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Big gifts helped Playhouse finish 2012 in the black

FLAT ROCK — Boosted by donations from private organizations, individuals and the public, Flat Rock Playhouse finished 2012 in the black by $65,000, the theater's financial statements show.

The end-of-year profit and loss statement show that contributions ranging from a few dollars by Playhouse alumni to big gifts by individuals, charitable trusts, the Village of Flat Rock and Henderson County ensured the survival of the 60-year-old theater and helped it start 2013 in better financial shape than the past several years.
"It shows about a $65,000 surplus as opposed to a $499,000 loss last year," said Flat Rock Mayor Bob Staton, who is also a member of the Playhouse Board of Trustees. "I think that is a positive sign that they're well on their way" to recovery.
The Village Council requested that the Playhouse submit quarterly financial reports as a condition of its decision in December to grant the struggling theater $100,000.
The Playhouse also reports in this year's playbill $100,000 donations each from an anonymous donor (a board member and philanthropist who supports the arts and other charities), the city of Hendersonville, Henderson County, state Rep. Chuck McGrady and his wife, Jean. McGrady is also a Flat Rock Playhouse board member.
Donors giving between $50,000 and $100,000 were Clyde and Nina Allen, Tom and Sue Fazio, Peggy McKibbin, the North Carolina Arts Council and the estate of Edward C. Wesch.
The income statement from the Vagabond School of the Drama, the nonprofit corporation that owns the Flat Rock Playhouse, showed that large gifts played a bigger role in saving the Playhouse than box office sales or expense cuts. In fact, the Playhouse finished behind budget projections at the Main Stage and Downtown ticket sales, although it exceeded its projection for Music on the Rock. The Playhouse also finished the year with bigger expenses than projected and reported higher spending than in 2011, although savings in a capital spending and a few other departments enabled it to come under budget overall by $6,000, a tenth of 1 percent.
The financial numbers were foreshadowed six months ago when Playhouse leaders said 2012 box office sales and supporters' donations were not generating enough money to cover expenses.

The income statement for 2012 showed:
• Main Stage income fell by $435,000, from $1.78 million in 2011 to $1.35 million.
• Downtown box office sales totaled $397,000 — $286,000 less than the budget projection.
• Music on the Rock shows made $219,000, $40,000 more than budgeted.
• The 60th anniversary campaign, which Playhouse leaders announced last summer when the financial picture was growing worse, generated $73,000, less than half the $150,000 goal.
• Private donors contributed $427,350 in December alone and $746,000 for the year. The annual total was $546,000 ahead of budget and $585,000 more than 2011.
• Support from local and regional government totaled $325,000, $100,000 more than budgeted.
• Total revenue of $4.4 million missed budget by $10,244 but came in ahead of the 2011 total by $810,000.
• Salaries and wages came in $20,000 under budget for the year but $15,000 ahead of 2011.
• Overall, the Playhouse saved $102,000 to budget in general theater operations, on spending of $1.07 million.
• Performer wages of $500,834 came in $52,391 ahead of budget and $36,000 more than the previous year.
• Overall, theater production expenses of $2.2 million were $112,000 over budget and $185,000 more than 2011.
• The development (fundraising) expense of $79,544 came in $37,100 under budget.
• Marketing costs of $585,146 came in $81,347 over budget and $53,000 more than 2011.
• The theater saved on capital costs and overall finished with total expenses of $4,316,138, which was $6,000 less than budget but $247,000 more than 2011.
Creative artistic director Vincent Marini said he was pleased that the theater had finished the year with a positive fund balance.
Playhouse president Bill McKibbin and Marini announced to stakeholders and Playhouse supporters last November that the theater was in dire financial shape and needed a large infusion of cash to survive. Although it threatened at first to withdraw a previous commitment, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners ended up maintaining its $100,000 level of support. The Hendersonville City Council, which pledged $300,000 over three years to help the Playhouse Downtown get off the ground, also gave $100,000 in 2012. And the Flat Rock Village Council approved a $100,000 gift, provided the Playhouse use the proceeds to pay down a loan from United Community Bank.
McKibbin said last fall that 2012 sales were coming in behind budget for some shows and that the theater was trying to trim costs to remain above water. It lost $499,000 in 2011, so the 2012 end-of-year report showing a fund balance, however small, is welcome.
"We said last year that we needed $500,000 to finish the year and but we said all along we needed to raise about a million dollars this year," he said. "We still need to raise more funds to get on more solid footing."
The box office success of "The Odd Couple" is a positive start, he said, but he added that the theater needs to sell more season tickets and sell seats for all shows.
"We budgeted 2013 to be conservative because I didn't want to walk the same path I walked last year," he said.
The 2013 season has started in an encouraging way, Marini said from the stage Saturday night when "The Odd Couple" opened. Ticket sales for the season-opening Main Stage play so far were on track for "one of the biggest successes we've had."
The theater also has hired a financial manager, Hillary Hart, who was in charge of the Dallas Theater Center and is a graduate of the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem.