Enough drama; theater company needs a vision

Our view: Deficit-ridden ATC requires creativity to expand its base and fill seats
2013-06-30T00:00:00Z 2014-06-25T16:34:04Z Enough drama; theater company needs a vision Arizona Daily Star
June 30, 2013 12:00 am

The Arizona Theatre Company needs to get its act together.

Not only does it have a $1 million deficit to make up from its fiscal year ending today, it also needs to restore donor confidence for the 2013-14 season.

Two major Tucson donors - Michael Kasser and John Schaefer - have not committed to the new season, the Star's Kathleen Allen reported June 21.

As important is maintaining the audience's perception of quality and value of the productions.

The nonprofit professional theater must resolve the reported internal personnel and board-member differences to ensure ATC's viability and enlist more public support for the valuable arts organization.

ATC has its roots in Tucson -dating to 1967 - and makes its home in one of downtown's most noted landmarks, the Temple of Music and Art. It is also a state theater, presenting a full schedule in Phoenix.

The deficit is the result of an ambitious budget for fiscal 2013 that was $850,000 higher than the previous year's, based largely on projections of higher revenues for single ticket sales and anticipation of a $500,000 gift. Single ticket sales actually decreased and the gift was not received.

Additionally, Allen reported, there is friction between managing director Mark Cole and artistic director David Ira Goldstein, who is leaving in December after 21 years at ATC. The board, made up of members from Tucson and the Phoenix area, also is divided about what needs to be done, she reported.

Cole told us the company is up against the national trend of decreasing attendance and financial support.

"Consumer behavior has changed and it's no longer predictable," Cole said. The organization did its homework, but "sometimes things don't take."

Given the market climate Cole describes, we wonder why the board voted with only one nay to approve ambitious programming and count on increasing single-ticket sales revenue by 40 percent. Ticket price increases were a component of the plan.

That unrealistically optimistic approach has put the entire operation on bad footing.

Now the focus needs to be on how to fix the problem.

Board Chairman Robert Glaser was not available for comment, but Cole says the company has scaled back for 2013-14 to a $6 million budget - a number that ATC has consistently earned and raised over the years.

What will the lower number mean for the theater season? Shows will have smaller casts and there's only one musical. Other cuts have been made in the administrative area, Cole says.

Paring down is wise, but it will take creative strategies to expand the patron base and fill some empty seats. How about hosting an affordable theater sampler event that introduces newcomers to the company and the beautiful Temple? And teaming up with downtown restaurants for package deals?

The need for ATC to get on track goes beyond its mission of presenting high-quality professional theater here and in Phoenix.

Along with the shows, the organization offers education outreach including an artist-in-resident program, lesson plans for teachers and Summer on Stage for high school students.

And importantly, not only is it one of the flagships of our arts community, it is a core attraction in downtown.

It's a pleasure to walk down the magnificently redone Scott Avenue with its streetlights, inviting landscaping and wide sidewalks to the Temple and a night of live theater.

It will take corporate and substantial individual gifts to make up for the $1 million deficit.

ATC also needs the support of the community.

As Michael Seiden, ATC's immediate past board chairman and current member of the executive committee, told us, "The board has to articulate its vision for the theater and get in sync to move forward."

Arizona Daily Star

On ATC's stage

Visit arizonatheatre.org for the season that begins Sept. 14.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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