Breakouts by Budget Size: Over $2 Million
Moderator: R. Scott Philips – Utah Shakespeare Festival
Saturday, March 3, 2012, 2:50am-4:00pm
Session Summary: We’ve all faced some economic hardship but are optimistic about the future and diligent in our commitment to sustainability and fiscal responsibility.
We need to change the relationship we have with audience members in order to create permanent patrons out of younger audience members.
- What are the ramifications of your organizational and executive leadership structure?
- What are your artistic and budgetary struggles and triumphs? Share your best practices with fundraising and major donor cultivation/relationship management.
- How are you engaging with your audience beyond the performances on your stage?
Phillips: How do you struggle with artistic challenges and artistic ramifications of productions?
PSF: We have little reserve saved up. We have meetings months early. E.g., Sweeney Todd went through three designs to get within budget
APT: It’s an ongoing struggle throughout the winter with designs.
PSF (Mulcahy): We went through multiple designs of Hamlet . The budgets are real and we have to deal with that.
APT: Our rule – If you don’t stay on budget, then no one can stay on budget.
Bard on the Beach – You can be as creative as you want, but you must be creative within those bounds.
PSF: If somebody comes up with something that is just so good that is propelling your mission forward, then we can find what extra donations we need.
Stratford : How do you the plays? The aesthetic of bare and simple vs. audiences who want to see a lot of effects, “ smoke and mirrors, ” etc. How do you balance that?
Philips: When something special comes in, and you have already established a budget, and you find a donor, but you are no longer able to put enough into contributed income, what do you do
APT: The over and above has to come from our contributed income goals.
Shakes & Co.: If it ’ s over a certain amount, then I get a finance committee to get on it. Then we get bossy.
APT: If you have a $25,000 windfall on unemployment, that doesn’t give us mandate to spend it in a different line in our budget. It goes to our budget review group at that point.
Philips: Where are we in climbing out of the recession?
Shakes & Co.: MA wasn ’ t as devastated as the rest of the country. Both us and American Rep have special circumstances. Both are doing amazing artistic work and on task with sustainability, but wrestling with how you maintain net income. Shakes & Co. is climbing out of debt. American Rep is putting in more disciplined business practices.
Globe: I can ’ t really contribute.
Shakes NJ: We ’ re digging out. We had attendance issues, but last season was terrific. Our highest sale ever was … Mockingbird last summer. To be a viable moneymaker, we ’ re working on adjusting the outdoor space. We lost 14 performances for weather.
PSF: We ’ re in good shape. 2 of our best years in the last 3 yrs. We have showed the board a chart without a particular board member ’ s donation, and their jaws dropped. We have since stabilized the bottom line for us. The university has put 1M into our endowment. The President is putting that money into us because he is retiring in about 5 years.
APT: Our latest strategic mandate was let ’ s take a breath — a great choice. We had record attendance and record giving last year. This season seems a little tougher, but we ’ re good, very good.
Orlando Shakes: We ’ re good. We lost a lot of corporate support in 2008, including our golf tournament, which brought in $60,000. We’ve downsized casts significantly. I want my big show back. We ’ re in the black, though. There is progress.
Shakes & Co.: We’ve also gone down to smaller cast sizes. It ’ s tough. We’ve all had to adapt. We ’ re working to change the model.
STA Member: Contributed income has held steady. Corporate giving is near non-existent. Looking to broaden our donor base.
Oregon Shakes: We faced a big crisis with a beam breaking. Insurance is helping. Reserves, reserves, reserves. Without them I wouldn’t be sitting here. Social media is great as faster word of mouth. We lost a lot of momentum. We have a very exciting artistic season, and financially. $32M is not sustainable. Chasing after grants will drive programming. As a membership organization, we ’ ll have to head into a contributed gift donation.
Bard on the Beach: We had a significant deficit this year for the first time in our history. Thankfully we had an accumulated surplus in our reserves. A big problem is board panic. It ’ s hard to do much about it. We replaced our mainstage tent. We increased 520 to 740 for seating. It was more than we budgeted. Our numbers were sluggish. It ’ s hard to put a finger on it. Our new space was opened with a poorly reviewed show, so we never had that word of mouth. We don ’ t know what to fix because we only have one year of date. Changing pricing structures. Increasing weekend afternoon while keeping evening prices the same. It will take a few years to see where we ’ re at because so much changed in one year.
