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Million Dollar Options on Table for Shakespeare Theatre

Consulting group presents possible plans for Stratford's long-shuttered theatre.

Million Dollar Options on Table for Shakespeare Theatre Million Dollar Options on Table for Shakespeare Theatre

Published April 17, 2012

The scope of a revived Shakespeare Theatre will rely heavily on an ambitious grassroots fundraising effort, according to the agency hired by the town to draft options for the fabled Stratford theatre.

"There would need to be an annual campaign to support this every year," Willem Brans, vice president of Arts Consulting Group (ACG), told residents and Town Council members during a presentation last week at . "This has to be grassroots in order to succeed."

ACG presented three options for breathing new life into the theatre, which would function as a not-for-profit institution.

The concepts ranged in price from $3.2 million for a "temporary" theatre to $29.6 million for a venue that would be open year-round, put on 192 events a year and potentially rake in $2 million in annual revenue.

The $30 million option would renovate the entire Elm Street theatre, Brans said, including the removal of both the front lobby and "an enormous balcony." The concept also proposes to reconfigure space for rehearsal and administrative activity, as well as add a glass pavilion where patrons would purchase tickets.

The $3.2 million temporary alternative -- which would allow for only summer use -- would exclude several architectural elements of the $30 million model, Brans said. Both options support reducing seating capacity from 1,500 to about 600.

"Thirty million dollars is a lot of money," Councilman Jason Santi (D-4) said. "Being that we are, in my opinion, in a great depression, I don't see town funding that -- where would you get that money?"

"We still need to test fundraising studies," Brans said. "We don't have any sense whether that level of fundraising short-term or long-term is out there, however I have seen large projects like this get fundraising."

Brans said the temporary model, which would accommodate 19 events annually, could work for years, but it would only bring in $151,000 in annual revenue.

"To constituents who say 'knock it down,' what benefits does it have for non-Shakespeare lovers?" Santi asked.

"We see limited opportunities for Shakespeare productions," said Brans, adding that the theatre field has seen a decline in ticket sales in recent years, a negative trend that is expected to continue. "Trying to restore it the way it was is not going to work."

What made the theatre a national attraction in the 1950s with performances that starred Katharine Hepburn, what made the venue a popular draw for New Yorkers and beyond, will not be what drives the rebirth of the theatre, Brans said.

"We tried understanding why this theatre has been in the dark for 30 years," he said.

Brans said a repurposed venue with a smaller, intimate house that offers a variety of attractions will best revive the long-shuttered theatre. Contemporary and classical music acts, comedy shows, dance performances, corporate events and school functions should all be able to utilize the future theatre.

The theatre has more options for use than it did in the 1950s, Brans said.

Citing studies that polled income, age and education in the region, Brans said there's a strong potential market for performing arts participation in the area. Locally, there's a diverse racial environment in Stratford so a broad range of programming would work, he said.

"There is a community that fits right into arts consumers," Brans said. "We believe we can draw crowds to spend money in town."

Stratford is paying ACG with money from the town's general fund. If the town employs the agency though the entirety of its multi-phase plan, it'll end up paying the consulting group about $160,000, according to Councilman Matt Catalano (R-3).

Community engagement is phase four and will start this month. Phase five, which will focus on fundraising and a feasibility study, will begin later this year.

ACG said it's possible the new theatre could hold a grand opening as a temporary theatre in the summer of 2013.

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