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MTYP clears unpaid bills, looks to end drama

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Aasland says there's a  misconception in the community that MTYP is in danger of closing its doors, and that  is having a negative effect on season-ticket sales.

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Aasland says there's a misconception in the community that MTYP is in danger of closing its doors, and that is having a negative effect on season-ticket sales.

The Manitoba Theatre for Young People has wiped out $330,000 in unpaid bills accumulated during a cash-strapped 2012-13 season.

It's finally some good news from an organization that has seen more high drama behind the scenes than anything it presented on its stage in 2012-13 -- the result of a deepening financial crisis and major upheaval in senior management.

In early June, the beleaguered MTYP went looking for friends willing to help rescue it from its fiscal sinkhole. Officials first approached creditors who agreed to write off almost $70,000 of what was owed them, while another $250,000 was raised from foundations, corporations and public benefactors. The presence of such a large amount of payables had been strangling the 32-year-old nationally recognized troupe all season and commanding a disproportionate amount of daily attention from its officials.

"It's huge," says board president Gloria Koop. "That frees us up to concentrate on today's events and tomorrow's events rather than dragging the past with us financially."

MTYP management last season was plagued by cash-flow difficulties which culminated in the pile of unpaid bills and the missing of staff payroll. Founding artistic director Leslee Silverman was ousted by the board in March amid the fiscal mess and was followed out the door by the end of the season by several key colleagues, including executive producer Zaz Bajon. Former Winnipegger, actor Derek Aasland, was brought back as artistic director in April, after which he announced a reduced five-play season for 2013-14.

MTYP's focus can now shift to selling tickets, implementing new accounting procedures and, at last, launch a capital campaign to erase the ever-present accumulated deficit of $1.575 million. It is expected MTYP will break even on its tumultuous 2012-13 season at its annual general meeting in September.

There are still other immediate challenges. While funding from the various arts councils remains steady and schools have returned en masse for next year's lineup, individual subscriptions are down 75 per cent.

"I think given the circumstances it's not surprising," says Koop, during an interview this week. "I think it will take a little bit of time for the public to regain trust and endorse us. I think everyone out there understands that this will be a year when things aren't the way they were and we aren't able to bring forward a fuller package."

There has been no marketing campaign. The theatre doesn't have a marketing manager, although the plan is to hire one. In meeting with creditors and prospective donors, Aasland has discovered doubts still exist about MTYP's future.

"There is a strong sense out there that MTYP is going to close its doors," Aasland says. "That is still floating out there. I think people are getting single tickets instead because they are not sure if we will be around."

The playlist has been reduced to five titles from the eight in 2012-13 while the annual budget has been sliced 25 per cent to $1.8 million. Two shows (Jack and the Giant Beanstalk and Dying to be Thin) open in October and two more (I On the Sky and Night Light) in March. Between Nov. 1 and March 10 there is only a five-day run of The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer scheduled. Aasland is planning to add an extra show, something big and splashy, to fill the programming gap.

"There had to be some sacrifice," Aasland says. "There has to be some time at MTYP during the season for the organization to put the processes in place that will guarantee its future."

Only when the public can see evidence MTYP is getting its fiscal house in order will the focus return to it being one of the leading young people's theatres in Canada.

"We need to make our financial problems old news," Koop says.

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2013 G3

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