MTYP’S fi­nances ‘dire,’ says in­com­ing man­ager

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Kevin Prokosh

DUR­ING the 2011-12 sea­son, Man­i­toba Theatre for Young Peo­ple dealt with some very grown-up fi­nan­cial prob­lems, such as not meet­ing pay­roll, hav­ing its line of credit cut and be­ing forced to ask for ad­vances on next year’s grants.

That MTYP’s books are splashed with red ink has prompted the Man­i­toba Arts Coun­cil to place the 30-yearold or­ga­ni­za­tion on con­cerned sta­tus.

“The fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion is al­most cri­sis-like here,” says Zaz Ba­jon, on the eve of his tak­ing over as MTYP ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Fri­day. “There is a deficit of $1.6 mil­lion. There is a cash flow prob­lem. We have to fig­ure out how to pay for things. It’s not a pretty sight right now try­ing to fig­ure out who gets what. “Fi­nan­cially, it’s dire.” In the hopes of al­le­vi­at­ing the cash squeeze, MTYP plans to send out a let­ter to par­ents and sup­port­ers next week out­lin­ing its pre­car­i­ous fis­cal sit­u­a­tion and ask­ing for do­na­tions to help pay off a small short­fall.

Much of the cur­rent prob­lem is a car­ry­over from the con­struc­tion of its $5.6-mil­lion land­mark home opened at the The Forks in 1999. The or­ga­ni­za­tion still owes around $1.2 mil­lion, “an al­ba­tross” which costs about $182,000 in mort­gage pay­ments an­nu­ally. That’s money that should be go­ing into the mak­ing of theatre MTYP is so cel­e­brated for stag­ing.

The re­sult is that artis­tic di­rec­tor Leslee Sil­ver­man dropped two pro­duc­tions from its 2012-13 play­bill as well as not pro­duc­ing, as usual, its own, big Christ­mas show in favour of bring­ing in Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat from Min­neapo­lis.

“It’s dis­cour­ag­ing and wor­ri­some,” says Sil­ver­man. “But the doors are not go­ing to close. We live in a place that val­ues cul­ture for kids.”

Ba­jon, who re­tired last June af­ter 30 years as gen­eral man­ager of the Royal Man­i­toba Theatre Cen­tre, was brought in ear­lier this year to au­dit the MTYP or­ga­ni­za­tion and was sur­prised at what he found.

“I al­ways thought they did boffo busi­ness,” says Ba­jon, who is tak­ing over from gen­eral man­ager Denise Lysak, who is off to a job with a Van­cou­ver theatre com­pany. “This or­ga­ni­za­tion does great art so from that per­spec­tive it’s ex­cel­lent. It is weak in its fi­nan­cial man­age­ment.”

He also found that MTYP did not gen- er­ate enough money from the pri­vate sec­tor or any­where close to the per­cent­age of ticket rev­enue a com­pany like RMTC col­lects.

“If it’s theatre for lit­tle peo­ple, you get lit­tle money,” Ba­jon says.

Adding to those con­cerns was the mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of $77,000, ac­cord­ing to a law­suit filed in the court of Queen’s Bench, by a for­mer comptroller. Not only did MTYP miss that money but its fun­ders ques­tioned its fi­nan­cial num­bers. One fed­eral depart­ment de­layed its $200,000 con­tri­bu­tion, ex­ac­er­bat­ing MTYP’s cash-flow dif­fi­cul­ties.

“It added more con­fu­sion to our fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion with our fun­ders ask­ing what else is wrong,” Ba­jon says dur­ing an in­ter­view at MTYP with Sil­ver­man.

Ba­jon sees his top pri­or­i­ties as re­tir­ing the debt, cre­at­ing an en­dow­ment for the com­pany and im­prov­ing re­port­ing pro­ce­dures. He be­lieves these are risky times for cash-strapped arts groups. No one be­lieved any prom­i­nent 40-year-old arts group like the Van­cou­ver Play­house could close but it did mid-sea­son this year. .

“So now there is a new re­al­ity,” he says. “It could hap­pen.”

So that’s why MTYP is go­ing public with its plight.

“I don’t want to stand on a rooftop and yell but I think it’s im­por­tant we tell the public,” he says. “By peo­ple know­ing our sit­u­a­tion they’ll come to our res­cue. There are peo­ple who want to help this or­ga­ni­za­tion but they don’t know we need help.”

HAND­OUT

As its lineup has ex­panded, Deer Tick’s sound has evolved from folk-ori­ented to a more rowdy rock ’n’ roll vibe.

WAYNE GLOWACKI/WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

MTYP is strug­gling to make ends meet.

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