Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Florida Stage Closes

When South Florida looks back on 2011’s year in theater, the biggest bombshell may also be the saddest.

In a shocking statement sent to the press on Monday, Florida Stage announced that it has filed for bankruptcy and will shut down its operations, just a month before the musical extravaganza “Ella” was scheduled to open in West Palm Beach.

You wouldn’t know it by attending most of the theater’s populous productions, but its numbers have been grim. Thanks to a drastic downturn in next season’s subscription sales, negligible advance sales for the production of “Ella” and a poor

response to the organization’s fundraising efforts, Florida Stage has accumulated a $1.5 million debt. Just two months after the theater announced another full, exciting season, the Board of Trustees had no other choice but to cease operations.

This is heartbreaking news, not the least of which for an entire Florida Stage staff that suddenly finds itself unemployed. It’s also a tragic blow for arts and culture in Palm Beach County. Consistently considered the No. 1 or No. 2 theater in the county (depending on who you ask), Florida Stage was the preeminent venue for new, untested, sometimes controversial works in the tri-county area, and its production designs were peerless – achieving Broadway-level quality from time to time.

The first sign of trouble for the theater came more than a year ago, when it moved its operations from Manalapan’s Plaza del Mar to the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse, mostly as a cost-cutting measure. The move reduced Florida Stage’s rent and utility costs by $200,000, but apparently, not enough subscribers flocked to the new digs – and not enough new patrons discovered the compelling material.

This news is a reminder that in a recession, a lot of businesses have to hang their shutters, and arts-related nonprofits are some of the most frequently sacrificed luxuries. But this one feels particularly devastating. Florida Stage deserves to be saved. Perhaps there will be enough miraculous donations from enough deep-pocketed theater lovers to lift the company out of debt. If not, let’s hope producing artistic director Louis Tyrrell will revive his passion for new work with a new company.

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