The financially strapped Intiman Theatre plans to reduce its $2.3 million debt and blames "management mis- steps that put us in a place of increased debt" for some of its troubles.

Share story

The financially troubled Intiman Theatre plans to reduce its $2.3 million debt through negotiations with creditors and budget-cutting, said the company’s acting managing director, Melaine Bennett.

Bennett revealed the findings, contained in a new financial assessment of the Seattle theater company, this week. “We’ve got an outstanding debt of about $1.3 million, which does not include about $1 million we have used on a bank line of credit,” she said. “But we are looking ahead, and will be addressing repayment of debt in all areas.”

Bennett said the theater is hammering out an agreement with its landlord, Seattle Center, to pay the $285,000 in back rent and utilities it owes. Intiman has pledged to pay off the debt over five years, while keeping up with all future rent obligations.

Arrangements also have been made to make late payments to two unions, the Actors’ Equity Association, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

Intiman hopes to end 2010 with more cash on hand and its debt reduced by about $300,000, said Bennett. Achieving that would mean quickly raising $800,000 in ticket revenue and donations. (The company is running a production of “The Scarlet Letter,” and in December will present the popular holiday show “Black Nativity,” at the Moore Theatre.)

“The board is stepping up in an amazing way, and we’ll start our public fundraising efforts soon,” said Bennett, who joined the company in 2009 as its development director. She was appointed to her current post when former manager Brian Colburn suddenly resigned in October.

The theater, which has operated this year on a $5.5 million budget, will also trim expenses by at least 20 percent in 2011. “Both the board and staff have agreed that if we need to do more cutting, we will,” said Bennett.

Many in the local arts community knew that Intiman for years had carried an unusually large fiscal deficit. But the financial problems were exacerbated, said Bennett, by “management missteps that put us in a place of increased debt and put our cash-flow situation in jeopardy.”

In recent months, she noted, “Neither the board nor staff was provided with information about the extent of these financial difficulties, so there wasn’t any opportunity do some broad problem-solving …

“Misinformation was distributed, basic bookkeeping neglected, payments weren’t made. And when you’re operating on such a stretched budget, and many people are misinformed, it really creates a perfect storm of mismanagement.”

Intiman Theatre is one of Seattle’s largest professional drama companies and was honored with a 2006 Tony Award for regional theater excellence. New artistic director Kate Whoriskey moved to Seattle from New York City this year, to replace former artistic head Bartlett Sher.

Bennett said Whoriskey remains committed to the theater’s future. “Kate says great art isn’t driven by money, but by creativity. And we’re all trying to be as creative as possible about realizing Kate’s artistic vision.”

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com