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Playhouse narrowly in the black so far

Hillary Hart is managing director of the Flat Rock Playhouse. Hillary Hart is managing director of the Flat Rock Playhouse.

FLAT ROCK — Flat Rock Playhouse managing director Hillary Hart told the Flat Rock Village Council on Thursday she projects the theater will finish with a $19,000 budget surplus.

The theater has a $5,000 to $10,000 contingency within the budget, which if not spent will bring the surplus to $29,000, according to Hart. The margin doesn't leave much room for error.

"Without being able to predict what's going to happen this fall," Hart said, "we're treading water."

Despite the uncertainty for the rest of the year, the first half of the year was good for the Playhouse.

As of the second quarter, the Playhouse has already achieved 70 percent of the original ticket sales goal; 65,301 sold of 93,160 predicted. Ticket revenue is at 65 percent to goal or $1,806,106 of $2,781,367.

Ticket revenue is also up from 2012: 12.5 percent on the main stage, 17.5 percent for the Playhouse Downtown and 5.2 percent for the Music on the Rock tribute shows to popular artists. Overall, ticket revenue has increased 15.4 percent. Since the financial report ran only through June 30, it did not include complete ticket sales for "Les Miserables" on the Main Stage and "The Big Bang" downtown, both of which sold well.

Higher revenue has come despite fewer performances at the theater. Flat Rock Playhouse cut one show from both the main stage and downtown and 55 performances in both theaters in an effort to save money. By cutting shows and performances and extending running times, the Playhouse cut expenses and mitigated any revenue lost.

"This year we are trending ahead of our goals," Hart said. "For the summer months of June, July and this far in August, ticket revenue for our main stage and downtown plays and musicals is up 36 percent from $665,000 in 2012 to $903,000 in 2013."

Active donors are also playing a big part in funding for the Playhouse. As of quarter two, $687,143 of $913,958, or 75 percent, had been raised as contributed revenue. More than 80 active donors have given $1,000 or more.

Flat Rock Playhouse senior staff also set pre-determined budget benchmarks that trigger automatic expense cuts if the numbers fall short of goal. The cuts include programming expense cuts and staff furloughs; one round of those happened in the late spring when the theater cut $103,000 to make up for a revenue shortfalls. In the future, cuts if needed will come from staff salary reductions, staff furloughs and permanent layoffs, the finance director said.

"We are into the bone," Hart said. "We are committed to making sure we end this season in the black. We will end this season in the black, but at this point it will have serious ramifications for how we are able to produce our shows."

Overall, it seems the Flat Rock Playhouse will finish the year with a surplus, but, after finishing her update, Hart requested Village Council to reconsider its decision to cease any funding to the non-profit sector. The council made the decision in early 2012 to end grants to non-profits then made an exception when the theater announced a financial crisis last November. The council gave $100,000 to help save the theater.

"I must take exception to the notion that the Flat Rock Playhouse and the impact it has on this community is not deserving of local government support in a meaningful way each and every year," Hart said. "If the catastrophic losses of 2010 taught the organizations leadership and taught this community anything, it's that relying on earned revenue alone is not a sustainable business model. It's a business model that is destined to fail and it did."

According to a 2011 report released by the Theatre Communications Group, a group which collects data from 1,800 theatres across the country, local governments contributed almost $265,000 to theaters annual budgets, or about 3.7 percent. Local governments have contributed less than one half of one percent of Flat Rock Playhouse's annual operating budget, according to Hart.

Village council didn't immediately respond to Hart's request, but did sympathize with it.

"When I worked at the Flat Rock Playhouse in the summers of '56 and '57, I remember that the business manager then was Alice Pearce, and she was terrified that she would not have enough money at the end of the week to meet payroll," Mayor Bob Staton said. "It hasn't been all cookies and cream for the last 50 years."

For now, the Playhouse will continue to run mainly from revenue.

For more information about the Flat Rock Playhouse, performance information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 828-693-0731.

Flat Rock Villiage council will meet again at 11 a.m. on September 12. For more information about council or Flat Rock visit or call 828-697-8461.