Last night we had a potluck farewell party for Andrew Rosendorf, former playwright-in-residence, and Hurley Rosendorf, former puppy-in-residence. Andrew traditionally heads north every summer, but this year, he's not coming back in August (although Hurley will be, here's to hoping). In addition to Andrew, we've said farewell in the last few weeks to our 2010-11 season interns: Emma, Cortney, Sarah Linn, Brandon, and Buck; this week we say goodbye to Alison, our artistic apprentice.
These farewells don't have much to do with the closing of the theater*. Our interns come and go each season, along with visiting actors, designers, directors, and playwrights. There are also regular staff changes, although Florida Stage seemed to have a very loyal team, with many people able to claim decades of service.
Theater is an industry for nomads, whether the artists are working for a touring production or just looking for the next gig. I am not from Florida, nor was I from Chicago or New York (both places where I lived and worked in theater). Michael, our marketing director, has worked for theaters in Maine and California, but hails from neither state. Our former interns and staff members move on to other regional theaters, or to graduate schools around the country.
This migratory tendency is, in my opinion, a huge asset to American theater. It provides a freshness, a wider perspective, on creativity and artistry than what can be sourced from a single location. This country is vast and diverse, and without a strong network of regional theaters, we'll lose the connection to our neighbors, whether they're in the next county or two states over. Instead, we'd end up isolated, wearing creative blinders, recycling ideas and double-dipping into our theatrical canon.
Because saying goodbye makes me sad, I will instead joyfully shout, "Go forth! Make art!" and await the many postcards** that will come from the extended Florida Stage family as they roam the USA.
*I no longer have to write "theatre." Small comfort!
**Yes, folks, I'm serious about the postcards. Contact me and I'll give you my address. Any postcards I get, I'll scan and post on the blog.
It's been five days now (depending on when you started counting) that we've been closed. The week has brought sadness, confusion, anger (especially on the part of some of our subscribers), frustration and loss. We're still figuring out how to close things down and, especially, figuring out what happens next.
Happily, some of our staff members have already found employment!
Others of us drink gin in the afternoons and go for long walks.
We mourn for ourselves, especially now that personal financial realities have set in, and we mourn for the larger theater community. Florida Stage produced new plays, and gave chances to young and untested playwrights, whether through education programs or through our new works festival. For a fledgling playwright, getting produced can be one of the hardest things in the world, and I wonder now where those people will turn.
In more positive news, we have this latest update:
We regret that Florida Stage is not able to refund money for tickets to shows that will not take place. However, the Palm Beach County cultural community is rallying in support of Florida Stage 2011-12 subscribers and Ella ticket-holders by developing a program that will honor your tickets at their theaters and cultural venues. Details of this program are in the works and ticket-holders will be contacted soon to learn more about it.
As we get more information about the whole process, we'll do our best to share whatever we can.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why has Florida Stage closed?
It started with the recession of 2008. The number of long-time subscribers began to dwindle. Annual rent for the company's home of 19 years in Manalapan had gone from $100,000 to $330,000, more than Florida Stage could sustain. The opportunity to move to the Kravis Center presented itself. It seemed like the perfect solution: a new home in a beautiful cultural center in the center of the community, reduced rent, the potential for growth working hand-in-hand with the wonderful Kravis Center staff. But, our core audience continued to diminish. Florida Stage subscribers went from 6,000 to 4,800 in our first season in the Rinker Playhouse. That number further declined, with only 2,000 renewing for next season. In spite of the generous support of a small group of loyal and passionate donors, and constant intensive efforts to raise additional contributions, funds to continue operating have simply run out.
Is Florida Stage filing bankruptcy?
Yes. Without the funds to continue, Florida Stage is filing Chapter 7 under the bankruptcy code, and has ceased operations with the close of its production on June 5, 2011. The summer production of ELLA, which was the highest selling musical when Florida Stage first produced it in 2006, had sold very few tickets and had to be cancelled. Without any box office revenue, and with the drastic downturn in subscriptions for the 2011-12 Season, there was no other option but to close.
