Future uncertain at the Egyptian Theatre
September 4, 2009
At the Egyptian Theatre Company’s (ETC) annual meeting on Wednesday, there were a few unexpected twists. Last month, Tom Brletic was poised to take the helm of the board of trustees. However, Brletic was not present at the meeting, and board member Chris Aall announced that he was taking over as chairman.
According to Brletic, he and two other executive committee members resigned two weeks ago. "We had one view about the direction the theatre should go in in terms of finances, business plan and what should be up on the stage and the majority had a different view. Basically that was it in a nutshell," he said. "A board divided is no good. We love the theatre and we wanted to get out of the way."
Aall, who has served on the board of trustees for about six months, says he stepped up because he has a background in finance and time to focus on the theatre’s needs. "I had no anticipation of things developing the way they did, but we have a very cohesive board now. I’ve seen a lot of support and we’re actively reaching out to the community to also provide support."
Aall joins a relatively new board of trustees as the ETC faces another challenging economic year. Randy Barton will retain his position as theatre manager, a role he took on in May to help the company sort out its financial issues.
During the meeting, Aall and Barton reviewed the past year and provided an outlook for the coming months. They expressed optimism about the theatre’s future but
acknowledged that there are significant challenges.
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Aall noted that the theatre has curtailed its accumulation of debt, which has reached $175,000. It has cut its overhead costs by 40 percent since last year and is currently operating with minimal staff and expenses.
The immediate goals include reducing the debt, raising money for basic operating costs, and planning productions that are financed up front or are no-risk in terms of funding. "We cannot sustain losses from productions," said Aall.
The theatre is not prepared to publish a production calendar at this time. "We will not put anything out to the public unless we can deliver," said Aall. The board plans to develop a schedule including a holiday show and other low-risk productions in the coming weeks.
Barton noted that the theatre is applying to receive funding as part of the Recreation, Arts and Parks (RAP) Tax, a portion of which is earmarked for groups promoting cultural events. Last year, the ETC received $66,000. This year’s grants will be announced in December or January. Grants cannot be used to pay off debts.
The income from the Sundance Film Festival, which rents the theatre in January, will also bolster the theatre’s financial situation.
Several community members who attended the meeting voiced frustrations and concerns about the ETC’s business plan, how the board is dealing with the debt, and the lack of a production schedule. Aall said he was not surprised that people are upset. "Many people have invested huge amounts of time, effort and financial resources into the theatre. They have strong feelings and I can understand their frustrations. It’s painful to see what’s going on," he said.
Aall said that although the theatre can’t afford large main-stage productions right, it still has a lot to offer as a community theatre. The ETC will host improv comedy classes throughout the fall, continue its Youtheatre program and rent the facility out to various groups for special events.
"All I can say is we’re not going to rush it, we’re not going to promise too much right now," said Aall. "We have to get through this period and build a strong foundation for future growth. It’s going to mean some short-term tradeoffs."
The board is also planning several community fundraising events to reach out to local supporters. The ETC will host its annual golf tournament fundraiser on Sunday, Sept. 13, at the Homestead Resort in Midway. The format is a four-person scramble with a shotgun start at 1:30 p.m. The cost is $100 per person. For more information or to sign up, call 649-9371 or visit http://www.egyptiantheatrecompany.org.
Despite the public’s frustrations and nightmarish financial circumstances, the board is adamant that the theatre will remain open and continue to provide unique opportunities for the community. "Whereas many small theatres around the country are shutting down and going dark, we’re still here," said Aall.