ST. PETERSBURG — Todd Olson says that American Stage has "a low-grade fever." In a letter to board members and supporters, Olson, the producing artistic director, asked for donations to help cover what is shaping up to be at least a $60,000 deficit for the fiscal year that ends on July 31.
"In the last few years you've had theaters all over the country raise really big red flags, saying they needed to raise a half million dollars, or a million dollars, or $300,000," Olson said in an interview Thursday at the theater in downtown St. Petersburg. "We're not saying that. This is not a panic. I describe it as a low-grade fever, but we can't pretend it's just going to go away. We do need help at the end of what was a real challenging year."
American Stage, which has an annual budget of $2 million, took an unexpected financial hit when one of the actors in its current production, the musical Vanishing Point, had vocal difficulties, forcing the theater to cancel four performances. She was ultimately replaced by an actor brought in from Arizona. Tropical Storm Debby hurt attendance, and the show got less than wonderful notices.
"At the end of the day I think Vanishing Point will add another $10,000 loss," Olson said.
As Olson points out in the letter, in many ways, the theater has had a strong season. The Rocky Horror Show generated the highest revenue, $171,000, of any park show in the company's 33-year history. There were critical and popular successes, such as August: Osage County, which was presented at the Palladium Theater, and Seven Guitars, the latest installment in the August Wilson cycle.
However, there were big expenses, too. August: Osage County, with a large cast, cost $97,000 to put on, the most expensive mainstage production ever. The number of subscribers, 3,065, and single ticket sales were down slightly from the previous season. Fundraising was also off, said Olson, acknowledging that with five development directors in the past seven years, continuity in that key position has been lacking.
Already, the theater is tightening its belt. With the departure of two artistic staff members, master electrician Chad Albert and costume shop manager Adrin Erra Puente, the positions are being left unfilled until the financial picture is clearer. Most staff members will take unpaid weeks off in July.
"There's no shame in this letter," Olson said of his appeal for donations. "I think everyone can understand that doing what we do can be a challenge in these economic times. I think we do pretty darn good work. Every now and then a group like us needs our friends. All we can do is state our need and hope help presents itself."
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.