MTYP clears un­paid bills, looks to end drama

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

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 sub­scrip- tions 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.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

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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