« Reducing Literature: Anthony Lane on Elmore Leonard | Main | Novak Djokovic and Masculinity »

August 27, 2013


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Marco Barricelli

all i will say is that Mr. Butler is onto more than he knows. his instinct has him suspecting in all the right places. as AD of SSC, i must be very cautious about what i can say publicly. at least until they close our doors for good, which will happen later this year. i am not interested in a media war with this university. the thing that all of us in the not-for-profit world need to do a better job at is letting the public know that, as mr. butler accurately states, NONE of our not-for-profit theatres are sustained by ticket sales. ticket sales are a small piece of the financial puzzle. the amount of people saying that if we had increased ticket prices or found ways to sell more tickets (as if that were not our prime-directive every day) we would still be alive, are simply naive and missing the much bigger point. ticket sales might help a tiny tiny bit but they will never be the panacea. what we really need is for business and science people to understand that an investment in the humanities (the human arts) is a profoundly worthy investment, whose dividends may not be visible on a spreadsheet but have an incomparable impact on all of our lives.

Randall Stuart

Bravo, Marco. As a chap now running a non-profit Humanities organization in Portland...and the recipient of *The Utter Joy!* at helping to create but a mere moment in the history of SSC (in fact, a holiday show several years ago...during which it became apparent that it, too, might be the last offering of the company) I can report that ticket sales are the LAST thing you count on. Fuhgettaboutit. In fact, we don't mount one of our salons or symposia here at Cerimon House without first making sure there is an artistic co-sponsor to cover the budget. That's where we are, America. That is the litmus. That is the burden of those of us convinced that the Cultural Arts are the *only* way in which we (a young...teenaged even...nation) can move towards a sense of Civilization. Oy! Alas! Anon!

Lynn Baker-nauman

Ucsc's enrollment will be affected by this decision. The chance to work alongside professional actors while training as an undergrad was a huge pull for me. This is devastating news to the theatre community in California and to Santa Cruz in general.

Steve T.

Marco, I don't think it is helpful to blame this on a lack of understanding by "science people." I haven't seen this year's list of SSC donors, but historically the company has been disproportionately supported within the UCSC community by science faculty, in their dollars donated, their attendance (including group sales for science conference attendees), and their volunteer service on the SSC board.

Marco Polo

Don't get me wrong: I love (loved?) SSC. But I do wonder how closely tied it was to the university. Compared to other town/gown points of contact like the Seymour Center or the Farm--where there are clear points of integrating UCSC researchers and students--I haven't noticed a lot of SSC presence in campus classrooms, though maybe I'm missing something. Was it enough of a plus for UCSC that it just brought people to the Glen and to the Mainstage? Yes of course, nonprofit arts organizations should be supported by communities and not judged according to market/profit logics. But in this case, is the responsible community Santa Cruz, or is it the University of California at Santa Cruz? To whom did it most obviously "belong"?

Cynthia Fuhrman

Excellent discussion. In virtually every non-profit theater in America, tickets are roughly 50 - 70% of operating budget. And those nearer the 70% end of that spectrum are the ones that are the most vulnerable financially: one missed sales target, one production that doesn't "land" with the public, one set of bad reviews, and their financial world is turned upside down. The healthiest and most artistically exciting theater community in the world for years was the non-profit (or, more concisely named "subsidised") theater in London: the National, the RSC, etc. That subsidy came largely from public sources: government, namely. They have had significant cuts in Britain in recent years, and have struggled to find other sources (corporate, individuals) to balance budgets. So their models are now more aligned to what most of us in the U.S. run on. A healthy professional non profit theater, with ticket pricing that can ensure varied, diverse audiences, must not and cannot survive on ticket income alone. The investment (and it IS an investment, in our culture and our humanity) from all kinds of sources is required and should be celebrated.


This may not be popular in some circles and I am not one of them, but many in our community are completely uninterested in the doings of UCSC. Libraries, Astronomy and Redwoods aside, Shakespeare Santa Cruz seemed a happy exception. A nationally known, talented claim to fame. No need to drive to Ashland, Oregon for world class Shakespeare! Of course it has to be subsidized in some way. Equity actors? How about some equity capital? Or is that too commercial for Santa Cruz? A sad day.


Not knowing the full picture, but having been a former employee of SSC and a student at UCSC, I also want to make sure that the focus is on the statewide lack of support for the UC system in general. If the state budget were able to keep up its historic levels of support for higher education, then UCSC would be in a better situation, and the dean of arts wouldn't have to decide between a $250k outlay for SSC or new faculty for the theater or music departments (for instance). When voters in CA allow broad cuts to happen, assuming they are so removed as to not have an impact on their lives, they shouldn't be surprised when that impact shows up.

