For the past decade, Seattle Opera has spent $2 million to $3 million more a year than it earns, and its financial reserves are drying up. In an attempt to stabilize, the company will cut six full-time jobs and close its Renton scene shop.
In an effort to stabilize its fiscal health, Seattle Opera has eliminated six full-time staff positions and decided to close its scene shop in Renton, which has also built sets for the opera as well as other theater companies, including the 5th Avenue Theatre and Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center.
The opera’s operating expenses, spokesperson Kristina Murti wrote by email, “have been $2-$3 million higher than annual revenue for more than a decade.” Its budget for the fiscal year of 2017 is $22.5 million.
To keep the opera financially sustainable, Murti wrote, “we conducted a deep dive into our expenses” and decided to restructure the company with layoffs, close the Renton scene shop and streamline its “music operations” by combining casting, artist management and oversight of the chorus and the orchestra “into one area of the company.” (Previously, the two had been split between the artistic department and the music department.)
“It’s important to note,” she added, “that most American opera companies do not operate their own scene shops but rely on others to build their new productions.”
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Seattle Opera is also exploring the idea of increasing its number of co-productions, to share expenses among partner organizations.
The opera’s troubles put it on a long list of nonprofit arts organizations — both locally and nationally — that have struggled and made sacrifices to pay the bills. In Seattle, some of those organizations in crisis have been rescued and restored (such as ACT Theatre), some have had to radically transform themselves (Intiman Theatre’s move from regional-theater powerhouse to itinerant festival) and some have simply imploded (Empty Space Theatre).
The opera now employs more than 600 people and, over the past year, has declined to fill nine jobs when they became available (most of those, Murti said, were in the marketing and fundraising departments).
This round of job losses accounts for 2 percent of the opera’s production department and 12 percent of its technical department — including the technical director and director of production.
During and after the 2008 recession, Murti wrote, the opera was fortunate to have “several very large, one-time donations that helped us to maintain a balanced budget.”
But that money is drying up.
“During the past several years,” she wrote, “we have grown our donor base substantially, but it hasn’t made up for the gap between expenses and revenue.”