It was only after exhausting every other possible option that the Florida Stage Board of Trustees voted to file for bankruptcy. The final decision was made on Saturday, June 4, the day before our closing performance of The Cha-Cha of a Camel Spider, and the staff was informed in a special meeting on Monday, June 6, at 10am.
How do I get a refund?
We regret that Florida Stage is not able to refund money for tickets to shows that will not take place. If you feel you have a claim to lodge as a part of the Chapter 7 proceedings, please contact Robert Furr of the Law Offices of Furr and Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What happens to the Florida Stage staff?
There are no better theatre professionals in the country than those that comprise the Florida Stage staff. Their artistry and professionalism is second to none. Their character and loyalty is the very personality of Florida Stage for 24 years of theatre excellence. Our greatest loss will be the team that has given Palm Beach County and the nation some of the most remarkable new plays, which have gone on to thrill audiences at theatres throughout the country. Unfortunately, with the close of the theatre, all Florida Stage staff have lost their employment.
With the closing of Florida Stage, why should I support other arts organizations?
The arts, more than any other community endeavor, best expresses the personality, the heart, and the soul of a community. With the loss of Florida Stage, a small, but rich and unique piece of Palm Beach County is gone. It is up to each of us, personally, to support all of the arts in our community to nurture and protect that which is the best in us. If for no other reason, do it selfishly. Art will fill your heart. Art will help you discover your soul. Art will best define our human spirit. It will bring us together as a community. It will give meaning to our lives.
"I see little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If it is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. Above all, we are coming to understand that the arts incarnate the creativity of a free people. I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit." — John F. Kennedy
For Immediate Release
Monday, June 6, 2011
Florida Stage files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Protection
The theatre company ceases operations with the close of The Cha-Cha of a Camel Spider on June 5, 2011
Florida Stage, one of America’s premiere professional theatre companies dedicated exclusively to the development and production of new American plays, today announced the decision of its Board of Trustees to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court. This decision was based upon several critical financial challenges currently facing the organization, specifically a marked downturn in subscription sales for its 2011-12 Season, negligible ticket sales for the summer production of ELLA, and a lack of response to the company’s intensive fundraising efforts, which has resulted in an accumulated debt of $1.5 Million and an exhaustion of funds to continue operations.
“We have made the difficult, but necessary, decision to cease Florida Stage operations,” said Michael Schultz, Co-Chairman of the Florida Stage Board of Trustees. “Faced with such financial challenges, declining ticket revenues, and insufficient donations, we had no choice but to close the theatre company.”
Problems began with the current economic recession, starting in the fall of 2008. The company experienced a decline in ticket revenue and donations, which was further exacerbated by many of their contributors who were victims of the Bernard Madoff scandal. Florida Stage immediately began a budget cutting process, which resulted in furloughs, layoffs, and a reduction of their overall budget from $4.1 Million to under $3 Million. These proactive and important steps were simply not enough to solve all of the issues they faced. In spite of what the industry publication, Backstage, called "…the most anticipated shows of the regional season", their revenue stream continued to diminish.
With their highly anticipated move to the Kravis Center, it seemed clear that they had found a perfect solution to their situation. In tough economic times, reduce redundancies, maximize efficiencies, and expand collaborations. “We felt that our relocation to the Kravis Center was a model of how to respond to the ‘new normal’ of the economic downturn,” said producing director Louis Tyrrell, who founded the company in 1984 as The Learning Stage, which brought theatre and arts-education to hundreds of thousands of children over the years in the Palm Beach County School District. “By moving to the Rinker Playhouse, our rent and utilities were reduced by $200,000. The wonderful Kravis Center facility and staff welcomed us warmly, and took over security, front-of-house and usher operations, and provided additional box office services, among many other collaborative efficiencies. And moving to the center of the Palm Beach County community, we were sure that an expanded audience would welcome us to our new home, especially with the cross-pollination potential of both the Florida Stage and Kravis Center audiences.” But, instead of audience growth, the company experienced a continuing reduction in ticket sales. The Florida Stage subscriber base has diminished from more than 7,000 at its height to less than 2,000 for the 2011-12 Season.