Again, I have not intricate knowledge of the situation and don't necessarily disagree with the commentary so far, but didn't want the elephant in the room to go unsaid.

James Anderson Merritt

I have supported SSC in word and ticket-purchasing deed since we started taking our son to the holiday shows in the late 1990s. The theater -- this theater, in particular -- is an important part of our family tradition. Since SSC's "near death experience" in 2008, we have prioritized season tickets over live music, movies, and even certain day trips. I would happily pay more for tickets and, if they passed the hat at intermission, I would kick down. I am not well off, by any means, but live theater is that important to me and my family. That said, when I learned that NO non-profit community theater in the country sustained itself via ticket sales, I became profoundly uncomfortable. I understood, then, that the writing was on the wall for SSC and other similarly-funded troupes, and that their demise was only a matter of time, because there would someday come a limit to charity sponsorship and the ability of governments to divert taxes directly to cultural enterprises or indirectly, through such umbrella groups as universities, which could justify underwriting cultural programs as part of a larger mission. My discomfort came not just from the certainty that the spigot would inevitably run dry, but from a conviction that coerced subsidy for the arts is morally wrong. I believe in free speech, and I know that speech really isn't free (of charge), but I also believe that "free speech" means that no man should have to pay, against his will, to give another man a soapbox, or an actor a stage.

The people who feel they benefit from the arts, or who want to share the benefits of art with others, should be the ones who pay, and even then, only voluntarily. An exception would be, -- as in SSC's case, I believed -- a school that was committed to a strong arts program. It makes perfect sense for such an institution to establish or partner with a theater or gallery, in order to provide realistic experience to the students (and faculty!), not to mention a practical outlet for their talents. If a university theater also produces plays that are universally viewed as great literature, as Shakespeare's works are, for example, then the art can be integrated into other areas of curriculum, specifically English Literature, in this case. Used well, a theater can enrich the academic experience of many more students than those involved in Theater Arts, which is why I was puzzled by the University's seeming declaration that theirs was purely a dollars-and-cents decision. What they were, in effect, saying was that they were unwilling or unable to pay as much as they had been paying, for the level of enrichment of academic experience that students were getting. Why would they say this? A top-notch University normally boasts of its correspondingly top-notch faculty and facilities, and does everything possible to combat any perception that the quality of its program has declined in any way. I would like to know more about that particular angle of the story, and I hope that Mario Barricelli and others close to the situation will be able to enlighten us after the SSC stage goes dark for the last time. I also hope that UCSC opens the books on SSC (and the University departments sponsoring it) for the last several years, so there can be an objective, third-party assessment of this case, and a distillation of lessons learned, especially if the University is seriously expecting to reintroduce live theater into its program at some later date.

It may be impolitic to say the following in this company, but if the word "naive" is to be tossed around, I think the naivete lies with those who oppose even the idea of a sustainable funding model for community theater, many of whom have recently posted such views in online threads covering the SSC closure. After the 2008 crisis, I said, and still think, that finding and adopting such a model needed to be Job One at SSC, if for no other reason than to give the company effective, financial "body armor" against the kinds of political or financial slings and arrows that led to the University's recent, apparently irrevocable decision. In my opinion, theater is too important be typecast in the role of Blanche DuBois, pitifully depending on the kindness of strangers. Some kind of baseline budget must be determined, which will allow quality plays to be staged given revenue only from ticket sales and private-sector sponsorship (plus any curriculum-oriented contribution from a partner school). Revenues in excess of this (from windfall grants or donations, e.g.) can be kept in a rainy-day fund, or used to improve the facilities or mount more ambitious productions. Obviously the devil is in the details, but if a theater company cannot be sustained according to this general plan, then there is something seriously wrong, and that wrong thing needs to be identified and, if possible, eliminated or repaired. From where I sat, SSC enjoyed a huge level of community support and an excellent global reputation, played routinely to full or packed houses, consistently put a quality show on the stage, and was significant, if not pivotal, in the careers of many famous (and many more not-so-famous) people in the dramatic arts today. In the private-sector, entrepreneurs would practically kill to have as many positive assets in building their businesses as SSC possessed. So I think sustainability was possible here -- still is possible, if the "final" decision by the University can be reversed. Regardless, I thank Mario Barricelli for hanging in there as long as he did, and I thank him and the rest of the company (and voluntary sponsors!) for giving us many years of excellent live theater. I wish them all the best of success in the years ahead.

Sandra Dinse

So just "how much" does the Actor Equity salary impact the
overall budget? What is the actual percentage? I always thought, though I don't claim to be correct in my assumption, that the sheer numbers of "professional" Actors was very, very small; the majority of actors were non-union, many of whom worked the shows for college credit AND the opportunity to work and learn from a trained and accomplished pro. So I am curious to know the numbers encumbered by AEA...can you tell us, please?


