The Rep needs $2.5 million by January, or it may end its season early
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis needs to raise $2.5 million by the end of the year, or it may not be able to continue its season.
Leaders of the Webster Groves-based theater said a drop in ticket sales and donations, plus the end of federal coronavirus relief funding, led to the budget shortfall.
“The whole hope was that that funding would be available to actually get us to a place where audiences were coming back,” Managing Director Danny Williams said of the Paycheck Protection Program and federal grants for shuttered venues. “And it just is not working out the way that we thought it was going to be.”
The Rep announced it has canceled two limited-run musical productions scheduled for early 2024. The theater also will substitute the previously announced run of its lavish adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with a less costly production, a version of the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” staged in radio-play fashion.
“It may mean that the Rep looks different, in terms of where we produce and what we produce” in the future, Williams said of the financial crunch. “In terms of the where, right now I’m focused on our longtime home in Webster Groves at Webster University.”
The 700-seat Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts is the main stage for the Rep and Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Its large size can give audiences the impression the Rep is struggling even when 400 people — enough to fill many theaters in St. Louis — turn out for a show, Williams added.
Now in its 57th year, the Rep has long been a leader of the St. Louis theater scene and one of its best-funded organizations.
Before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Rep collected between $3 million and $4 million in annual ticket sales, Williams said. The total this season stands at around $1.5 million.
In the fiscal year ending in May 2022, the Rep had an operating budget of $9 million — in line with its pre-pandemic budgets and more than double that of the prior year, when it pared down its staff and paused performances because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Rep again has about 30 year-round staff, with another 25 people joining during the performance season.
In a challenging financial environment for regional theaters, the much smallerSt. Louis Actors’ Studio will hand each of its audience members this season a solicitation for them to donate — not to Actors’ Studio, but to the Rep.
“We could hand over our entire yearly budget and that would hardly make a dent in what they need, so all we can really do is help raise awareness,” said William Roth, St. Louis Actors’ Studio founder and artistic director.
A 1980 production of Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” helped inspire him to seek a career in theater, he said.
“For more than 50 years they’ve been exposing this community to theater that’s as good as it gets,” Roth said.
The decline in ticket sales at the Rep has been accompanied by a drop in donations, as several longtime funders have reevaluated their priorities following the onset of the pandemic and pivoted away from funding the arts.
“There are so many compounding effects that have made the last three years extremely difficult for live theater,” said Becks Redman, one of the Rep’s two associate artistic directors. “The fact that nothing is certain is a really hard space to live in.”