Arizona Theatre Company's David Ira Goldstein on the Company's Challenges at the Brink of Its 47th Season

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Arizona Theatre Company, the state's largest producer of professional live stage work, ended its fiscal year June 30 with a $1 million deficit. In the wake of other Valley not-for-profit theaters having gone on hiatus or closed outright due to the recession, largely because of steep dropoffs in corporate giving, this news was alarming but, unfortunately, not shocking.

Just a month before, ATC's board of trustees had shared the news that longtime artistic director David Ira Goldstein would be retiring at the end of 2013. And last week, a company representative announced that managing director Mark Cole had given notice a little more than two years into a three-year contract.

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However, following Thursday's meeting of the trustees via conference call, former ATC executive director Jessica Andrews agreed to step in as interim managing director starting August 19, donors announced pledges totaling $300,000, and Goldstein committed to staying on the job through June 2014, if necessary, to ease transitions and help with fundraising, according to an August 1 press release. "I'm hoping it'll only be through June," Goldstein tells New Times. "I'll have to admit, the 1,500 pounds that came off my shoulders when I announced 'December' . . . but, other than my family -- including the three cats and two dogs -- there's nothing I love more than ATC."

Goldstein's 21-season tenure has been a period of substantial growth at ATC, marked by significant premières, development of new work by Arizona playwrights, co-productions with regional theaters in Seattle, San Jose, Minneapolis, and several other cities, and the establishment of a full-time administrative presence in Phoenix as well as the company's Tucson birthplace.

The board's current priority is to eliminate the deficit and guard against future crises, and prospective donors appear to find Goldstein's continued presence reassuring in light of his track record. He's nevertheless eager to "start the search and get a new artistic director in place.

"We've reduced our budget for next season by $1.2 million. The board seems really newly committed, as well as the staff. Most of our expense is salaries" -- which is normal for a performing arts company -- so making large cuts to ATC's budget is a painstaking process.

The new season, opening September 14 in Tucson and October 10 at Phoenix's Herberger Theater with Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, looks particularly interesting. The "gets" include Arizona premières of Other Desert Cities and Venus in Fur.

Generally, if an arts organization can muster the resources to recover from revenue shortfalls, the board and business staff can keep financial issues from affecting artistic output, at least in the short term. Actors Theatre stayed on track, as far as audiences could tell, for more than a year after they first announced serious money problems, and they'll be back in October (in a scaled-down incarnation) after less than a year on break.

The fact that Arizona Theatre Company's two chief staff positions face vacancies at fundamentally the same time that the troupe needs to take a fresh look at its fiscal sustainability is definitely a challenge, but it could also turn out to be an opportunity to spread a really broad net in the search for solutions. Nothing's set in concrete -- the company's not married to a particular course of action. (Just to throw in three tired metaphors.)

Whatever differences in strategy and style Cole and Goldstein's successors bring to the company's operations, we are, as usual, looking forward to the shows. If anyone you know might like to help financially support Arizona Theatre Company, you can ask those interested donors to call Claudia Vasquez at 602-810-0918 or visit this web page to learn more about giving opportunities.

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