Monday, May 26, 2008

Sobering News on the Arts Front

This from the Globe:

When Jason Southerland took the stage this month to accept two of the city's most prestigious theater awards for his production of "Angels in America," he knew what many in the audience did not: that the play, a critical and popular hit, may well have pushed his company, Boston Theatre Works, out of
business.

The ambitious production of the two-part, four-hour Pulitzer
Prize-winning play, which sold out seats at the Calderwood Pavilion in January, left the company in dire financial straits, forcing it to cancel two of the season's scheduled remaining shows and leaving its future uncertain.


Like the popular Irish-themed Sugan Theatre Company - which went on hiatus in 2006 and has yet to return - Boston Theatre Works is one of several local arts groups struggling to grow amid the reality of tight budgets and limited resources. Snappy Dance Theater, which has been featured in national
magazines and celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, was forced to close its doors this year for financial reasons.

4 comments:

Thomas Garvey said...

Let's just say it out loud - the Boston Foundation's claim that smaller arts companies struggle because they "haven't found their audience" is false. Angels in America sold out and still lost money. It found its audience, but the economies of scale simply weren't there - as they simply can't be for most local groups. The gap should be filled by grants funding. And it wasn't.

patrick said...

I hope that I can find some time to write a proper letter to the Globe about this article. While it certainly raised some concerns about the viability of small theatres, it seems like there's some lazy reporting being done here. The writer should be asking some hard questions about the BCA/Calderwood facilities and management. Why didn't the reporter dig a little harder to write about the actual rental rates, the additional fees, and the horribly expensive box office? As I understand it, this theatre was built with a large amount of donations and public financing. Why are they charging so much money that theatres goes out of business when they produce there? Clearly something is wrong with the economic model being employed by the facility. The rates are too high. Why are they charging so much?

It's wrong to chalk this up to merely a sad reality about the dying artform of theatre. There needs to be some public accountability for this facility that is intended (it is a nonprofit, yes?) to serve the public good. Some sort of reform needs to occur, such that theatre companies who bring in audiences can afford to perform in this space.

Maybe others can enlighten us on exactly who owns this facility and why it's being run the way it is. The Globe article certainly provided no insight into this whatsoever.

Art said...

Hey Patrick,

You bring up a very good point. I wouldn't expect, though, that investigative report to come from the Globe, at least not now.

But there seems to be a subtext in the article. It would appear that the BCA really did try to help out Boston TheatreWorks when it was apparent that they were falling into trouble on the rental, even early on.

The tone of both Southerland's and Gill's comments seems to suggest this.

Your comment seems to go back to Thom Garvey's comments a little bit, too. Finding audience isn't going to be enough to survive going forward. This is a situation where the rubber meets the road. An organization's board, or some type of grant, or the MCC needed to step in and fill the gap. A reduction in rental costs would probably not have helped enough here. (And it would appear that BTW was given a reduction.)

Because BTW is on hiatus, we are missing a professional production of The Crucible, (Arthur Miller has been notably absent from local professional stages for a while,) and a World Premiere musical from one of the nation's up and coming talents.

Hopefully it is just a hiatus. But be prepared. There is evidence that we may see even larger insititutions across the country start cancelling productions or shortening their seasons if the current economic climate keeps up.

Thomas Garvey said...

It's obviously frustrating for local theatre artists to see a beautiful theatre space in town, administered by a nonprofit, which is still too expensive for most groups to use. The Roberts was essentially designed for groups with solid subscriber bases and the ability to cough up a few thousand dollars in rental per week (which, as I pointed out on my blog, would still only amount to less than 10% of the take of a successful show).

Right now, of course, only SpeakEasy Stage can easily, and steadily, afford the Roberts - and while I don't mean to knock them, because they're so professional and artistically reliable, they're "contemporary" without being cutting-edge. (Maybe that's why they can afford the rent!)

Perhaps the Rogers model should be adjusted to accommodate riskier work - but that will still probably take a grant from somebody or other to make that happen. Indeed, if I had a complaint with Nicky Martin's tenure at the Huntington, it was that the theatre never fully realized the potential of what it created in the Wimberley or the Roberts. Where's the Huntington "Edge" programming that people used to dream about? Does it really boil down to Sonia Flew, The Little Dog Laughed and Ennio Marchetto? Perhaps more exciting programming could become a priority under the new regime.