Well UCSC is making $30K + per in state student, this is per their own website. That # jumps for over $50K for out of state students. That's a huge amount of $.

But this sounds like a school wanting to take care of itself over the company. That's understandable as theater is always a hard sell to $ folk. That being said, budget does not a show make. I know plenty of companies that put up excellent work who don't have nearly the budget SCSF had at their disposal. I do feel the equity argument is ridiculous though. You want top end actors? Then you have to pay them.

I hope the folks at SCSF find a way to come back because the work they did was solid. But I agree with Lynn, I think this decision will bite UCSC in the long run. It's a sad state of affairs but perhaps an important lesson will be learned because of this.


Cynthia, that is incorrect. Very many non-profit theaters in the United States, and reputable ones, make far less than 50% of their operating budget on ticket sales. Yale Rep, for instance, has an 8M operating budget, and sells about 1M of tickets. And that's one of the most significant regional theaters in the country.

Bob Nelson

Interesting, though sad, discussion. But to James Merritt's point that he feels people shouldn't be taxed to support the arts, I totally disagree. There are all kinds of people in the world. Some like wars in the Middle East, some like public education, some like the arts, but the government takes our money and pays for what it values whether we like it or not. And I believe the civilizing and softening influence the arts have on our lives should be valued far more by the government than it is. And therefore publicly funded far more than many people wish.


So many truths in all of this. Shakespeare Santa Cruz was a great company, launching many a career and entertaining so many SC County folks for generations. What killed SSC? Parochialism, a Theater Arts department that never fully embraced the program, a town/gown divide exacerbated by SSC's refusal to cast fewer equity actors and UCSC's slowness in starting an MA in Theater Arts program (all of which translated to a season that was always too short to fully recoup expenses), a series of programming choices (remember 1993?) that left the company perpetually running in the red, a university that is more concerned with opening new tech programs in their Silicon Valley campus than maintaining an arts based connection with the city and county of Santa Cruz, a community that has too many choices and too few tax revenues...

In the end, the arts are not a profit exercise. To expect them to be is absurd. JK Rowling is a billionaire, Jack London died impoverished. Leroy Nieman died wealthy, Van Gogh never sold a painting. Quality in the arts does not equate to monetary success, nor does artistic risk taking. And let's be clear, from Michael to Danny to Paul to Marco (and Audrey through it all), SSC had both quality and artistic bravado.

I too disagree with the idea that SSC should have been expected to be a break even enterprise. Few university programs are, even fewer that are based in the arts. But UCSC is less than 50 years old, a bumbling adolescent in the world of higher education. And because he was a newcomer to Santa Cruz, what is clear that Dean Yager never understood that SSC wasn't just a UCSC asset. It was a hybrid of university and town citizenry, a blend of student interns, local theatre buffs, Shakespearean scholars, and equity talent. Actors stayed in local's homes, partied at local pubs, built multi-decade relationships (thanks Mike Ryan aka Buttons!), taught kids that obscure language is still dynamic and comprehensible...in other words, SSC educated and entertained the citizenry of Santa Cruz County and beyond, while serving as the University's flagship ambassador to the community. First the UCSC Arts and Lectures Program, now SSC, what reason does anyone from Santa Cruz County have to venture onto the UCSC campus? Let's all pray for the fledgling UCSC opera program and Long Marine Lab, since without those programs, we'll have no reason to take our kids to UCSC anymore, or to go ourselves.

Vicki E.

I have been attending and subscribing the festival for nearly two decades, and I know that all funding avenues have not been explored. I received no urgent appeals, and had no idea this was coming. SSC is a treasure that cannot be replaced. My husband and I come from San Francisco every year to see these plays. The quality of these productions is world-class - the experience absolutely unmatched. I envisioned myself as a volunteer in retirement years, and could never have imagined a life without Shakespeare Santa Cruz.

Jennifer Choate

Go, the Board for trying to find a new incarnation for SCC hopefully with the university involved and in the incredible glen, but if none of that is possible, I for one will do everything I can to support the SCC Phoenix. Bravo to Marco, Mike, the entire staff and artistic team for incredible, professional theater in our community. SCC is the heart and soul of Santa Cruz for me.

Jennifer Choate


I am pulling a number out of a hat but I know there is a range of percentages, but theaters generally assign anywhere from 6% to about 15% of their operating budget for AEA actors. So no, a handful of professional performers working with their students is not the budget smashing entity they are claiming.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad

# of Visitors Since 11/22/05

  • eXTReMe Tracker