Culture News

Arizona Theatre Company Raises $2 Million Needed to Produce 2016-17 Season

Arizona Theatre Company, which announced on June 27 that it needed to raise $2 million to avoid closing, has reached its fundraising goal, according to a statement released on Monday, July 18.

It’s good news for the Tucson-based company founded in 1966, which is Arizona’s only member of the prestigious League of Resident Theatres, and performs at both the Temple of Music and Art in Tucson and the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix.

The company has struggled in recent years with financial difficulties and leadership transitions.

But in its July 18 statement, Arizona Theatre Company stated that it is moving forward with the 2016-17 season, even as it considers ways to modify the "shape and scope" of the season to reduce expenses and generate needed revenue. 

The news caps off several weeks of speculation about whether the company might become the latest local theater to cease operations in the face of funding issues. Arizona Jewish Theatre Company shuttered in 2012, and Actors Theatre in 2014. Both cited significant financial shortfalls.

Just days after announcing a July 1 deadline for raising the $2 million needed to continue operations, Arizona Theatre Company extended that deadline to July 15 based on a pledge by Mike Kasser, a board member and president of the real-estate investment firm Holualoa Companies, to raise and donate $1 million if Phoenix donors would also contribute at least $1 million to the cause.

Since then, Arizona Theatre Company has provided periodic updates about progress towards that goal.

In a press release issued on Friday, July 8, Arizona Theatre Company announced that 213 Tucson donors and 145 Phoenix donors had pledged or committed a combined total of $200,000 toward its current fundraising effort. Another release, issued Tuesday, July 12, announced that the effort had thus far raised $447,620 from 599 donors – including 29 from supporters living outside of Tucson, Phoenix, or the state.

But as of 3 p.m. on Friday, July 18, Arizona Theatre Company had generated $718,805 in donations. So the company announced that it would take the weekend for final fundraising efforts and accounting, delaying announcement of a final decision until July 18.

The company’s current struggles are rooted partly in events that transpired in 2013.

Arizona Theatre Company ended its fiscal year on June 30, 2013, with a $1 million deficit, forcing the company to reduce its budget for the following season by $1.2 million. Managing director Mark Cole left that year, and former executive director Jessica Andrews returned in an interim capacity.

Artistic director David Ira Goldstein, who had announced he would be retiring at the end of 2013, agreed to stay on through June 2014. In fact, he never retired. Instead, Goldstein remained to help Arizona Theatre Company navigate several steps designed to increase its financial stability — including cutting staff, cast sizes, overhead, and programs.

The company also cut back on commissioning new plays and co-produced works with other theaters. including Stray Cat Theatre, Goldstein told New Times by e-mail. Still, Arizona Theatre Company struggled in the face of "greatly reduced government, corporate, and foundation money," which meant greater reliance on individual donations. 

It remains to be seen how Arizona Theatre Company will manage to survive, or thrive, moving forward.

Funds raised during its recent plea aren’t enough to make the company whole, according to a “frequently asked questions” section on its website – which indicates that the funds will be used to produce Arizona Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary season, even as it works to identify “the most cost-effective and efficient business model” for future operations.

Traditionally, 40 percent of its budget has come from grants, sponsors, and donors. The company says corporate donations have decreased in recent years, but there’s good news on the grant front. Recent awards include $78,909 from the City of Phoenix Office of Arts & Culture and $75,000 from Arizona Commission on the Arts, although the Commission placed its award in hold pending the outcome of this latest fund drive.

Typically, 60 percent of Arizona Theatre Company’s overall revenue comes from ticket sales – so having a successful season is a must. The 2016-17 lineup – which includes King Charles III, An Act of God, Fiddler on the Roof, The River Bride, Holmes and Watson, and Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash – looks promising. 

And there's one more bit of good news: Goldstein will be staying on as artistic director to see the company through this, its 50th anniversary season.