A spokesman for the Millburn, NJ theatre confirmed that the doors there may shut as early as April 6 if $1.5 million cannot be raised to support the launch of its next production, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
Although the theatre's accumulated debt is nowhere near the property value of Paper Mill, the doors will shut if payroll cannot be met for Seven Brides, which is part of the theatre's subscription season. The summer production of Pirates! is also threatened. A bankruptcy attorney has been hired.
A bank loan to keep the 69-year-old operation going fell through recently, and a reapplication process is being pursued.
Subscription issues are one part of the financial problem at Paper Mill. In 1985, the theatre (under Angelo Del Rossi) was rich and happy due to its 45,000 subscribers. Mirroring a national trend, the subscribership has seriously waned — it's now 19,500, a spokesman said.
Historically, the board at Paper Mill has either not had the ability to get outside contributions or has not seen the need due to the once-high subscribership. The New Jersey Star Ledger reported that consultant Albert Hall, hired in 2004 to investigate the problems Paper Mill was having with fundraising, pointed his finger at the theatre's board, saying it "lacks unity and cohesion" and included members who didn't understand their fundraising responsibility.
This latest crisis has shaken up the board and prompted soul-searching.
"There was a wake up call to become a fundraising organization," spokesman Shayne A. Miller told Playbill.com.
Prior to the 2006-07 season, the board approved a $17 million budget that included a planned deficit of $2.8 million that was thought could be made up with board and outside contributions. The goal was not met.
(Currently, only 18 percent of Paper Mill's budget comes from contributions.)
"Mistakes have been made but change is happening," Scott Fergang, who joined the board last year, told the New Jersey Star Ledger. "We need help."
Additionally, Paper Mill insiders look to several disastrous flop productions programmed under the recent, brief tenure of president and CEO Michael Gennaro.
Harold & Maude: The Musical, Summer and Smoke and A Midsummer Night's Dream were bombs there. The recent Romance/Romance was not popular.
Insiders say the new artistic leadership at Paper Mill was trying to goose the organization's evolution by adding Shakespeare and quirky new musicals into the mix, while ignoring the traditional theatregoer there — the "intergenerational" ticketbuyer who wants family-friendly programming.
Miller said he expects the theatre to hew more closely to Paper Mill's tradition — marquee titles with broad appeal. Cinderella, A Wonderful Life and Godspell were recent solid sellers for the troupe.
Next season will feature a new presentational musical version of Frankenstein; the sentimental musical comedy Meet Me in St. Louis; the popular plays The Miracle Worker and Steel Magnolias; and the musicals Kiss Me, Kate and Little Shop of Horrors.
Miller stressed that being a "family" theatre doesn't mean being a children's theatre (although Paper Mill's commitment to education is well known).
"The New York and New Jersey community doesn't realize Paper Mill needs support," Miller said, adding that the tradition and history there is too important to let it die.
"A lot of [working actors and stars] got their start here," Miller said, and thousands of theatregoers were introduced to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Frank Loesser and Lerner and Loewe there.
A starry rally/benefit to save Paper Mill is in the works.
For information about contributing to Paper Mill, visit www.papermill.org or call (973) 379-3636 ext. 2286.
Michael Gennaro's plan to exit was announced in November 2006. He is now executive director of Trinity Repertory in Rhode Island.
During his time at Paper Mill, Gennaro oversaw the artistic and business operations of the theatre and developed administrative goals and strategies.
In a fall 2006 statement Gennaro said, "I am proud of the accomplishments of the Theatre under the leadership of the team I have put together. The time has come for me to take on new challenges and I leave Paper Mill Playhouse with a committed staff and a dedicated board to carry on."
The Paper Mill staff also includes managing director Diane Claussen and associate artistic director Mark S. Hoebee. Since Gennaro's departure, Claussen and Hoebee assumed management of the theatre.