Perseverance Theatre: Summer 2018 FAQs
Thanks to its 40-year history as a grassroots professional theatre in Alaska’s tiny-but-mighty capital city, Perseverance is fortunate to have a community of supporters who care deeply for its work. This is your theatre, whether you’ve been an artist, patron, student, parent, staff or board member, donor, volunteer (and some of you have been all of the above, over many years); you feel personally connected and invested, not just in what’s on stage, but in the who, why, and how. As we’ve grown as a company and faced challenges, though, we haven’t always done a good job of explaining ourselves—we’ve been too busy trying to put on shows with not enough money.
Here are some of the questions we’ve been hearing from our community this summer. We’ll keep working on the answers as our new managing director—eager to meet this person? so are we!—and some independent experts take a good, hard look at our business over the past few seasons. We thank our friends at the Rasmuson Foundation for supporting this ongoing analysis of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going as an organization. We’re sure a lot more questions and answers will come up as the managing director, artistic director Art Rotch, the rest of the staff and board and other stakeholders begin building a more stable, sustainable future for Perseverance and its mission to create professional theatre by and for Alaskans.
What else is on your mind, Perseverance community member, as we head into our fifth decade of making theatre together? Reach out to us and stay tuned for opportunities to connect in person.
OK, Perseverance Theatre, let’s start with the Snow Child cancellation in May. What really happened? Will we ever get to see that show here in Alaska?
As we announced at the time—and it was a horrible time; none of us wanted to let Snow Child go—we couldn’t meet the logistical needs of the Arena Stage production, staying true to our mission and the vision of the show. And while we didn’t want to blame audiences for our own organizational and financial failures, the fact is, advance ticket sales, particularly in Juneau, were alarmingly soft as the Snow Child dates approached. We worried that on an early-summer weekend (Celebration weekend, coincidentally), the only Juneau dates that worked for the visiting Arena Stage team, audiences might not show up and we’d be unable to recover the huge cost of bringing Snow Child to Alaska. We made the most responsible decision we could at the time. Painful as it was, as disappointed as we all were, and as hard as the cancellation has been on some of our relationships, it was the right decision. We’re still dealing with the fallout, but we’re still here.
We are grateful to Molly Smith and to all our friends at Arena Stage for making such a beautiful musical out of Eowyn Ivey’s novel. We know how much our Alaska audiences want to experience it, and a future production, made by Perseverance artists, is still a possibility.
By the way, many Snow Child ticketholders in Juneau and Anchorage have donated those funds back to Perseverance—thank you, friends!—but we’re still happy to process refunds; the same is true for 2018-19 season subscribers who purchased their ticket packages this spring, before we had to reschedule Whale Song and postpone the play Teenage Dick to next season. Those folks are due a refund as well, for the cost difference of one less play, or for the entire package, if one no longer wishes to subscribe in light of all the changes. If you haven’t heard from us already, please call the box office: 907-463-TIXS (8497). Thanks for bearing with us, and again, we apologize for any inconvenience.
So Snow Child is cancelled, and then in June we hear news that you’ve furloughed the staff and might be going out of business. What’s the connection?
What happened with Snow Child was a symptom, not a cause, of some greater problems the company has faced this year, mostly due to the ongoing financial strain that followed major losses in 2015-16. Key factors behind those deficits: rising production costs coupled with a drop in our foundation support, some $200,000 below expectations, for two seasons running. (The Alaska recession hasn’t helped, either.) Basically, we had no reserves. Since the end of the 2016 fiscal year, we’ve been working hard on ways to capitalize the theatre; now those efforts are redoubled, and our goal is not just to keep the lights on another year, but to build a reserve and ensure cash flow so that the next time there is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to stage something truly special, we won’t be at risk of letting our community down.
As was reported in local media, we asked some nonessential staff to take some unpaid time off this summer, usually a slow time for us anyway, in order to reserve our cash while we reached out for help. Most fortunately, we quickly found that help—in our friends at the Rasmuson Foundation and other organizational allies, two of our current individual donors, and in the extraordinary generosity of investor/philanthropists John Rubini of Anchorage and Robert Ziff of New York City. Both donors were familiar with Perseverance’s work: Rubini had attended many of our shows in Anchorage; Ziff was Art Rotch’s college roommate back in the 1980s, at Harvard, so he had a personal connection as well. Both examined the business plan and financials going back several seasons, and both saw an investment in Perseverance as a good bet.
Where’s the financial evidence to support the Anchorage expansion? If we’re doing so well there, why did we almost go out of business?
