By Isaac Butler
Shakespeare Santa Cruz, a theater that helped give birth to the careers of many friends of mine, including my mentor in college, is gone, definitely for good and very abruptly.It's a sad story-- it's always sad when theaters close their doors, even if sometimes the mismanagement issues at the heart of their closure are infuriating-- and it's guaranteed to reverberate throughout the national theater community. While we seem to be past the post-bust days when theaters across America were closing as a direct result of their overbuilding, the sustainability crisis in the American theater feels far from over. Whenever I hear about major theaters in their areas that are sitting on serious debt and building maintenance sinkholes. I worry that these stories will start appearing again more regularly.
But why are they closing? From this article on the closure in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the reasons are still a bit unclear.
The main reason is that their major funder and space-provider, the Univesity of California at Santa Cruz, has unilaterally pulled the plug, apparently without notice:
"UC Santa Cruz announced Monday that, after a 32-year run, Shakespeare Santa Cruz will cease production after its 2013 holiday production.
In announcing the move, David Yager, UCSC Arts Division dean, said that continuing cost overruns at the acclaimed theater company, dating back many years, made the decision necessary.
...Yager said the decision was made purely on the basis of expenses outstripping revenues by a large margin. The university, he said, had contributed $250,000 to Shakespeare Santa Cruz's operating budget and expenses still outstripped that budget by $500,000 in fiscal 2012-13, increasing the company's overall debt by a third."
According to Yaeger, in other words, Shakespeare Santa Cruz was given a chance to get its financial act together, couldn't, and now they're being shut down. That's the reason given. However, frankly, something feels a bit suspicious about this, given that the Artistic Director wasn't warned about the decision, and the decision that SSC would be gone after Christmas was annouced before the festival was even over.
It's even stranger given this bit at the end:
Yager also announced that he will convene a committee to explore ideas to create a new theater company, though he was cautious to say that his doing so does not constitute a chance that Shakespeare Santa Cruz will be revived.
"I'm fighting for resources for classes here," he said. "I've put a lot of time and energy in (Shakespeare Santa Cruz) because I believe in it, and if I had to do it all over again, I would." But, he said, "I knew what the numbers were and really, it was getting worse."
This certainly sounds like the reason is actually University budget cuts to Yaeger's department and that he's made the budgetary decision that he can't support a $250K underwriting of SSC's budget. (There's also the odd emphatic nature of in-no-way-is-SSC-coming-back, but that may just be trying to forstall later controversy.)
So, it seems that the story here is that SSC's major funder pulled their funding amidst budget cuts. But the article sure makes it seem like the secret culprit is, you got it, Equity actors!:
Shakespeare Santa Cruz's financial woes predate both Yager's tenure at the Arts Division and Barricelli's at Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Ticket sales alone have never been able to sustain the budget of the company, which has, for its entire history, made it an artistic standard to use Equity actors in its productions.
You would never know reading this article that there isn't a single nonprofit theater in America for whom "ticket sales" have "been able to sustain the budget of the company." Instead, you get the implication that if only management were willing to make a cut rate product using non-Union labor (those union actors, after all, being so greedy with their $650/wk Equity minimum), Shakespeare Santa Cruz would still be alive today. This kind of stuff-- even when obviously uninentional-- just ends up perpetrating the poisonous anti-labor conventional wisdom that underlines most conversatiosn about the business of theater, from Broadway ticket prices to showcase code reform.