Don't know how I missed this but last week Buffalo's Studio Arena theatre has all but folded.
(Hat tip to Mark Armstrong for being on the case.)
The Playbill story offers a sad and scary glimpse at the possible (likely?) future of similar-sized (i.e. big!) regionals in declining urban areas.
Studio Arena Theatre, the 43-year-old Buffalo, NY, not-for-profit that gave life to world premieres and revivals, has shut its doors, canceled the remainder of its season and laid off 17 staffers, it was announced Feb. 25....The company, saddled with a $3 million debt, is seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection while the next step is plotted.
That next step being...?
A new proposed business model for the theatre's future would have Studio Arena Theatre become a smaller operation and produce perhaps three productions a year (down from six or seven), while sharing its facility with other organizations.
A proposed partnership would hand over administrative, marketing and building management jobs to Shea's Performing Arts Center. Buffalo State College would take over Arena's theatre school and education arm.
Reasonable enough, I guess, given the reported post-mortem--I mean, diagnosis:
[The Buffalo News] reported that the troupe's situation was blamed on decline in subscribership (from 8,044 in 2003 to 5,047 in 2007), an aging and declining Buffalo population, loss of major donors, competition from other theatres in the region and an operating budget that relied on ticket sales for 72 percent of revenues (about 60 percent from ticket sales is the national norm).
At a Feb. 25 press conference, board president Daniel A. Dintino stated, "It became very evident early in the season that the business model being followed, where Studio Arena operated as a single organization incurring all the risk in performing every function of a full producing professional theatre — from selecting and producing each show to selling tickets — was not going to be successful."
Lots of interesting data there. First that most theatres get only 60% of their revenue from ticket sales. That's not to say ticket sales don't matter--on the contrary, it means that 100% crowd capacity only gets you 2/3rds the way to solvency. While once upon a time a little insolvency didn't matter, today's CEO-stacked Boards won't have it.Of course, single tickets aren't the issue for these theatre--it's subscriptions. And when you see that nearly 50% decline for Studio Arena in just the last 5 years I can only think of two causes: the economy and old age. Yes, the generation--dare I say "The Greatest Generation"?--of American playgoers, those born in the Depression, are rapidly entering their 70s and 80s.
So good luck to Studio Arena, especially to the folks just laid off there. Maybe you can form another more "solvent" theatre company for the 21st Century with countless colleagues around the country about to meet the same fate...