A UCSC press release by Scott Rappaport announced today
Shakespeare Santa Cruz to end 32-year run due to budget problems
Arts dean to convene committee to explore ways to create a financially feasible theater company that is closely integrated with the campus
UC Santa Cruz announced today that this will be the final season for Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SSC), the professional repertory company in residence at the campus.
The current season, the 32nd since the festival debuted on campus in 1981, will conclude this year following the annual holiday show in December.
I’ve gone to Shakespeare Santa Cruz performances almost every year since 1986 (I was in Europe in summer 1995) and seen almost every production. Just about all the productions have been good, and some have been outstanding—it will be a very major loss to Santa Cruz to have Shakespeare Santa Cruz shut down.
But they’ve been losing money faster and faster. They’re in debt to UCSC about $2.13 million, and “almost $1.5 million of that has come since 2009, the year after the fundraising drive.” You would think that their near-death in 2008 would have caused them to become much more frugal in their spending and more aggressive in their grant seeking, but apparently that was not the case. Of course, the meltdown of the economy was a big contributor to their difficulties in raising funds, but they apparently were not so good at belt-tightening during the lean years.
For example, this year they invested a lot in a new stage for the Festival Glen. It is a fine new stage, and an excellent long-term investment, but they no longer have a long term to invest in. Delaying that expense by a year might have made a difference in their survival.
This year they did a reduced season (only 2 plays in the Glen and no indoor play), but still managed to spend far more than they raised: “the total shortfall [was] $750,000 for 2012-13.” They had 43 performances in the Festival Glen this summer (counting previews and the interns’ play) and the Glen seats about 600, so even with full houses, they would only have had about 24,000 tickets sold. To avoid increasing the debt this year, they would have needed $31 more per ticket. To retire the old debt as well, they would have needed $89 more per ticket—assuming they could maintain a full house for every performance.
I don’t think that they could have raised ticket prices by $31 each and filled the Glen (I’m not sure they are filling the Glen even at current ticket prices). In fact, I think that they are near the optimal ticket price for raising revenue—I would be willing to pay another $10 a ticket, but a lot of folks wouldn’t. Their charitable donations and grant funding were clearly not sufficient for their budget and haven’t been for a while, but they apparently have never managed to hire a manager who could keep their costs down to what they could raise.
I’m not only going to miss SSC as a major part of summer entertainment in Santa Cruz, but also their collaboration with WEST Performing Arts in putting on a 2-week teen acting conservatory each summer. My son has participated in 3 of these so far, and was looking forward to another one next year. Perhaps WEST will be able to attract one or two of the actors to Santa Cruz next summer to teach the conservatory, but there won’t be SSC plays to attend, backstage tours, nor meetings with the dramaturges, costumers, prop makers, and others who work behind the scenes.
I’d suggest that WEST rent the Festival Glen for their own summer theater camps. WEST can sell out a 60-seat or even 100-seat theater for a couple of performances, but I doubt that there are enough family and friends for an audience of 600. There’s also the problem that even professional actors have trouble filling the Glen with their voices, and most of the child actors would not be able to project well enough. Some have trouble even in the small indoor spaces WEST currently uses (the Broadway Playhouse and WEST End Studio Theatre).
It is a sad day for Santa Cruz, but I can’t really blame UCSC for finally pulling the plug on SSC. I don’t see any angel investors in the wings ready to swoop in and spend $2 million to rescue SSC (with another $0.5million a year needed to keep them going).