June 26, 2006
By AMANDA BLASZYK, Hartford Business Journal Writer
When Michael Stotts next month begins his new job as managing director of the Hartford Stage Co., his attention won’t be on the greasepaint or the boards, but the drama playing out on the company’s ledger.
Hartford’s nationally-acclaimed theatre company knows how to put on intriguing shows. But like a three-act play with second act problems, the company is wondering what it must do to get out of a financial slump and to position the physical theater itself to better serve the stage company’s needs.
Step one, Stotts intimated, is to find more support from the Greater Hartford community.
“It’s important people understand what they have in their backyards,” said Stotts, 45, who praises the city as an arts community.
“I think it’s a great company. It’s one of the most recognized and applauded companies in the United States.”
But it’s a company that needs to net more than $55,000 a week to keep the stage lights on, which means it needs to have average sales of more than $100,000 a week to meet its budget targets. Most years, Hartford Stage has simply not been able to meet all its financial goals.
Jennifer Smith Turner, the stage company’s president, acknowledged that Hartford Stage is ending its current fiscal year on June 30 with a projected $200,000 deficit. With the exception of one year in which the organization received a special bequest, it has run substantially in the red for at least the last three years.
A New Script
Making more money, through earned income such as ticket sales and contributed income such as donations, will be part of the strategic work and long range planning that Turner calls the “21st Century Hartford Stage.”
Indeed, the arts organization is getting serious about changing its fortunes. With a $500,000 state grant, an anonymous donation of $50,000 and $50,000 of the Stage’s own money, $600,000 went to studies on how to best revamp the organization, according to Kim Dobbie, interim general manager and director of finance and administration at Hartford Stage.
The three studies, based on facilities, financial feasibility and marketing, conducted by outside consultants, will “help the board make an informed decision based on the recommendations,” said Turner.
One important recommendation is that the Stage should remain at its current 50 Church Street address, but renovate the facility.
“We are committed to the central business district,” said Turner. “We see the development going on around us.”
But the current theater is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. More important, its actual stage needs to be changed to make it comparable to those at others in the region.
Hartford Stage is increasingly committed to doing co-productions – in which the cost of producing a show is borne by more than one theater. Since such a co-production travels to each presenting theatre, its backgrounds, props and staging needs to be able to work on every stage.
“A state of the art theatre might allow us to have more opportunities with co-productions with other theatres across the country,” said Dobbie.
Price Of Admission
In order to take on substantial renovation, though, the theatre company needs more money. Turner said that the financial feasibility study indicated there is indeed private money — some reports put the figure at $23 million — in the community that could help grow and sustain the Stage, which is over 40 years old.
Stotts, set to start full time at the end of July, entered into a five-year contract with Hartford Stage. He will use the consultants’ recommendations and direction from the organization’s board of directors to help him create an implementation plan.
Stotts said the Stage is looking to improve technology, make it more comfortable for the audience and increase public awareness of the organization.
When the marketing research comes in, Stotts plans to identify current audiences and find out how to reach people who don’t currently frequent the theatre.