The Kentucky Shakespeare Festival is moving forward with a 2013 summer season and with establishing an annual “destination model” summer theater festival in Louisville.
Last summer, the festival’s board gave themselves a February deadline to raise an extra $300,000 to fully fund two summer productions in advance or cancel the 2013 season. The oldest annual free Shakespeare in the Park festival will open “Twelfth Night” in Central Park in June.
Producing artistic director Brantley Dunaway says the financial outlook is solid now, thanks to sizable donations from local philanthropists, led by Christy Brown and James and Marianne Welch.
“That $300,000 would go towards the summer season as well as some financial stability measures to put us in a very healthy position financially as far as debt elimination and seed money and moving forward for the destination model,” says Dunaway.
“This will probably be the last year you’ll see us operating in the old model of doing things,” he adds.
Dunaway says funding the summer season in advance gives the organization the financial stability it needs to move forward with its strategic plan – an annual summer theater festival that includes indoor, ticketed productions in addition to free Shakespeare in Central Park. He says he hopes to begin implementing this model next year.
“[Funding the summer season in advance] will not guarantee that we’re doing this ticketed model, but it has more clearly opened the door for that possibility,” he adds. “It’s not signed, sealed and delivered, but it’s made it more viable.”
There will still be free Shakespeare in the Park, but those free productions will run in repertory with ticketed shows, offering patrons a choice of more than one production over the course of a week. This density of offerings appeals to visitors from out of town, hence the “destination” moniker.
“Every three days, the production would probably change,” says Dunaway.
Adding shows in repertory will allow the festival to spread fixed costs over multiple productions. Ticket sales generate revenue, which help subsidize the productions. But ticket sales in nonprofit theater don’t typically cover a production’s cost — Dunaway estimates revenue from ticket sales in the beginning will contribute less than 30 percent to the budget, as the festival begins to build an audience over the first four years.
“We do everything that a ticketed theater does anyway,” says Dunaway. “We pay all the same salaries, we pay actors, whether they’re Equity or non-union. We have to pay our marketing and front of house managers. The difference is we’re not selling anything. So now you take that show that’s free and you do a second show and you start selling that. The money you do make does have an impact.”
Dunaway says he’s not worried about free shows “cannibalizing” the ticketed productions, because they’ll offer different fare.
“We won’t be running a free Shakespeare production in the park and a paid Shakespeare show indoors. Not without a reason,” he says. “The profile of the types of shows we’ll do will also vary. It won’t all be Shakespeare. You will see iconic literary pieces, you’ll see more than just Shakespeare.”
Think Tennessee Williams, Noel Coward, Anton Chekhov, the Jacobean classics. Recent Pulitzer and Tony Award winners will be on the table, but Dunaway says the festival won’t produce world premieres.
“I’m being very respectful of [Actors Theatre of Louisville] and what they do,” he says.