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Million Dollar Options on Table for Shakespeare Theatre

Consulting group presents possible plans for Stratford's long-shuttered theatre.

Published April 17, 2012

The scope of a revived Shakespeare Theatre will rely heavily on an ambitious grassroots fundraising effort, according to the agency hired by the town to draft options for the fabled Stratford theatre.

"There would need to be an annual campaign to support this every year," Willem Brans, vice president of Arts Consulting Group (ACG), told residents and Town Council members during a presentation last week at . "This has to be grassroots in order to succeed."

ACG presented three options for breathing new life into the theatre, which would function as a not-for-profit institution.

The concepts ranged in price from $3.2 million for a "temporary" theatre to $29.6 million for a venue that would be open year-round, put on 192 events a year and potentially rake in $2 million in annual revenue.

The $30 million option would renovate the entire Elm Street theatre, Brans said, including the removal of both the front lobby and "an enormous balcony." The concept also proposes to reconfigure space for rehearsal and administrative activity, as well as add a glass pavilion where patrons would purchase tickets.

The $3.2 million temporary alternative -- which would allow for only summer use -- would exclude several architectural elements of the $30 million model, Brans said. Both options support reducing seating capacity from 1,500 to about 600.

"Thirty million dollars is a lot of money," Councilman Jason Santi (D-4) said. "Being that we are, in my opinion, in a great depression, I don't see town funding that -- where would you get that money?"

"We still need to test fundraising studies," Brans said. "We don't have any sense whether that level of fundraising short-term or long-term is out there, however I have seen large projects like this get fundraising."

Brans said the temporary model, which would accommodate 19 events annually, could work for years, but it would only bring in $151,000 in annual revenue.

"To constituents who say 'knock it down,' what benefits does it have for non-Shakespeare lovers?" Santi asked.

"We see limited opportunities for Shakespeare productions," said Brans, adding that the theatre field has seen a decline in ticket sales in recent years, a negative trend that is expected to continue. "Trying to restore it the way it was is not going to work."

What made the theatre a national attraction in the 1950s with performances that starred Katharine Hepburn, what made the venue a popular draw for New Yorkers and beyond, will not be what drives the rebirth of the theatre, Brans said.

"We tried understanding why this theatre has been in the dark for 30 years," he said.

Brans said a repurposed venue with a smaller, intimate house that offers a variety of attractions will best revive the long-shuttered theatre. Contemporary and classical music acts, comedy shows, dance performances, corporate events and school functions should all be able to utilize the future theatre.

The theatre has more options for use than it did in the 1950s, Brans said.

Citing studies that polled income, age and education in the region, Brans said there's a strong potential market for performing arts participation in the area. Locally, there's a diverse racial environment in Stratford so a broad range of programming would work, he said.

"There is a community that fits right into arts consumers," Brans said. "We believe we can draw crowds to spend money in town."

Stratford is paying ACG with money from the town's general fund. If the town employs the agency though the entirety of its multi-phase plan, it'll end up paying the consulting group about $160,000, according to Councilman Matt Catalano (R-3).

Community engagement is phase four and will start this month. Phase five, which will focus on fundraising and a feasibility study, will begin later this year.

ACG said it's possible the new theatre could hold a grand opening as a temporary theatre in the summer of 2013.

