I’m Not Dead Yet!

Well, it seems you can’t keep a good theatre down. In the news today, the Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, NY will re-open after declaring bankruptcy in 2008. This case is similar to the situation at North Shore Music Theatre and Coconut Grove Playhouse I wrote about a couple years ago in that outside entities bought up the debt and physical plant with plans to implement a different business plan and structure than the previous organizations.

Unlike the North Shore Music Theatre and Coconut Grove Playhouse, the non-profit entity which took over the Studio Arena Theatre won’t be keeping the same name. Instead of producing plays as the former organization had, the new owners have plans to present and rent the space and have contracted Shea’s Performing Arts Center to provide management services.

Unfortunately, as reported last month, there have been some rough patches with the Coconut Grove Playhouse deal. But I don’t think that detracts from the fact that people in each of these communities recognized that value that these arts organizations had for them and sought to revive them. Each perceived a void that existed when the organizations closed and enough of an unmeet need to warrant restoration.

Yes, there are a number of arts organizations that close every year never to return, but there have also been some prominent resurrections like these. The Pasadena Playhouse declared bankruptcy in 2010, emerged from it 4 months later and had a $350,000 surplus after the 2010-11 season. (I hadn’t included them as an earlier example because they never closed and dissolved as an organization.) I think it may be too early to declare the arts a dying concern quite yet.

Part of me applauds the prudence of groups like the one that is reopening the Studio Arena for heading in a new direction instead of attempting to replicate the past. Still, even though one of the complaints about the old Studio Arena was that it didn’t employ many local actors, it is a shame that Buffalo has fewer professional acting companies. Granted, the stories about the revival indicate that they looking to book shows with two week runs interspersed with university productions and one night engagements so perhaps there is an opportunity for acting companies to produce. Overall, I think the range of programming envisioned for the space will be beneficial for the community.

On a related note, I was wondering if non-profits being engaged to run the facilities of other non-profits is an emerging trend. Admittedly, it may be commonplace and I have simply been unaware of it until recently. Feel free to correct me.

One of my former employers, Appel Farm Arts and Music Center, was recently asked to take over the management of the nearby Landis Theater by that theater’s board.

I was proud of my friends at Appel Farm for having their expertise recognized. If this is an emerging trend, then I will be doubly proud of them for being on the leading edge of it.

In case I actually have to explain the title of this post:

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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