The Anchorage expansion is not the source of our financial troubles. We asked an outside advisor from a leading nonprofit service organization to look at the data, and as that analysis suggests, bringing productions to Anchorage has been a break-even proposition for Perseverance: taking everything into account, those additional performances just about pay for themselves through ticket sales, sponsorships, and other Anchorage-specific revenue. Other independent studies are telling us that the revenue potential in the Anchorage area, with almost ten times Juneau’s population, is much greater. So far we haven’t built the subscriber base there that we have in Juneau, it’s true—but we haven’t been able to put a lot of resources into building our brand and promoting our shows there, either. That’s going to change.
Take Anchorage out of the equation, and Perseverance would still have to raise the same amount of money to do almost the same amount of work here in Juneau—but we’d have far fewer partners to work with. Excepting a few long-established destination theatres, nowhere else in the country do geographically remote cities of fewer than 40,000 people support professional, resident theatre companies. Perseverance has been able to beat the odds in Juneau for forty years, but certain economic realities are finally catching up to us. If we don’t grow a reliable stream of revenue to support the subscription season and other programming that makes us what we are in Juneau, we will die. Period.
Why keep asking for more money and raising ticket prices? Why not just do the kind of theatre we can afford here in Juneau?
Professional theatre by and for Alaskans—that’s our mission, and it means, among other things, paid artists supported by paid staff. This kind of model demands a reliable stream of income. We’ve never had that in Juneau or anywhere else in Alaska, but we are getting closer, as shown by the growth in income in our last two fiscal years (2017-18). The payoff is Alaskans’ voice in the regional theatre movement, a feather in the cap of Juneau for figuring it out first, and props to the rest of the state for pitching in.
As a fully professional theatre, we employ resident artists who enrich our Alaska communities in so many ways; without Perseverance, a lot of them wouldn’t be here. We bring top-quality theatre to audiences who would have to travel hundreds of miles and pay much higher ticket prices to experience it anywhere else. We introduce live theatre to hundreds of young people and give them opportunities to make great theatre themselves, opportunities lacking in the vast majority of our schools. As a resident producing organization, we spend 90 percent of our budget right here in Alaska—locavores for the arts!—and our physical presence in Douglas/Juneau and at the PAC in Anchorage has a huge positive economic impact.
What’s your five-year plan? If we donate now, what are we investing in?
Our essential mission hasn’t changed: we’re going to keep on creating professional theatre by and for Alaskans, and we’ve already made a lot of progress toward doing that in a more financially sound way. We came out of the 2017 fiscal year with a much smaller shortfall compared to previous seasons; we’re still settling the books for FY2018, which ended June 30, but early indications are that we’ll wind up in the black. Just as importantly, our ratio of earned- to unearned income—things like ticket sales, which we can control and count on to some degree, versus things like foundation grants, which we can’t—is getting a lot healthier.
We have a three-year plan to build attendance to 30,000 annual admissions, roughly a 50 percent increase from where we are now, with much of that targeted growth in Anchorage. We have solid strategies in place for more effective marketing and communications, fundraising, staff development and retention, operations—all the areas where we know Perseverance needs to improve—and for the first time in a long time, we have the financial resources to carry those strategies forward, starting with the addition of a strong managing director to our leadership team. This person will be a producing partner for artistic director Art Rotch, overseeing operations while Art focuses on productions; both directors will report to the board. Together with staff, with guidance from the board and outside experts, and with community input, they will formulate and articulate a five-year plan to ensure that Perseverance makes the most of every dollar that comes our way this summer.
Sounds like things are moving in the right direction. How can I help?
Well, we need your financial support. We’re almost half of the way toward our “Persevere With Us!” challenge goal of $100,000, and our Sept. 30 deadline is coming fast.
Become a subscriber, if you’re not already. Season subscriptions are our greatest, most reliable source of operating funds, and . Click here to subscribe to our 41st Anniversary Season, which opened in September with the world premiere of Devilfish by Vera Starbard. You won’t want to miss it or any of the other fantastic productions we’re working on:
We also need volunteers, for all kinds of tasks—keep an eye on our Facebook page for opportunities, and to those who are already giving their time and talents to Perseverance, thank you. If you’re interested in a leadership role, several positions are opening up on the board of directors; ask any current board member, or contact the theatre for more information.
Keep in mind that word of mouth is still our best source of advertising. Talk with your friends about Perseverance; bring them to shows (if you’re a Super Subscriber, you can come back for free!) and encourage them to subscribe. Share our events, news posts, and fundraising pitches on social media.
Finally, friends, keep engaging with us. We want and need to hear from you, and we really are listening. Thank you!