Friday, September 28, 2012

Geva, RPO make changes to respond to financial challenge

Posted By and on Fri, Sep 28, 2012 at 12:05 PM

In a letter to patrons sent out earlier this week, Geva Theatre Center announced that it has made several operational changes to “ensure that the organization continues its progress toward financial stability and growth.” Those changes included the elimination of five full-time positions in administration, marketing, development, and production, and the institution of unpaid furloughs in the production shops between shows.

In related news, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra announced last week that it had made repertoire changes to its 2012-13 Philharmonic Series, replacing some previously scheduled works with works that are less expensive to produce, according to a press release. One work was substituted in each of eight programs, and one work was deleted entirely from a ninth. No changes were made to the remaining five programs in the classical Philharmonic series.

A full list of the changes can be found here.

At Geva, Executive Director Tom Parrish and Artistic Director Mark Cuddy said in the letter to patrons that the cutbacks were made to counter cash-flow problems and an unrestricted working capital of negative $1.3 million. The letter also said that “Geva has turned the financial corner,” and that it is “on the long climb to financial health.”

Geva’s strategic plan calls for growing and diversifying donations and ticket sales, and in an interview this week, Parrish said that the theater has already seen improvement on those fronts. Eighty percent of Geva’s revenue currently comes from ticket sales, 20 percent from donations, while the national average is a 50-50 split. By “focusing a lot on building patron loyalty,” Parrish said, donations grew by 18 percent in the past year.

“We’re trying to connect the patron and the artists together, because it’s that relationship that’s at the core of the theater,” Parrish said. “The more people give, the more they get. It’s important that donors get to see their charitable investments at work.” That means more behind-the-scenes opportunities, and more chances to hear directly from the artists and “participating in the process of making theater,” he said.

Geva has had operating deficits for many years, but last year saw a substantial improvement, Parrish said: a deficit of $229,240, compared to $704,750 from the 2010-11 season.

The improvement gave Geva positive cash flow “for the first time since 2008,” Parrish said. “We’ve gotten past the worst of it — the bottom, so to speak. Now we’re starting to rebuild.”

The job eliminations and production-department furloughs were “difficult changes,” Parrish said. “It’s unfortunate that we had to make them. But it’s right for this theater.” Both Parrish and the letter to patrons stressed that the goal was to make cuts that would not “impact the experience of audience members, donors, or community partners.”

“This is a celebratory year for us,” Parrish says, referencing Geva’s 40th anniversary, “so we wanted to make sure that the cost reductions were in areas that hopefully the patrons don’t even notice.”

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