But, in these many years and nearly 150 plays produced, Florida Stage was beloved by many, and developed a national reputation for its bold mission of producing exclusively new work that was always provocative and innovative, challenging theatrical boundaries. Despite their current plight, there are deep emotions and an abiding commitment to this theatre company. “Florida Stage is a milestone in my growth as a playwright,” said playwright William Mastrosimone. “Its focus on new and emerging work allows for established playwrights like myself to launch new work, but more importantly, young playwrights have a home to grow their talent so that the art may live for another generation.” And Helen Merrill Award-winner, Deborah Zoe Laufer, whose first professional production debuted at Florida stage, said, “Nobody has had more to do with the fact that I’m a playwright than Florida Stage.”
From its start in the Palm Beach County Schools, students were given their first theatre experiences, which helped them discover their inner selves, and through their own writing and performance opportunities, they built their confidence and communication skills. In 1987, in residence at the Duncan Theatre at Palm Beach State College (as Theatre Club of the Palm Beaches), Florida Stage grew quickly, from 400 to more than 4,000 subscribers in its first four years. Outgrowing the small college lecture hall, they moved to the Plaza Del Mar in Manalapan in 1991 where, with the generous support of Lois Pope, the company continued to expand.
Throughout this time, the generosity of their Board of Trustees, individual patrons, foundations, corporations, the Palm Beach County Cultural Council and Tourist Development Council, the Betty Bell Educational Trust, the State of Florida, the National Endowment for the Arts, and most recently, with the Florida Stage relocation, the Board and staff of the Kravis Center, and the Mayor and staff of the City of West Palm Beach, all contributed to the support of the Florida Stage mission and the excellence of its acclaimed productions, until the economic downturn and the loss of its core audience began to take its toll.
The history and impact of Florida Stage will live on as a legacy to Palm Beach County culture. The world-class artists who have graced its stage with their remarkable talents – from playwrights to actors, directors, designers, and the team of theatre professionals who are the true unsung heroes of the theatre – they will move on to create memorable theatre art wherever they go. And perhaps a new audience can be found and developed for the kind of thought-provoking new work for which Florida Stage has become renowned. Time will tell.
"Most of all," said Tyrrell, "we appreciate the audience that has been there for us throughout these last 24 years. They are the reason Florida Stage was able to exist. They, our cherished patrons, are the reason we were able to birth so many new plays that have gone on to thrill and astonish audiences around the country. For this, we are eternally grateful. For having to draw our curtain, we are heartbroken."
A little over a week ago, we opened Carter Lewis's The Cha-Cha of a Camel Spider and this play only has more relevancy today then ever. Erik Prince's company Xe Services (formally Blackwater Worldwide) has headed overseas to work with U.A.E. on creating military forces. If you have already gone to see The Cha-Cha of a Camel Spider or if you just bought your tickets, this New York Times article, posted online two days ago, will only make you more passionate about the show. Check it out here:
Also to learn more about Xe Services check out: FurtherMore: Privatized Military
~Alison Maloof, Artistic Apprentice
For this second year of Gen Z Global Stage, I was again honored to have worked with an amazingly talented group of young artists from across the globe. As recent world events demonstrate, young people are at the heart of social change. And few things have more dramatically changed the world, and our view of ourselves in it, than artistic expression.
In locations such as Florida, Chile, Singapore and The Philippines, participants spent 5 months getting to know each other through the Gen Z Global Stage Facebook Group; sharing their hopes and dreams, and collaborating on artistic pieces — some of which were presented this past Monday evening before a live audience here at Florida Stage.
The purpose of Gen Z Global Stage is not only to supply a venue for young artists to express themselves, but to also allow us — the audience — a glimpse into how they view the world. As many of us involved in the project were reminded, the challenges and joys of being a young person are remarkably universal.
This is a valuable lesson for these young people to learn as they venture out to make their way as citizens of the world. After working with them these past several months, I can't help but feel the world is in capable and creative hands.
— Robert Goodrich, Media Arts Specialist