April 28, 2005
By FRANK RIZZO, Courant Staff Writer
Facing a significant
deficit from a less-than-blockbuster Broadway season, the
Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts faces staff layoffs
and restructuring in May, says David Fay, executive director
of the Hartford presenting house.
Fay says changes in the entertainment industry are causing
the arts center to radically change the way it does business,
including what it programs, who it programs for and how it
markets the programs. The center currently has 50 full-time
"This is more than just dealing with a tough year," Fay
says of the Bushnell's 75th anniversary season. "This
is as much about restructuring ourselves to deal with a completely
different entertainment industry than we have had to deal
with, historically speaking. We're in the middle of figuring
it all out now, and we don't know yet how it will look but
it will be permanent. This is not just temporary restructuring
to deal with a single bad year."
For the budget year ending June 30, Fay forecasts a deficit
of between $500,000 and $1 million for the Bushnell, which
has an annual operating budget of $15 million and a $19 million
endowment. The shortfall is attributed to the one-two punch
of falling ticket sales and a drop-off of contributed income.
The show touring industry
is having a difficult season nationwide, with many - though
not all - presenting houses reporting that productions,
including "The King and I," "Oklahoma!" and "Big
River," are failing to meet their expectations in their
bread-and-butter "Broadway" series, which usually
fund a large part of operations.
The Wang Center for the Performing Arts in Boston recently
announced that it expects a deficit of more than $1 million
in its current season. The Wang now faces increased competition
with the new Boston Opera House, owned and managed by Clear
The Shubert Theater in
New Haven reports a 20 percent decline in box office projections
for the season ending in June, according to William B.
Conner, president and CEO of CAPA, the Ohio-based firm
that manages the theater. However, its contributed income,
including sponsorships, is up by nearly as much, and at
this point Conner sees a "small but
manageable deficit." He says there are two months left
in the fiscal year and several events remain scheduled for
the theater, so the Shubert could well end the season without
any red ink.
The Providence Performing Arts Center, which has an operating
budget for its single stage at just under $10 million, will
report a modest surplus.
"I know a lot of people are taking a hard look at what
they're doing," says PPAC President Lynn Singleton,
adding that his theater doesn't feel a need to reinvent itself.
Singleton, however, points out that he just spent a year
slightly reducing his staff through attrition. Singleton
says he has 35 full-time staff members but the arts center
expects to fill some of those vacant positions. He is also
optimistic about the shows that are being groomed to tour
in the next several years.
No one at the Stamford Center for the Arts could be reached
To add to the Bushnell's
economic woes for the 2004-05 season, its "Broadway" series
failed to line up a corporate sponsor, which can bring
as much as $250,000 into the coffers. The Bushnell had
budgeted for anticipated deficits for the first few years
after the opening of the $45 million Belding Theater in
2002, but that fiscal cushion expired last year.
The Bushnell programs for several different size spaces,
including its 2,800-seat Mortensen Hall, its 900-seat Belding
Theater, and other smaller spaces in the arts center used
for community events, including the Autorino Great Hall and
the Seaverns Room. The Bushnell also runs its Partners program,
its arts education component.
This year, the Bushnell's
activities as a producer increased with "The Overcoat," a dance-theater piece that
originated in Canada and will be touring to other theaters
next season. The Bushnell's producing efforts will continue,
Fay says, because such endeavors are not part of the problem
but, rather, "part of the solution."
R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, chairman of the Bushnell
board and president of the MetroHartford Alliance, says the
changes at the arts center are not focused solely on cost-cutting. "We
are trying to align the talent in the organization and the
financial realities we face with where the marketplace is
driving us," he says.
Fay anticipates the upcoming
2005-06 Broadway season will be one of the Bushnell's strongest
in years with a six-week engagement of Disney's "The Lion King," a two-week
run for the hit musical "Wicked," and several other
likely audience-pleasers, including a national tour of "Dr.
"It's painful," Fay says of the pending cuts and
restructuring, "but it's something we need to do. A
lot of companies are going through this now. The industry
has changed and the marketplace has become increasingly segmented.
We have to address the demands of a highly competitive marketplace.
People not only have more to choose from, but are more selective
in what they choose to see, and we have to be responsive
A discussion of this story with Courant Staff Writer Frank
Rizzo is scheduled to be shown on New England Cable News
each hour today between 9 a.m. and noon.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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