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Saturday, April 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 36.0° F  Fair
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Bartell Theatre could close as revenue drops
Charitable giving fell in the recession's wake

Budget cuts have affected all areas.
Budget cuts have affected all areas.
Credit:Carolyn Fath
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The Bartell Theatre will close at the end of 2013 unless support significantly increases, according to its managing director, Sarah Hoover.

The theater closed its most recent fiscal year with a $62,000 deficit. It still has significant assets, however.

Since the Bartell opened in 1998, the bulk of its revenue has come from rental to its member companies, which currently are Madison Theatre Guild, Mercury Players, StageQ and Strollers Theatre. Additional revenue has come from outside rentals, fundraising, grants and donations.

From 1998 until 2009, fewer than 10 individual donors contributed as much as 25% of the Bartell Theatre Foundation's annual revenue. Since the recession, the major donor -- who previously gave as much as $50,000 per year -- has been unable to continue. The Bartell tried to generate additional revenue, but results have been mixed.

Budget cuts have affected all areas. The member participating theater companies, or PTCs, have almost entirely taken over marketing, repair and technical staffing. Volunteer hours are also down significantly, says Hoover.

The member companies, which also govern the facility, have long resisted marketing the Bartell as an entity in its own right, for fear that the venue might overshadow or even eventually exert control over their own troupes. For example, the companies refuse even a shared box office. While this attitude is often viewed as a weakness by outside observers in the arts community, it continues -- even during the current crisis.

"In our strategic planning of 2010-2011, we determined to protect the discrete identities of each PTC," says Hoover. "We're by the companies, for the companies.... It's a very Madison structure which was planned from the beginning." However, that independence may soon prove to have a very high price.

On May 7, the annual season announcement party at the theater will be preceded by a "State of the Bartell" meeting at 6 p.m. to review strategic planning, answer questions and make a plea for assistance.

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