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Published: Friday, 5/4/2001

Rep's cash woes tied to off-site programs

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo Repertoire Theatre is $85,000 in debt, has loans and a maxed-out credit line that total $105,000, and is struggling to make its payroll.

“We are hanging on by a very, very thin thread,” wrote Brian Bethune, the Rep's artistic director and chief executive officer, in an e-mail Wednesday to the nonprofit theater's board members. “But help is on the way, if we can hold out just a little longer.”

He said the group has $800 in its checking account, $55,000 in outstanding loans, and a credit line debt of $50,000. And it needed thousands more to pay its staff.

“This is a short cash-flow time for us. It happens around January and April,” Mr. Bethune said.

Robert Welly, president of the Rep's board, said the theater has survived other crises during its 68-year history.

This is the biggest shortfall he has seen in the 20 years he has been associated with the group, but it's not insurmountable.

“We'll pull in our horns a little bit, do more productions at our theater, and produce shows with strong commercial appeal to the Toledo market,” he said.

He said he hopes the theater will recover by the end of the year.

Problems snowballed after the theater decided to do four shows this season at the downtown Valentine Theatre.

“We took a calculated risk with deciding to do a major portion of our season at the Valentine based on the success we had with Christmas Carol there in 1999,” Mr. Welly said. Almost every show in the 900-seat theater was sold out. It was shortly after the 19-century theater had been remodeled, and the public was eager to see the facility.

In June, audience turnout was strong - about 87 per cent attendance - for the Rep's Crazy for You. But production costs were so high, the Rep only realized a profit of $2,500.

The Rep took another risk by doing two nonmusicals at the Valentine. The results were dismal. Inherit the Wind had about 30 per cent attendance, and lost thousands of dollars. In February, Romeo and Juliet barely broke even, and three performances were canceled.

“It isn't just the rental costs, but also the house size. With 900 seats you have to do more performances. But each time you do that, you have your fixed costs, which increase,” Mr. Welly said.

And, royalty costs, which are fees paid to use a script, rose dramatically for shows at the Valentine. Royalties are tied to theater size and ticket price.

To ramp up for plays at a bigger venue - the Rep's 10th Street stage has 200 seats - the Rep spent more on advertising.

And, it grew. By last summer, the three-person staff it had four years ago had mushroomed to 16 full and three part-time employees, including a marketing person, a fund-raiser, and a technician who constructs sets for the Valentine's bigger stage, he said.

It scheduled more shows and added performances. And, it moved into an 11,000-square-foot building at 1717 Adams St., consolidating all its operations under one roof.

Renovations cost more than the $40,000 it expected - about $65,000, said Mr. Bethune, in addition to monthly rent of $1,500. The organization also upgraded its computer system.

“We did that in the anticipation of added revenue,” he said, noting the debt is secured by the Tenth Street stage building.

Then the Rep hiked ticket prices, and many patrons balked at the higher prices.

“Had we sold the amount of tickets we anticipated, we would've been in fine shape,” Mr. Welly said.

In addition, the Rep intended to seek sponsors for shows at the Valentine, but several Valentine donors said they are still paying off their gifts to that theater.

Last week, the Rep canceled HMS Pinafore, which it planned to mount at the Valentine in June. Mr. Bethune said he couldn't field enough actors with strong voices to handle the roles, but acknowledged the savings will be substantial.

Instead, the Rep is auditioning actors this week for the light-hearted Nunsense, which it will stage at its home theater in June. It plans to produce Grease on the same stage in July.

Its current show, How I Learned to Drive, was postponed a week because actors couldn't be found for the roles.

The Rep has no plans for future productions at the Valentine, which is scrambling to rent the seven weekends the Rep had reserved for next season, Dale Vivirito, executive director of the Valentine, said. It is too late, he said, to book the June weekends HMS Pinafore would have played at the Valentine.

Mr. Bethune said the Rep expects to receive $15,000 from the city of Toledo in three weeks and $20,000 from the Ohio Arts Council in August.

He asked board members to host membership parties in the next two weeks with an aim toward raising $25,000 for payroll, utilities, and taxes.



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