Mass. music venue fighting for survival

North Shore Music Theater, the 53-year-old theater-in-the-round in Beverly, Mass., has joined the ranks of regional nonprofits fighting for their survival in a troubled economy. But as it’s nearing its last rounds, North Shore is looking to land a lucky punch.

Earlier this month it was forced to lay off 53 employees, keeping a skeletal staff of four, including the now part-time artistic director-executive producer Barry Ivan, who is leading efforts to reopen the theater that closed its doors last week.

Ivan is planning several initiatives that would raise enough funds to keep the not-for-profit theater viable, and he ultimately hopes to produce a season beginning in the spring.

The theater, located in a suburban community just north of Boston, has so far raised about half of the $500,000 it needs to keep the facility in working order and allow the org to begin planning the season, according to Ivan.

David Fellows, chairman of the theater’s board, said Jan. 31 was the deadline to raise the half-million, but Ivan said the board is giving him additional time to reach that first goal.

It will then, he said, attempt to find the resources for an additional $4 million by April to fund a 2009 season. There are two fund-raising events planned next month in New York (at Joe’s Pub Feb. 9 and at the York Theater Feb. 10) and one in Massachusetts (Feb. 3 at the Danversport Yacht Club in Danvers, hosted by David Coffee).

The theater ends its fiscal year next week with $8.4 million in earnings and so far $1.7 million in contributed income, from an initial $14.7 million operating budget, which was later reduced to $12.3 million as the year went on.

The size of the deficit will depend on how much money it can raise, Ivan said, but is likely to be in the seven figures unless it receives a windfall gift in the next week.

The previous year brought in $11.2 million in earned income and $2.2 million in contributed coin on a $14 million budget.

Ivan also said the theater faced $5 million in accumulated debt, largely due to the costs of refurbishing the theater following a fire in 2005.

Ivan, who succeeded Jon Kimball last year, reported a 23% decline in ticket sales and a 27% drop in contributions to the theater, which in recent years has attracted up to 250,000 people.

Located on six acres of property, the theater began as a summer stock house and has grown to become the largest not-for-profit in New England.

In 2001, it saw a subscription high of more than 23,000. Last year it sold more than 16,000 subscription packages.

Ivan attributed the dramatic drop in ticket sales and contributed giving to the economic downturn. The theater went public with its financial woes last month, urging theatergoers to buy tickets for “High School Musical 2,” which was facing a nosedive at the box office. The show closed Jan. 13, preceding a layoff of staff.

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