Monday, June 6, 2011

Florida Stage Goes Dark

Yes, it's official.  Arguably the most successful theatre company in South Florida has shut its doors.

Florida Stage
For Immediate Release
Monday, June 6, 2011

Florida Stage files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Protection

The theatre company ceases operations with the close of The Cha-Cha of a Camel Spider on June 5, 2011

Florida Stage, one of America’s premiere professional theatre companies
dedicated exclusively to the development and production of new American
plays, today announced the decision of its Board of Trustees to file
for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy
Court. This decision was based upon several critical financial
challenges currently facing the organization, specifically a marked
downturn in subscription sales for its 2011-12 Season, negligible ticket
sales for the summer production of ELLA, and a lack of response to the
company’s intensive fundraising efforts, which has resulted in an
accumulated debt of $1.5 Million and an exhaustion of funds to continue

“We have made the difficult, but necessary,
decision to cease Florida Stage operations,” said Michael Schultz,
Co-Chairman of the Florida Stage Board of Trustees. “Faced with such
financial challenges, declining ticket revenues, and insufficient
donations, we had no choice but to close the theatre company.”

Problems began with the current economic recession, starting in the fall
of 2008. The company experienced a decline in ticket revenue and
donations, which was further exacerbated by many of their contributors
who were victims of the Bernard Madoff scandal. Florida Stage
immediately began a budget cutting process, which resulted in furloughs,
layoffs, and a reduction of their overall budget from $4.1 Million to
under $3 Million. These proactive and important steps were simply not
enough to solve all of the issues they faced. In spite of what the
industry publication, Backstage, called "...the most anticipated shows
of the regional season", their revenue stream continued to diminish.

With their highly anticipated move to the Kravis Center, it seemed
clear that they had found a perfect solution to their situation. In
tough economic times, reduce redundancies, maximize efficiencies, and
expand collaborations. “We felt that our relocation to the Kravis Center
was a model of how to respond to the ‘new normal’ of the economic
downturn,” said producing director Louis Tyrrell, who founded the
company in 1984 as The Learning Stage, which brought theatre and
arts-education to hundreds of thousands of children over the years in
the Palm Beach County School District. “By moving to the Rinker
Playhouse, our rent and utilities were reduced by $200,000. The
wonderful Kravis Center facility and staff welcomed us warmly, and took
over security, front-of-house and usher operations, and provided
additional box office services, among many other collaborative
efficiencies. And moving to the center of the Palm Beach County
community, we were sure that an expanded audience would welcome us to
our new home, especially with the cross-pollination potential of both
the Florida Stage and Kravis Center audiences.” But, instead of audience
growth, the company experienced a continuing reduction in ticket sales.
The Florida Stage subscriber base has diminished from more than 7,000
at its height to less than 2,000 for the 2011-12 Season.

in these many years and nearly 150 plays produced, Florida Stage was
beloved by many, and developed a national reputation for its bold
mission of producing exclusively new work that was always provocative
and innovative, challenging theatrical boundaries. Despite their current
plight, there are deep emotions and an abiding commitment to this
theatre company. “Florida Stage is a milestone in my growth as a
playwright,” said playwright William Mastrosimone. “Its focus on new and
emerging work allows for established playwrights like myself to launch
new work, but more importantly, young playwrights have a home to grow
their talent so that the art may live for another generation.” And Helen
Merrill Award-winner, Deborah Zoe Laufer, whose first professional
production debuted at Florida stage, said, “Nobody has had more to do
with the fact that I’m a playwright than Florida Stage.”

its start in the Palm Beach County Schools, students were given their
first theatre experiences, which helped them discover their inner
selves, and through their own writing and performance opportunities,
they built their confidence and communication skills. In 1987, in
residence at the Duncan Theatre at Palm Beach State College (as Theatre
Club of the Palm Beaches), Florida Stage grew quickly, from 400 to more
than 4,000 subscribers in its first four years. Outgrowing the small
college lecture hall, they moved to the Plaza Del Mar in Manalapan in
1991 where, with the generous support of Lois Pope, the company
continued to expand.

Throughout this time, the generosity of
their Board of Trustees, individual patrons, foundations, corporations,
the Palm Beach County Cultural Council and Tourist Development Council,
the Betty Bell Educational Trust, the State of Florida, the National
Endowment for the Arts, and most recently, with the Florida Stage
relocation, the Board and staff of the Kravis Center, and the Mayor and
staff of the City of West Palm Beach, all contributed to the support of
the Florida Stage mission and the excellence of its acclaimed
productions, until the economic downturn and the loss of its core
audience began to take its toll.

The history and impact of
Florida Stage will live on as a legacy to Palm Beach County culture. The
world-class artists who have graced its stage with their remarkable
talents - from playwrights to actors, directors, designers, and the team
of theatre professionals who are the true unsung heroes of the theatre -
they will move on to create memorable theatre art wherever they go. And
perhaps a new audience can be found and developed for the kind of
thought-provoking new work for which Florida Stage has become renowned.
Time will tell.

"Most of all," said Tyrrell, "we appreciate the
audience that has been there for us throughout these last 24 years.
They are the reason Florida Stage was able to exist. They, our cherished
patrons, are the reason we were able to birth so many new plays that
have gone on to thrill and astonish audiences around the country. For
this, we are eternally grateful. For having to draw our curtain, we are

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Started as an intern almost 12 years ago and that was the point that launced my career in the South Florida theatre community. Thank you, Florida Stage for opening a door of opportunity for me!