Seattle’s Intiman Theatre announced Thursday that the board and staff have agreed on a plan to keep the theater open.
Last week, Intiman looked dangerously close to closing. The board had said that even though the theater had celebrated its new debt-free status at the beginning of the year, it was now out of money and needed a swift infusion of cash or would have to fold. The staff disagreed, saying there was a way forward.
Both sides came together this week to announce the plan to raise $200,000 by the end of the year, which would leave Intiman with $150,000 cash on hand for 2020.
So how did a board-staff standoff, which looked potentially fatal, turn into the two camps holding hands and issuing today’s announcement about “our 2020 vision as we Look to the Future”?
“The board heard from the community,” Wesley Frugé, Intiman’s communications and development director, said, with expressions of support as well as financial contributions and pledges toward the 2020 budget.
“We hate to holler for help,” said Intiman board chair Dan Nye. “But sometimes you need to do that these days. We’ve relished the comments and concerns that came in — and, frankly, the money. … We have continued belief in artistic director Jen Zeyl, her art, her vision, her place in the arts community. We want to make this work for the community.”
The theater had already raised $115,000 in donations and pledges during the month of September — but a significant portion of that $115,000 was “in suspension,” Frugé explained, until the board and staff could agree to keep the theater open.
“Now,” he said, “those checks have started pouring in and we are moving forward.” Intiman also received a $10,000 emergency donation — and talk about potential layoffs for its six-member staff, mentioned last week, has ended for the moment.
Intiman is pinning some of its $200,000 hopes on a $100-a-ticket fundraising gala (with $25 tickets for artists and $250 “donor” tickets) scheduled for Nov. 2. The theater is also considering new board candidates — to add to its current seven-member board — and will announce them at the gala.
Intiman has also hired the arts consulting firm Scandiuzzi Krebs, which will provide strategic planning and management support to fill the gap left by the departure of executive director Phillip Chavira, who had announced his resignation before Intiman’s financial troubles became public, and left on Oct. 1.
Intiman’s troubled situation bubbled to a head last week, at a fraught meeting with staff, board and outside arts leaders on Sept. 25. The board reported the theater would be out of cash by the following Tuesday and that its bylaws say the theater cannot go into debt. “We need an infusion of cash right now, or there’s nothing,” Barbara Lewis, an Intiman board member, said during last week’s meeting.
Zeyl had replied that the board’s perspective was “based in inexperience, fatigue and lack of capacity.”
After that meeting, Frugé said the theater’s staff could and would raise the necessary funds, with a $204,000 fundraising goal for the end of the year — which, if met, would leave the theater with a $150,000 surplus.
Despite its current cash-poor position, this year Intiman celebrated zeroing out the $2.7 million in debt it had been carrying for the past eight years.
In 2010, the theater revealed it had racked up at least $2.3 million in debt, and five months later, announced it would cancel the rest of its season and lay off all of its roughly 20 employees. In 2012, the theater, which had won a Tony Award for outstanding regional theater in 2006, emerged from its own ashes as a company of local rather than national stature, producing shorter summer festivals instead of traditional seasons. This January, the theater announced it had paid off $1.8 million in debt and negotiated $900,000 of debt forgiveness.
Susan Trapnell, a retired career arts administrator and consultant, said last week that Intiman’s debt-free status puts it in a stronger position than other theaters facing budget crunches. “They’re in a good place because they can say to donors: ‘OK, nobody’s going to go unpaid,'” Trapnell said. “‘But if you can help us, we still believe this theater has much to offer the community.”
Carlo Scandiuzzi, a longtime arts advocate and administrator — and partner in the consulting firm Scandiuzzi Krebs — said a deeper look at Intiman’s finances in the past several days revealed that the situation wasn’t quite as dire as it seemed at last week’s meeting.
“The process was about listening, respecting each other’s positions and understanding the numbers we were looking at were actually much better than they first appeared,” he said. “In short, it was about being fearless and looking at it without freaking out.”
The effects of Intiman’s existence or extinction, Scandiuzzi explained, would extend far beyond the theater’s current staff and supporters.
“The idea of closing a theater, for whatever reason — financial most of the time — forces you to ask the question: ‘Wait a minute? How is this going to impact the rest of the community? This is bigger than me,'” he said. “Closing the theater would have sent a shock to the system, not just because it was Intiman closing, but because the whole theater community would have lost a working partner. It’s really about the ecosystem of the culture, the arts in this city.”