Fire, debt, storm conspire to sink Jersey Shore theater

 The Surflight Theatre on Long Beach Island (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

The Surflight Theatre on Long Beach Island (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

More than two years later, Hurricane Sandy is still causing damage at the Jersey Shore.

The Surflight Theatre on Long Beach Island declared bankruptcy Monday, shutting its doors forever, because it has not been able to recover from storm damage.

But Sandy was not the only culprit in the demise of the Surflight. The 450-seat summer theater company in Beach Haven, New Jersey, sustained a triple whammy: a fire in 2010; a Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring in 2011; and then, in 2012, Sandy deposited four feet of water in the auditorium.

“The most terrible part of it — loss of audience,” said Bill Lawton, the theater company’s development director. “Forty percent of the housing stock on Long Beach Island was seriously damaged by Hurricane Sandy. That reflected in a 40 percent loss in our audience, which was devastating to us.”

During the summer season, the Surflight employed about 125 people, including cast, crew, and administration. Its productions of popular Broadway fare drew about 70,000 visitors each season, L.awton said.

With an annual budget of more than $400,000, the Surflight was $2.6 million in debt. The company, which owned a complex of five building in New Haven, including a theater, offices, and an ice cream parlor, was sustained by ticket sales and donations, in roughly equal measure, said Lawton.

With declining sales, Lawton said there was no way out but to pull the plug on the 65-year-old theater, effective immediately.

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