Wywadis says Topeka has dozens of sports teams to join and benefit from but with only one place for children to turn to for the experience in the arts, it's important to keep the Helen Hocker Center for Performing Arts to remain functioning as normal.

She says, "Helen Hocker is a unique program, there's nothing like it in Shawnee County on a non-profit level. The experience I have had as a child and as an adult is what I hope they keep in mind when it comes to the budget.

With current Performing Arts Supervisor Jo Huseman stepping down, it is normal protocol for the Shawnee County Parks and Rec to discuss different ways of finding a replacement. Shawnee County Rec Director Randy Luebbe knows how much the theater means to the community, but in tight times, there are also decisions that need to be made.

Luebbe said, " We have tough decisions coming up at this time and we are just evaluating the situation. Obviously Hocker is a valued product here in Topeka and it showed and I appreciate that. You can see the love and we will be taking input from those here tonight and looking forward to getting the ball moving.

Another meeting is scheduled for Thursday night, September 6th, in the Big Gage Shelter House at 6pm.

Recreation director Ryan Luebbe says a finalized plan should be in place by the end of the year.

The theatre's choreographer Sally Glassman created a Facebook page called "Help Save Helen Hocker Theater."

It invited people to two meetings to discuss what can be done to raise money to keep the theater operating.

They were set for 6PM Wednesday September 5th and Thursday September 6th at the Big Gage Shelter House.