George E. Mulligan April 16, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Disney paid Marvel Comic $ 4 billion for 3,000 characters. Shakespeare has world BRAND recognition and over 1,000 characters. Because Developers, Lawyers, and Real Estate people and criminals appear to dominate politics, if they can't steal Mafia Cash Cows, they have no idea how economics works. Many legitimate people do not know either. Unfortunately politically connected can cause problems. Revenues are available for existing assets and proven income streams. The Theater Design Company had some nice ideas, but overlooked TV, CABLE, & RADIO potential as ways to generate weekly income which pay the overhead. The Fund Raising presentation was exceptionally conservative in the numbers of performances and potential revenues. They'd be foolish to give away all ideas, before they were paid for by the town, who could eliminate the other 2 phases of the awarded contract. Once it's spelled out the liars & thieves who dominate party politics will want to swoop in and diver the assets for themselves as seen in the Hanney Contract. I was the one who told Barry Knott about Licensing opportunities as a way to make the deal sweeter for Tax Payers & Hanney. I was furious with the Hanney proposal. The good news about the proposal, is that the skull and bones are built into the planning aspect. Now they have to flesh it out with all the necessities to bring it to life. If I was Mayor, this place would have be opened and generating cash!
Fed Up April 17, 2012 at 03:23 AM
Are you pulling my leg? To quote Mark Steyn: Stratford one of the "brokest" cities with a mill rates near the top 5 in the state, Throw more funds away.
Hal Baird April 17, 2012 at 11:32 AM
First of all, the consulting group has done a thorough job in its analysis. The results are a bit disturbing. If my math is correct, based on the plan to make this a fully functional year round use theater, we can't hope to "break even" for 15 years (based on the consulting group's figures). It would seem to me by then, more major renovations would need to be made so the structure doesn't fall into the same state it finds itself today and that would push out the "break even" point out several more years. I am a bit skeptical on the fundraising aspect of the project. We all know the state has made deep cuts in helping the arts (again a product of the economy and the perceived "need" to cut things that make us truly human, pardon the sarcasm). Major corporations are not throwing money at projects the way they used to do and from the figures presented by the consulting group, those are the people we'll need to contact. And the general public, well let's just say my town taxes are going up again this year, so my charitable giving will take a "hit". My hearts says I want the Shakespeare Theater up and running. My mind says it won't work.
CuriousOrange April 17, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Looking to Stratford for a 'Shakespeare' audience is completely bonkers. The people who would come to see live drama are mostly within a 60 mile radius + serious devotees world-wide -- provided they are promised outstanding performances by great directors and stars in modern, comfortable venue.
Walt April 17, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I believe that measure for measure, the proposals by the consultants are much ado about nothing. The tempest that this whole issue has become shall amount to love's labour's lost as I do not believe there is a way of making this theatre viable. Our little hamlet alone cannot afford to fund the effort and anyone who thinks that we can is suffering through a midsummer nights dream. King John has taken away the keys and further complicated the comedy of errors but I think that enough is enough, it's time to say all's well that ends well. Bulldoze the rotting carcass and build a band shell.
Sudds April 17, 2012 at 12:59 PM
four words folks... "Yale University Shakespearean Theater"
Sudds April 17, 2012 at 01:00 PM
But that'll NEVER happen... because Catalano and his crew then wouldn't be able to use use the theater as their personal little activity center to do as they please with it!!!
Jason Bagley (Editor) April 17, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Comment from Ed Goodrich, of the Stratford Arts Commission, left on our Facebook page. Edward Goodrich: "We have to go for it! This is a great opportunity for Stratford. People have to understand that the hardly any of this money comes from the Stratford Taxpayers. Its raised through grants and gift giving. Besides, if we don't go after this money, it will just go to another project or community. It's a no brainer!" http://www.facebook.com/StratfordPatch
Patricia Clark Sperling April 23, 2012 at 12:58 PM
I 100% agree with Ed Goodrich ~ we need to go for this. Nothing else is working for Stratford, economic growth is non-existent, and I believe in the work that Matt Catalano has been doing! Screw the naysayers, yes, screw the naysayers. What do they know about the positive influences of the arts anyway? I have an eight year old daughter who can sit down with them and really tell them about the arts ~ all different aspects from dance, music, voice and then artists like Salvador Dali, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Edgar Degas and more. She told me that she gets "freaky" about the arts and wants to know and do more. She knows who William Shakespeare is. There are children's books of his works. She reads them and is interested in them. Go ahead, continue go try and take the arts away and say it holds no value. It does hold value and it IS the key to economic growth in Stratford!
Walt April 23, 2012 at 01:03 PM
That's all well and good but who is going to come up with the 30 million dollars? BTW, did you ever live off of Leo Lane?
Sudds April 23, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Hmmm... who has $30million AND invests in the arts for children??? http://www.yale.edu/onhsa/youth_programs.htm#arts Anyone serious about restoring the theater (and doesn't mind if they Stratford Arts Council is "shut out" of calling it their own) should utter the follows words aloud... "Yale University Shakespearean Theater"!!!
Mike Reynolds April 23, 2012 at 03:00 PM
I don't agree with Sudds on a lot of things but on this one I think he's hit the nail on the head.
D May 08, 2012 at 12:12 AM
I've wondered the same thing. Why not approach Yale which is rolling in dough, a very good patron of the arts and a succesful producer of its own theatre-works? .
JRP June 16, 2012 at 09:33 PM
No disrespect is meant to Councilman Santi, but for those who lived through the REAL Great Depression, it is a bit insulting to claim we are currently "in a great depression". In the REAL Great Depression, unemployment rose to 25%, the GDP of the U.S. dropped by 33%, international trade decreased by 50%, and soup kitchens were flooded--not just with those that had been poor or lower middle class. Let's stop making excuses for a poorly run town and making it sound like there is some Great Depression sweeping the nation that is hurting us regardless of how well the town is run. If the Town of Stratford is experiencing a true "Great Depression", it's not because economic activity that is uncontrollable is occurring across the State and Nation as a whole. Let's take a look at why local Governments in the majority of towns across CT and the nation would simply say "times are tough", "we're in a recession", or "we've been lucky", and see what they're doing right. Then let's look at what we've been doing wrong, because despite the economic downturn, only the unluckiest or poorest run towns would claim they are in a "Great Depression".
OpportunistWatch July 17, 2012 at 08:20 PM
We own a small business blocks from the theater and would rather see emphasis put on the redevelopment of the Army engine plant that could generate 5X's more revenue then a theater. I wish these Shakespeare writers would get as creative on finding a way to get 60+ acres on the same riverfront property alive and breathing. It makes me very disappointed that the Army Plant has literally "Gone to the dogs". Stratford and local area drug task forces use the inside of the contaminated plant for police dog training. The speech writers who are so determined to shake the trees for this lost cause theater should be ALL creating ways to develop the Army Engine Palnt Theater down the road. The job maybe an uphill battle but the rewards of having 60 acres of business development up running is better that the blight of over 10 years right in every visitors face to Stratford going to the beach. Atleast they can't see the Shakespeare problem. The 1% will go to this theater and we would be hard pressed to see a dime of profit for decades to come from investing in such a liability of the future.

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