Growing budget, going pro
ASPEN Since Kent Reed founded Aspen Theater in the Park in 1983, the company has ridden a veritable roller coaster to its present professional incarnation.After doubling the budget in recent years to roughly $1 million in 2007, Theatre Aspen organizers said the extra revenue enables the company to produce better scripts and hire the best actors, directors and designers.Starting with a $2,500 grant from Aspen Community Theater in 1983, Reed created the Theatre Under the Jerome, a company that put on productions in the basement of Aspen’s historic hotel.But, because a 1987 renovation to the Jerome forced the company to go itinerant, organizers changed the name to the Aspen Theatre Company. Eventually the troupe set up shop in a used circus tent on city land in Rio Grande Park, thanks to special permission of City Council.
In 1992, Reed left the ensemble to pursue his career, and the group became Aspen Theater in the Park and upgraded the tent.”We did a whole both philosophical and brand change,” said David McClendon, artistic director since 2005, when the organizers renamed the company Theatre Aspen.At the urgings of its very active board of directors, Theatre Aspen is growing in size and organizers hope to make the troupe a year-round professional theater company, McClendon said.”We pretty much break even every year,” said John Redmond, the managing director who handles the money and, he joked, “anything that isn’t artistic.”Ticket sales and tuition for Theatre Aspen kids summer programs account for about half of the roughly $1 million revenues, and the rest comes from individual and corporate contributions and fundraisers such as the annual benefit dinner each March.”Salaries are the biggest piece of the action,” Redmond said.Aspen Theatre operates from rented offices at the Red Brick Center for the Arts and pays for upkeep of the theater tent in Rio Grande Park, but Redmond said 50 percent of annual revenues go to maintaining the year-round staff of four, as well as actors, technicians and designers for each production.As artistic director, McClendon chooses what is produced and who will light up the stage each season, and the additional revenues give him more latitude for better scripts and talent.A single show costs from $60,000 to $90,000 to produce, depending on the cast and number of musicians, Redmond said. Script royalties vary from 8 to 12 percent of the gate at each performance, and some contracts come with a per-show minimum of $600, Redmond said.Union actors are paid based on industry standards, from about $450 per week, and theater organizers pay between $70,000 and $80,000 annually to house cast and crew, Redmond said.”It’s not hard to get good actors, directors and designers when you mention the name Aspen,” McClendon said. “But you gotta pay ’em, and pay ’em what they’re used to getting paid.”While in the past, the theater hired some professional actors, “it was very much community theater,” McClendon said.But in a town that attracts fine artists and world-renowned music, the company’s board “wanted a theater as well that would house and attract the highest level of actor, director and designer,” McClendon said.In winter months, the company puts on productions at the Wheeler Opera House and other area theaters, but McClendon said the company is looking for a year-round home.”We have a very active working board,” McClendon said. “I really feel like we’re partners. They’re the reason that we are here. They’re the reason why Theatre Aspen is growing.”The company gives back to the community by holding a summer theater camp and school for kids, as well as outreach to theater students at Aspen High School.”One of the things that is incredibly important to me are the educational programs,” McClendon said, adding that young people are not only the future talent but the future audience of theater.The company puts on an annual children’s play, where kids have a chance to interact with the professional cast, and 2007 is the third year of Carnivale, a community celebration with performances, games and food – a way to say thanks to the community and “make the most of the park,” McClendon said.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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