Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tough times for South Florida Theatre

The buzz this week is the economy. While Congress is pounding on AIG, and the nation wonders about that $700 billion dollar bail-out, South Florida theaters are figuring out how to keep their doors open. There are several articles out in area papers.

The Sun-Sentinel's article in today's edition checks in with all the major players, and Sean Piccoli reports back what most of us know;
"Everybody's revenue is down," says Mary Becht, director of the Broward County Cultural Division.
This story has a follow-up scheduled for tomorrow:"Local theater companies plan changes for next season."

But Bill Hirschman expands on this story today in his Sun-Sentinel article:
A panicked philanthropist called the Mosaic Theatre recently with one of the strangest pleas Artistic Director Richard Jay Simon had ever heard: The cash-strapped donor asked if the Plantation theater would return the family's financial gift.'
It's the stuff of nightmares: you finally get the funds lined up to do a show, and the money literally vanishes before you can spend it. This is what happened to New Vista's production of The Producers.
"I wish people really understood that only 60 percent of a theater's revenue is derived from ticket sales [and] 40 percent comes from donations," Simon said. "You could walk into a sold-out theater and that venue could go bankrupt the next day."
Hirschman spells out why fundraising is especially difficult in South Florida:
South Florida faces aggravating factors. First, it has no huge corporate base built around a mega-donor like Coca-Cola in Atlanta. Second, theaters are spread out over four counties rather than in a centralized theater district; even devoted theatergoers can be deterred by long drives.
Even that isn't a guarantee: Seaside Music Theatre in Daytona Beach closed after 30 years of operations when their region's corporate "mega-donor," the News-Journal Corporation, was forced to drastically reduce its philanthropic efforts after Cox Enterprises sued the bejesus out of them.
Third, theater has been a vital facet of South Florida for less than 25 years. "Organizations that have existed for 70 or 80 years have endowments and patrons who have handed down the tradition from generation to generation," said Michael Spring, director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs.
It's the old story; old money holds up better in an economic crisis, but the theatre scene in South Florida is too young to have tapped into it.

In a story that relates directly to those in the Sentinel, Palm Beach ArtsPaper's Greg Stepanich reports that Ballet Florida has canceled the rest of its season. They were scheduled to perform at the Broward Center April 4th-5th before moving up to Palm Beach Community College's Duncan Theater on April 24th, and winding up at the Eissey Campus Theater the first week of May.

But don't write off this venerable South Florida institution just yet:
The company plans to resume performances for its 24th season on Dec. 23-28, when it will present its annual Christmastime production of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker at the Kravis Center. The 2009-10 season is also scheduled to include world premieres by leading choreographers Jerry Opdenaker, Ben Stevenson, Ron de Jesus and Ma Cong, the company said today.

In addition, the activities of the Academy of Ballet Florida will continue uninterrupted, and auditions for next season scheduled for Sunday will take place as planned.
The company had been planning on a suffusion of funds from the sale of their building to the city of West Palm Beach. The deal was that the city would purchase the property and lease it back to the company for $1 a year for the next five years. That would have allowed the company to continue its programming, erase existing debt, and given them some time do some re-structuring of the organization. But the city reneged on the deal at the very last minute.

The Palm Beach Daily News and the Palm Beach Post also have stories out about Ballet Florida's announcement.

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