Facing what its executive artistic director describes as “desperate financial times,” the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa is canceling four of its 14 scheduled productions in the current season.
The move is aimed at overcoming a financial deficit and refocusing the group’s efforts toward more contributed income, or philanthropic donations. The productions that are being canceled were to be staged in the group’s Studio Theatre, a smaller more intimate venue that typically housed classics, new works and less commercially viable productions.
Ticket sales, which include the roughly 650 season ticket subscribers, account for about 60 percent of the group’s annual revenue. In contrast, when the theater company started in 2005, there were 1,400 season subscribers.
Donor giving now accounts for 40 percent of the company’s operating budget, which last year was about $1.1 million. Poor attendance at a recent Studio Theatre production highlighted the need to focus more on donations.
“We can’t possibly produce any more theater than we already are in order to cover that 60 percent of our budget,” said Craig Miller, 6th Street’s executive artistic director.
Miller said that with so many shows, some of them performing at the same time, “We’ve started to feel that we are even competing with ourselves. We offer too much theater.”
The average avid theater-goer attends the theater about four times a year, he said. “I’m asking my patrons to come 14 times a year.”
The shows being canceled are “4,000 Miles,” “Lucky Me,” “Empty Nesters” and “Assassins.” Patrons who had already purchased tickets for those shows may donate the cost to 6th Street, exchange the tickets for those to productions in the main GK Hardt Theatre or request a refund.
The cancellations will free up playhouse staff time to work on the organization’s marketing and development strategies. It also allows the group to rent out the space for outside uses, such as cabarets, special events and fundraisers.
“Canceling these shows doesn’t solve our immediate financial problems,” Miller said. “All it does is open staff up to focus on fundraising and development efforts and to also concentrate on strengthening the marketing for the remaining 10 shows that will still appear in the GK Hardt Theatre.”
The 2014-15 season’s performance schedule for the Studio Theatre originally included 6 shows. The first, a newly envisioned production of “The Glass Menagerie,” ran from Sept. 12 to Sept. 28, and the second, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” is underway and closes Nov. 9.
Miller said the need to cancel the remaining shows became evident after attendance for “The Glass Menagerie” fell far short of projections.
The playhouse projected attendance for the 13 performances would average out to 75 percent capacity for the 100-seat theater. The actual attendance turned out to be 54 percent.
Miller said that if the rest of the Studio Theatre season productions performed as poorly, the group would end up losing just under $2,000. Even in the best case scenario, where the remaining four productions achieved 60 to 80 percent capacity, the season would only net $14,500, but only after $42,000 in production costs alone. That expense does not include overhead and staff costs.
“It was a very difficult decision and it took some time to discuss it and look at all the options,” said Pam Zainer, president of the theater company’s board of directors.