Legit org may fold in face of big deficit

TORONTO — The Toronto Theater Alliance is on the verge of permanently closing its doors, due to a crippling deficit and an internal audit that could not have come at a worse time for the org.

The TTA coordinates the activities of all Toronto theater, ballet and opera companies. It also administers the annual Dora Mavor Moore Awards, Toronto’s equivalent of the Tonys, and runs discount ticket kiosk T.O. TIX.

After a board meeting Jan. 19, newly appointed executive director Jacoba Knaapen gave four weeks’ notice to herself and her entire staff of 10 full and part-time employees, threatening to close the doors as the only way of dealing with what she calls “a major financial crisis.”

The TTA has been on shaky ground in recent years, dealing with operating deficits and suffering, as all of Toronto did, from last summer’s SARS epidemic.

Matters were made worse by the sudden death last July 30 of Jessica Fraser, who had been in charge since 1997.

In a Jan. 20 phone interview, Knappen said, “The last thing I’m interested in is laying blame on the past. I’m interested in finding solutions and moving forward.”

Knappen was appointed late last fall and took office just four weeks ago. Faced with an interim year-end report, she was distressed enough with what she saw to begin further investigation.

When asked the exact amount and source of the deficit, Knaapen declined to answer, saying, “We’re in the middle of a forensic internal audit.”

Knappen is a longtime veteran of the Toronto legit scene, having spent many years on the staff of Theatre Passe Muraille. She is familiar with the workings of the TTA from having served as producer of the Dora Awards for the past two years.

The monthly operating cost of keeping the organization afloat is C$20,000 ($15,370), but Knappen is not asking for a short-term handout. “I’m not looking for Band-Aid solutions,” she insists.

Her plan is to market and promote T.O. TIX more extensively, which would provide a healthy revenue stream to the organization. But for now, survival is the name of the game.

“I absolutely feel optimistic that we have a chance to make this work,” she asserts. “I believe in the importance of theater and I believe that we can do this collectively, with the support of our colleagues and the public.”

But first, the org that helps raise the curtain for so many others has to stop its own curtain from coming down for the final time.

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