Last month, Brant MP Phil McColeman held a press conference at the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts to announce a $35,000 federal investment in the theatre’s upcoming season.
Revealed with decidedly less fanfare at city council’s Dec. 3 committee of the whole meeting was news that the Sanderson Centre’s 2012 revenues are almost $160,000 less than expected.
The 2011-2012 season’s biggest financial flop was The Color Purple, a highly anticipated production that ended up losing $77,000.
Falling concession sales, a higher than expected number of rental cancellations and a dip in sponsorships contributed to an overall deficit of $158,948.
“A deficit is always a concern,” said theatre manager Glenn Brown.
The financial failure of The Color Purple was particularly troubling, as the theatre depends on revenue from high-profile commercial productions to compensate for school and community theatre programming, such as the recent A Delightful Quarantine, which did not draw huge crowds but helped local theatre company Stage 88 grow its audience.
“I think the thing to keep in mind is there are a lot of different roles for the theatre in the community,” Brown said.
Under a joint-use agreement between the city and the Catholic and public school boards, priority is given to schools over commercial ventures or outside groups wishing to use the theatre for performances and events. The Sanderson Centre covers its costs but does not profit from school shows, Brown said.
“There’s an opportunity cost to doing that, but one of the reasons we have the theatre is for the community to have a space like that to use,” he said. “It becomes a balancing act in terms of priorities.”
To help the Sanderson Centre programming committee pick big-ticket shows that will appeal to audiences in Brantford and Brant, the theatre will overlay demographic data from Statistics Canada with ticket sales records to better target its advertising.
“We now have a better understanding of who our audience is and better ways to reach them,” Brown said. “The data should improve the choices we make and give us more confidence.”
The city-owned theatre has asked council for a 7.78 per cent increase over last year’s budget, which would put the 2013 budget at $660,580.
“We’ve got our expenses side under control, so the shortfall is all from revenues,” Brown said.
While in-kind donations have risen, financial sponsorship sits $20,000 lower than projected for the season. Brown hopes an additional employee to be hired next year on a contract basis will drum up more sponsors and find leads for new advertising revenue.
Dancers and their families used to eat at the theatre during dance competitions and recitals, of which there are seven annually. Reducing the competitions from three days to two, as well as competition from neighbouring restaurants and coffee shops, means fewer concession sales.
A high number of rental cancellations and reduction in rental days have cost the theatre $36,400 so far in 2012.
In light of the challenges, revenue expectations have been adjusted downward in the 2013 budget.
Brown said the deficit, while less than ideal, does not mean the publicly owned theatre can’t be viable.
“It’s a complicated choice,” he said of the argument for privatization. “I’ve seen successful models of each kind. It comes down to the people involved and their expectations.”