Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

The Florida Stage
Bids Adieu

Also see John's report on Stage Door's new theatre

The Florida Stage, one of America's premier 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. The theatre company ceases operations with the close of The Cha-Cha of a Camel Spider on June 5, 2011. 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."

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 "...t he 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. 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." 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.

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. 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."

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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