Curtains for Starlight Theater?

Ticketholders say they've waited since March for refunds

Bob Hansen

The longtime Balboa Park landmark is struggling to pay its debts.   
The popular outdoor theater is about to open its 65th season in San Diego, but it's coming off a budget-shortened year, and some season ticket holders are still waiting for refunds.
When the economy forced the Starlight to cancel two of its shows last season, it faced a dilemma: What do you do about the season ticket holders who paid for four shows but only got two.
Some ticketholders donated the money to the Balboa Park-based theater, and some got extra seats for current performances, but some who asked for a refund are still waiting.

“It's a nice place to go, to relax and just enjoy yourself," said David Machado, who has been a Starlight season ticket holder for six years -- but not next year, at least not until the Starlight pays him back his $166 for the two performances that were canceled.

"They gave a promise [that the refund] would be received in approximately six to eight weeks," Machado said. "This was in March."

Starlight board president Kimberley Layton said David and other season ticket holders will get their money back by the end of November. Layton said they are planning on two more productions next year but that the theater won't sell new tickets until everyone has been paid off.

Theater critic Welton Jones said "it's the business taking it's toll." Welton said these are tough times at many theaters, especially outdoor musical venues like the Starlight.

"Thirty years ago, there might have been over a hundred in the country, and now there's probably a half-dozen," Jones said.

When the Starlight lost two major sponsors, it was forced to cut down its season from four plays to two and to postpone giving refunds.

"We all struggle, and they, of course, have their issues, too, but I just felt that the loyalty wasn't being returned," Machado said.

Layton said the theater group is trying to raise more money by renting the Starlight Bowl for other events. She said the group is confident that people will be paid back and that the Starlight will be back in business next year.

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