Monday, June 6, 2011

Theater news: Florida Stage files bankruptcy, shuts its doors

Eric Mendenhall and Elizabeth Birkenmeier
in The Cha-Cha of a Camel Spider,
the final production at Florida Stage.

By Hap Erstein

Next week,‭ ‬Florida Stage was supposed to launch its‭ ‬25th anniversary season,‭ ‬beginning with the return of the musical biography‭ ‬Ella and continuing with a slate of world and regional premieres.‭

But the operative words are‭ “‬was supposed to,‭” ‬for the West Palm Beach company devoted exclusively to new work filed for Chapter‭ ‬7‭ ‬bankruptcy protection and ceased operations with the scheduled end of the run of‭ ‬The Cha-Cha of a Camel Spider on Sunday.

In a statement,‭ ‬the theater cited‭ “‬several critical financial challenges‭” ‬facing the organization,‭ ‬including a marked downturn in subscription sales for the‭ ‬2011-2012‭ ‬season,‭ “‬negligible‭” ‬ticket sales for‭ ‬Ella‭ ‬and a lack of response to intensive fundraising efforts.‭ ‬These all contributed to accumulated debt of‭ ‬$1.5‭ ‬million,‭ ‬insufficient funds to continue operating and a decision by the board of trustees to close the theater.

Not mentioned among the factors in the bankruptcy decision was Florida Stage’s move last summer from its former home in Manalapan to the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse.‭ ‬Although that move resulted in a saving of‭ ‬$200,000‭ ‬in rent and utilities,‭ ‬substantial numbers of subscribers were unhappy with the new venue.‭ ‬The subscriber base shrank at the Kravis for this past season to less than‭ ‬2,000,‭ ‬compared to more than‭ ‬7,000‭ ‬at the company’s high point.

In making the announcement,‭ ‬producing director Louis Tyrrell praised the theater’s patrons, calling them "the reason we were able to birth so many new plays that have gone on to thrill and astonish audiences around the country.‭ ‬For having to draw our curtain,‭ ‬we are heartbroken.‭”

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