This edition of Green Means Go looks at the sometimes tumultuous day-to-day operations at performing arts theaters. The common thread that runs through these examples of transitional triumvirates and reversals of fortune is a focus on theater ticket sales.
The Labyrinth Theater Company in New York made a name for itself by delivering ground-breaking, ensemble-driven performances that were critically acclaimed. Labyrinth was once lead by Oscar® winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, but is now seeking a new creative director. Labyrinth has been operating without a full-time, permanent leader since 2011 and the performances during this vacuum have been described by critics as “rudderless.”
During the past few seasons of performances, ticket sales for plays produced by Labyrinth had dropped to the point whereit could no longer afford its venue and was forced to move to the smaller Bank Street Theater. Patrick Healy of the New York Times explainsthe challenges at hand:
For months the Labyrinth board has been considering new leadership structures for the company, which long tried to operate like a democracy and had its inevitable share of rivalries and grievances. According to the four ensemble members, the Friday board meeting ended with some people feeling that a new leadership structure had been chosen, and that Mr. Guirgis and others were not part of it. But Mr. Miramontez, the spokesman, said there had been no coup - the word being used by company members - and that a meeting of the full ensemble was being organized this month to clear up any misunderstandings.
Ruth Hendel, a Labyrinth board member, said that the leadership situation was “still being figured out and nothing is cut and dry at this point.”
The Bank Street venue is under exclusive lease to Labyrinth Theater Company during the current leaderless period of slow ticket sales. No mention has been made of moving to an even smaller venue, but that cost lowering tactic may very well be under consideration again. As such, ticket sales are a very high priority for the upcoming Spring season - with or without a new creative director.
Labyrinth’s newest performance will see the return of Philip Seymour Hoffmanas the play’s director but not as the leader of the entire organization. Hoffman’s talent and star power bodes well for theater ticket sales in the short term, but without a full time creative director, Labyrinth’s long term challenge as a viable production company will remain in situ.
River Renaissance Reversal
A lack of leadership is one challenge that can have a detrimental effect on theater ticket sales, a reversal of theater ownership is another.
The is the case at the Adler Theater in Davenport Iowa. The theater's current owners have stated they intend to return ownership of the Adler back to the city of Davenport after budget constraints have left them unable to continue operations.
In 2006, the Adler theater became a nonprofit entity which made eligible for government underwriting. Once part of the larger River Renaissance Revitalization program, the theater had the means to not only finance its renovations, by increase both the number performances and the scope of productions. Since 2006, the Adler theater has increased its tickets sales from 13,000 to over 90,000 in 2012. But that admirable increase in attendance was not enough.
The ownership transfer is considered a last resort to ensure the historic venue continues to operateas reported by the Quad City Times:
The cost of returning the theater to city ownership likely would be paid for through bonds. Schermer stressed Tuesday that the $2.5 million referenced in the letter and presentation is likely to be smaller when the property transfer occurs, but it was presented as a “worst-case scenario.”
“Our goal would be to return the Adler Theater to the city unencumbered at the smallest possible expense to the city,” he said. “That is our goal as the board of the RCPA.” The $14 million renovation project was mostly behind-the-scenes. It expanded the theater’s stage so it can handle bigger productions, improved the sound system and lighting, relocated dressing rooms, installed a new freight elevator, improved lighting and rigging and replaced the heating and cooling system.
A change to tax-exemption status, complex financing and government underwriting, combined with a pronounced increase in attendance were not enough to keep the Adler in the black. Theater owners may find the Adler's fate discouraging, understandably so, and may need a reminder of just why they work so hard...
"I AM THEATER"
During trying times one may turn to what is familiar for both comfort and inspiration. The passionate people that work in the performing arts industry, theater owners and performers alike, can find comfort and inspiration in a series of videos assembled by the Theater Communications Group (TCG). The theme of the videos is a self-affirming statement: "I am theater." Each video features a performing arts professional describing what the performing arts means to them. From the TCG website:
I AM THEATRE captures pivotal moments in the lives of theater-makers in an online video series...this project will raise awareness for the theater field and champion the diverse group of people who are creating, supporting, and engaging with theatre. But 50 videos can not tell the whole story. You are stage managers, artistic and executive directors, playwrights, production managers, actors, designers, fundraising and communications staff, education leaders, funders, audience members and more. Today, not-for-profit professional theaters in the U.S. employ 130,000 people annually, inspire more than 30 million attendees and contribute $2 billion directly to the U.S. economy.
One of the most notable videos is by Elisbeth Challener, the Managing Director of the ZACH Theater in Austin Texas. From the video, one can learn of Ms. Challener's professional achievements:
Elisbeth Challener joined ZACH Theater in Austin, TX as the organization's Managing Director in 2007. Elisbeth is responsible for a $22M capital campaign toward the building of a new theater as well as the management, development and finances of the organization. Under her guidance ZACH completed a Five Year Strategic Plan that will move the organization into the next phase of its significant expansion.
Ms. Challener speaks from the heart in her video soliloquy, which should inspire theater owners and serve as a reminder what is important.
Be resolute and focus on theater ticket sales
If the tumultuous day-to-day operations at your theater have caused you to (momentarily) forget what is important, you are encouraged to remain resolute and focus on the task of selling tickets. Sales will remedy just about everything that may be ailing you and your theater. After watching the "I am theater" videos, the next thing you should do is review the ticketing software you are currently using.
The ThunderTix plan for performing arts theaters helps you maximize ticket sales and increase donations. Our technology is currently in use by hard working theater owners across the country for good reason. We offer you the tools to ask for and accept donations during the ticket purchase process, present custom reserved seating charts, and best of all, we do not charge you per-ticket fees.
Past editions of the 'Green Means Go' series are available for your use as a resource, including: