Buckling Under $3 Million Debt, Buffalo Studio Arena Shuts Doors

News   Buckling Under $3 Million Debt, Buffalo Studio Arena Shuts Doors
Studio Arena Theatre, the 43-year-old Buffalo, NY, not-for-profit that gave life to world premieres and revivals, has shut its doors, canceled the remainder of its season and laid off 17 staffers, it was announced Feb. 25.

CEO Kathleen A. Gaffney is the only staff member left at western New York state's major regional theatre, The Buffalo News reported. The company, saddled with a $3 million debt, is seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection while the next step is plotted. There is a hope that new operating partnerships and a reduced production schedule will bring the company back to life.

The News reported that the troupe's situation was blamed on decline in subscribership (from 8,044 in 2003 to 5,047 in 2007), an aging and declining Buffalo population, loss of major donors, competition from other theatres in the region and an operating budget that relied on ticket sales for 72 percent of revenues (about 60 percent from ticket sales is the national norm).

At a Feb. 25 press conference, board president Daniel A. Dintino stated, "It became very evident early in the season that the business model being followed, where Studio Arena operated as a single organization incurring all the risk in performing every function of a full producing professional theatre — from selecting and producing each show to selling tickets — was not going to be successful."

Since January 2007, more than a dozen layoffs had occurred in an effort to reduce expenses.

"This was not enough to overcome the severe cash shortages and debt burden," Dintino said. A new proposed business model for the theatre's future would have Studio Arena Theatre become a smaller operation and produce perhaps three productions a year (down from six or seven), while sharing its facility with other organizations.

A proposed partnership would hand over administrative, marketing and building management jobs to Shea's Performing Arts Center. Buffalo State College would take over Arena's theatre school and education arm.

Since 1965 Buffalo Studio Arena Theatre has presented a mix of classic and modern plays, including world premieres of Edward Albee's Box-Mao-Box, A.R. Gurney's Scenes From American Life, James Kirkwood's P.S. Your Cat Is Dead!, Paul Giovanni's Sherlock Holmes play The Crucifer of Blood, Donald Driver's In the Sweet Bye and Bye, the Johnny Cash musical Ring of Fire, Tom Dudzick's regional hit trilogy that began with Over the Tavern, and Dudzick's Hail Mary!

The troupe's first production was A Moon for the Misbegotten starring Colleen Dewhurst, under the direction of Jose Quintero.

Visit www.studioarena.org.

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