The tough economy has claimed more victims, as Penumbra Theatre announced yesterday that it's cancelling two upcoming shows for its 2011-2012 season.
Penumbra Artistic Director Lou Bellamy insists that this is a preemptive move for the longstanding African-American-based theater. "In the past when we've made these decisions, it's been in the face of imminent disaster. This time, we knew we would have a challenge when the sponsorships at the Kennedy Center were coming in at one-half or one-quarter of what we expected. We knew we would be coming up short."
Eliminated are Julius By Design, scheduled to run in February and March; and Bourbon at the Border, which would have run in late March and April. This is the second time Julius By Design has been affected. It was originally scheduled to be presented earlier this year, but was moved to the 2011-2012 season.
While ticket sales have seen a strong increase in recent years, and even corporate donations have improved, it was not enough to balance the books. Cancelling the two shows is a key part of cutting $600,000 in expenses to the current budget.
The current run of I Wish You Love will continue as scheduled, closing December 18. The final show of the season, The Amen Corner, will go on as planned. It will be presented at the Guthrie Theater in May and June.
A new five-year business plan is set to begin in 2012. The exact details of it won't be revealed until the spring, but Penumbra promises that the plan will eliminate debt and restore cash reserves.
"This is forcing us to not only look at this season, but the way we structure audience engagement and our shows in the future. The old structure isn't working anymore. We are looking to find other ways to keep audiences engaged, and for us to champion social justice issues," Bellamy says. "What is the new normal? I don't know what it is, but it isn't the old model."
There is still some flexibility in the Penumbra season. I Wish You Love has been a terrific hit for the theater, already earning a two-week extension. It's a piece that, if there is demand, could be remounted, Bellamy says.
Beyond that, the theater will be busy building up to The Amen Corner in the spring and exploring how to restructure itself for the future.
"We were confident where we stood at the beginning of the season," Bellamy says, "but the economy is coming back so tepid that everyone is rejiggering their expectations."
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