DEL MAR — A 45,000-square-foot tent that took two months to erect in the Del Mar Fairgrounds parking lot was the stage for only four public performances of “Valitar” before the producers came in and allegedly removed key elements of the show. The next day the director, other staff members and performers learned via text message the high-energy equestrian show featuring more than 25 entertainers and 45 horses was closed because of poor ticket sales.
But according to Richie Waite, the show’s operations director, tickets for a performance a few days later were sold out.
“Valitar” seemed doomed almost from the start. Darren Zatkow, who was a performer in the show, told U-T San Diego in a Nov. 21 interview, that he left the show in late September, when it was still being developed, due to artistic differences with the producers, Rancho Santa Fe residents Mark and Tatyana Remley.
Zatkow said many of the original performers left for the same reasons long before the Nov. 16 opening.
Waite and his wife, Sylvia Zerbini, were creating a similar 10-week show in Florida when they learned about “Valitar,” which was premiering in San Diego with plans for a five-city tour.
They canceled their show and took over the Remley project with the promise of a one-year contract.
Zerbini previously toured six years with Cavalia, another equestrian production that had just extended shows in San Diego through the holidays.
“We stopped our lives and went full force to create a show for them,” Zerbini said. “We came here in good faith to help a couple in need.”
She and Waite shipped their horses to San Diego. They brought other performers and their horses from throughout the country, developing a show in about a month without the music they would be eventually be using.
Zerbini said she invested $25,000 of her own money in costumes for which she was never reimbursed.
She said she tried to get the Remleys to postpone the show but they refused. “I was just overwhelmed,” Zerbini said. “There were a lot of little techniques to learn. My main concern was delivering a good show to a paying audience.
“But we have amazing performers and our horses are rock stars,” she said. They put on a few practice shows for invited guests and “Valitar” opened to the public as scheduled on Nov. 16.
The first four shows had a few issues, but it got better each time, Waite said.
After two performances on Nov. 18, the cast and crew had a meeting and everyone was given two scheduled days off.
Zerbini said she noticed some of the Remleys’ horses were missing on Nov. 20, but she wasn’t too surprised because Tatyana Remley “was always doing random things.”
When Zerbini returned at 6 p.m. that day for feeding time, more horses were gone, she said. The groomers told her Remley had taken them for a photo shoot.
“That’s when I got a little suspicious,” Zerbini said. “When I came back at 7:30 that night all but three of their horses were gone. I went to the tack room and all the harnesses and tacks were gone. The cabinet with the medicines was stripped.”
Zerbini said she spent the next few hours trying unsuccessfully to contact the Remleys. She learned from the public relations director there was no photo shoot. Eventually they received a text saying the show was canceled.
The website has been taken down. People who bought tickets are being told to dispute the charges with their credit card companies. Those who paid cash are instructed to contact the fairgrounds.
Equustria Development Inc., a Remley-owned company in Solana Beach, was locked and dark midday Nov. 26.
The fairgrounds charged $100,000 to lease the parking lot space for the show, which was set to run through Dec. 31. Linda Zweig, media relations director for the fairgrounds, said as far as she knows the money was received upfront.
It was unknown at press time who would be taking the tent down as senior fairgrounds officials were out of town for a conference, Zweig said.
The performers were living in prepaid apartments in Imperial Beach with a lease that will have expired Nov. 30. Waite and Zerbini are staying onsite at the fairgrounds in an RV the Remleys prepaid for them for six months. “We hope,” Zerbini said.
None of the approximately two dozen performers have been paid and or have money for housing or to get themselves or their horses back home, Zerbini said.
To help, the fairgrounds is providing food, water and shelter for the horses and is looking into housing the cast at the jockey facilities onsite.
“They’re lucky it happened here,” Zweig said.
The fairgrounds is also hosting Liberté, a benefit performance for the performers, at 7 p.m. Dec. 8 in the Del Mar Arena. Tickets are $35 to $100 and available through the fairgrounds box office and at Ticketmaster.
Patrons with paid tickets will receive a free ticket to the 2013 San Diego County Fair when they enter the arena on the day of the event.
“The outpouring from San Diego has been so heartwarming,” Zerbini said. “But we feel funny accepting charity. We worked hard and we’re proud to present a show and use the ticket sales to pay the performers and get them and their horses back home.”
This story was updated Nov. 30, 2012.