Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Curtain falls on deficit

Gone With the Wind helps dry up red ink from MTC's troubling 2011-12 season

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The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre deficit is gone with the wind.

After recording one of the largest losses in its history in 2011-12, RMTC bounced back this season with a more than $500,000 turnaround, ending the year with a $96,000 surplus, a small crowd of supporters and staff were told at the organization's annual meeting Wednesday evening.

"We spent less and we earned a little more," said artistic director Steven Schipper, during an interview.

However, mainstage attendance continued to slip, reaching 96,084 last season, down from 99,319 in 2011-12 and 115,106 in 2010-11. The world premi®re of Niki Landau's adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's literary epic Gone With the Wind was the season's runaway box office hit, attracting an audience of 20,936 (89 percent of capacity). That was 5,000 people more than the runner-up draw of A Few Good Men, at 16,172.

"Both artistically and financially, MTC's Gone With the Wind was a spectacular success, but we are equally gratified by some of the quieter triumphs of the past season, such as Winnipeg actor Jeff Strome's moving performance in A Few Good Men," says Schipper. "This past season MTC got people talking, whether about the ideas in the plays or their beauty or their relevance."

Of greater concern was the turnout for the rest of the season. In 2011-12, the least popular ticket was God of Carnage with an attendance of 15,662. Last season, four of the plays could not match that ticket total. Ed's Garage played to 14,964, Daddy Long Legs to 14,888, Miracle on South Division Street to 14,475 and Other People's Money to a low of 14,458.

Mainstage season subscriptions also continued to slip to 13,663 from the 2011-12 total of 15,047, which then represented a 10 per cent drop from 2010-11. The number of Warehouse subscribers increased 10 per cent to 2,881. The audience at RMTC's second stage was stable, with all the shows drawing between 4,820 (Ride the Cyclone) and 4,318 (Red).

"We may not have filled quite as many seats as we'd hoped, but we feel we're fulfilling our mission to fill the people in those seats with captivating plays, indelible memories and transformative experiences," says Schipper, who has been RMTC artistic director since 1989. "It's an ebb-and-flow thing; I wouldn't be surprised if our numbers go up again. We're on a phenomenal renewal rate."

Last season, RMTC hired the Colorado-based consulting company TRG Arts -- it services many Canadian cultural organizations, including the Royal Winnipeg Ballet -- that specializes in audience growth. Schipper says he is already seeing positive results from the firm's advice.

"We're building deeper relationships with our audience and donors, thanks to the expertise of TRG," says Schipper.

RMTC remains financially healthy. Its stabilization fund received the bulk of this year's surplus and now stands at $350,286. The market value of the endowment fund is over $14.3 million and provided the stage troupe's coffers with $532,415 this past season.

RMTC's other activities included taking Ed's Garage on a provincial tour, where it played to 4,630 patrons. The 25th annual Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival last summer drew a ticketed attendance of 100,621 while SondheimFest, the 2013 Master Playwright Festival, played to 9,087.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2013 C3

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