Stratford: Steady decrease in attendance over the last few years. Managed to avoid a deficit, but only just. A government program that helped that was just terminated. We started doing last-minute discount. Backfired with patrons waiting and not buying in advance. The average ticket price is a bit higher, so we ’ re surviving, but the number of audience members is worrying. Our artistic director doesn’t believe in pulling back the work on the stage. We can ’ t tell with any assurance in terms of programming what kind of choice is going to have what kind of effect. Some well-reviewed stuff is drawing no crowds and audiences are fickle.
Brazil: Very common to plan idea and keep with it. After 2010, our strategy now is getting sponsors to contribute to community-benefitting programming. Cirque du soleil got $5M from Brazilian sponsors. Our board and strategy is okay.
ASC: In 2008, we laid off 40% of our staff. We didn’t see ticket sales drop. Now sales are increasing, we ’ re hiring people back. It ’ s amazing what happens when you have a marketing director and a great development director. Education is sticking to mission. Cast numbers have decreased and we ’ ve lost almost all guest director spots. Looking at increasing numbers in both. We have a very positive but realistic managing director now. Our morale is beyond rainbow-colored. Our staff is so delighted to be there. We ’ re doing great.
Utah Shakes: 2010 and 2011 were very strong for us. Overall attendance, ticket sales, and contributed income are doing very well. We have a lot of surplus and we have thus a very ambitious budget. Nevada patrons stopped coming with the housing crisis for a while.
Phil ips: What are you seeing happening with programming? What are audience members expecting? Have the expectations changed? What are we doing about it?
Stratford: How do you tell what they want? We thought once we started doing Andre Lloyd Weber, our audiences would start to complain, but the sales have gone through the roof. Shakespeare represents about 30% of our playbill. We do 2 mainstage Shakespeares. They ’ re likely going to be in our smaller space. We’ve only got 3 Shakes plays in our 60 th season. In our 50 th we did 7.
Philips: Do we change things based on economics or audiences?
Orlando Shakes: Both. I ’ m trying to reach into more obscure plays and that is hard to do in this economy. A new possible trend we found last year was that we thought Pride & Prejudice would do fairly well but it did phenomenally. Audiences used to say “I saw 1 of the Shakespeare’s in the rep,” and then not come to the other one, but they came to both P&P and Midsummer, so we are pairing a Shakes with a non-Shakes and then moving the more obscure Shakes into a smaller space. We are partially a destination theater, but most of our audience is local.
APT: We tripled our audiences in the ‘ 90s. People don ’ t want to see Much Ado … for a third time. There have been a number of surprise hits. We ’ re looking at bringing other classics and Shakes plays that haven ’ t been done in 8-10 years.
Stratford: We’ve deliberately gone after our younger audiences. We ’ ve been quite successful in getting them to come once and not coming back.
Oregon: There ’ s 74M baby boomers and there ’ s 70M Gen X. The production Is not the end, it ’ s a means to an end. They want to be involved. It ’ s about making a severe invitation. To me, it ’ s about how to make it less sacred. I get it. However, popular culture is not a bad thing. Let ’ s take away some rules and meet in the middle. Compromise is not a dirty word. What were audiences doing 400 years ago?
Bard on the Beach: We moved from general admission to reserved seating. The long lines were a huge problem. Here ’ s the thing. There is a culture in that line-up. Getting there early and having a two-hour conversation was special. How do we create a sincere, new opportunity for connection and dialogue that makes a new experience? I will not take away popcorn. People will come back if they can be there in jeans and a t-shirt and eat popcorn and see phenomenal theatre.
APT: We do the same thing with our space. We make them walk through the woods and up a hill to get there and they love it as a sanctuary.
Orlando Shakes: I’m tempted to follow the Tweet Seats idea. You don’t want tweeters next to the person who hates it, but maybe a section in the back where that’s okay might be useful.