Long Wharf Theatre Slashing Budget — What Regional House Might Fail Next?

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Long Wharf Theatre

UPDATE: Laura Collins-Hughes on her blog, Critical Difference, did the industry a service when she concluded that Frank Rizzo’s reporting was, in her words, “unclear”:

Story continues below.



Long Wharf isn’t cutting 40 to 50 jobs; it’s cutting about 10 percent of a full-time staff that numbers between 40 and 50 people. That’s four or five jobs. Still not great news, but much better than 10 times that.

Certainly the blogger who decided it was his province to tsk-tsk me for posting this piece didn’t catch this, either. I guess when you’re so busy playing the moral high ground (as opposed to my immoral low ground) you don’t have the time to catch factual errors. So a pox on both our houses, right? Now, on with the original piece…

With the unfortunate demise of North Shore Music Theatre now a fact consigned to history, news came out yesterday that Long Wharf Theatre, arguably the pride of New Haven, Conn., has had to slash its annual budget by more than $1 million, resulting in the loss of 10 percent of the company’s staff.

Before I provide an excerpt from Frank Rizzo’s always-fine reporting in the Hartford Courant on the Long Wharf situation, I want to provide some of the copy currently living on North Shore’s website. Among other things, I ask this question — if the organization didn’t raise the $2 million it needed to, fine, but what will become of the $500,000 that it did raise? If someone gave money thinking they were helping the theater to survive, and the theater didn’t survive, to what degree is this a false pretenses case? Anyone? Here’s the excerpt:

…Although more than $500,000 in pledges have been made since the theater announced a turn-around strategy in mid April, officials of the theater say that time has run out to raise the balance and move forward with its plans.

“In the last two months we have been able to make progress toward our fundraising goal, but sadly, this is not enough to fund a 2009 season and keep the theater open,” said David Fellows, NSMT Board Chair. “Without a season this year, we are unable to address the substantial debts of our creditors and restore the theater’s economic health.”

NSMT’s debts include large mortgages on its property and buildings and debts to vendors, the State of Massachusetts, and subscribers who paid in advance for the 2009 Season. Theater officials are in discussions with its senior creditor and are reviewing the options available for liquidating and maximizing the value of the theater’s assets for its stakeholders, as well as identifying potential buyers of the property who might consider a lease back of the theater.

There is also, by the way, a great analysis of what happened in the otherwise sadly moribund Boston Globe. And now, as promised, here is Rizzo’s reporting:

…The Tony award-winning theater is laying off about 10 percent of its full-time staff – between 40 and 50 employees – and also eliminating five seasonal workers, switching six year-round contracts to seasonal work, instituting a hiring freeze, cutting production costs and reducing salaries from 1 percent to 4.5 percent.

Artistic director Gordon Edelstein and new managing director Ray Cullom would not characterize how the current fiscal year – which ends in 10 days – will end because contributions are still coming in.

The $1 million cut in the 2009-10 budget – to $5.2 million from $6.2 million – “is an extremely conservative budget to keep ourselves out of trouble,” says Edelstein.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Long Wharf is about to go the way of North Shore — far from it, or so it seems. But it does raise a more, or at least equally, salient question: What theater will be the next to go the way of North Shore and that of so many others? Should we take bets? Or should we call the situation what it is — a dire emergency — and wonder to what extent organizations like Theatre Communications Group should or could be put into action. A far more dynamic URL might be a great way to start, assuming administrative resistance to the idea can be assuaged.