UNCERTAIN FUTURE OF VENETIAN THEATRE FORCES CANCELLATION OF BAG&BAGGAGE’S NOISES OFF
Hillsboro, OR—Despite meticulous planning and a hugely successful capital campaign, and just three months before the end of their 2016-2017 season, Bag&Baggage Productions’ Board of Directors has voted to cancel the company’s final production in the season, Noises Off.
In 2007 the company was invited to make its permanent home in the historic Venetian Theatre. Ten years later, that has changed. Founding Artistic Director Scott Palmer said, “As most of our fans know, the Venetian Theatre is under a pending sale, to be finalized on or around March 1, 2017, we are told. Unfortunately, we have no confirmation of the new owner’s plans for the venue. Will The Venetian close for a few months? Continue to operate without interruption? Some combination of the two? At this point, just a few days before we start rehearsals for the largest show we have ever undertaken, we have no guarantee that the venue will be open for us to perform Noises Off, scheduled to open in early May of 2017.”
In their statement to staff, the Board of Directors said “Given the lack of certainty related to the status of the Venetian, we cannot, in good faith with our funders, artists, and donors, allow the company to spend money to produce Noises Off without an iron-clad, 100% guarantee that the venue will be open. The risk to Bag&Baggage is just too great.”
Palmer, who was scheduled to direct the show, said, “Just imagine: we start building the massive set, paying the designers and actors, paying for advertising, and selling tickets; then, maybe a few days after the sale is final, we find out the Venetian will be closed for refurbishment? Not only would we be out all the money we spent on the show, but we would be out all of the ticket income. That would bankrupt us which, in turn, means we would lose ownership of our new home. Obviously, we can’t risk it.”
How the Venetian’s uncertainty spurred Bag&Baggage to take charge of its future
The Honorable Gayle Nachtigal, Chair of the Bag&Baggage Board of Directors, said, “What would happen to Bag&Baggage if the Venetian Theatre closed or was sold has been an ever-present, deep concern for the company and our board.” Part of B&B’s strategic plan notes that “should The Venetian close, or be sold to a new owner without an interest in housing a professional theatre company, the future of Bag&Baggage would be in serious doubt.”
Three years ago, the company’s fears were realized when the owners of the Venetian announced their plans to sell the building.
Bag&Baggage’s Board of Directors responded by focusing on “venue stabilization.” As Nachtigal noted, “We embarked on the most ambitious campaign in the company’s history: buying the former Wells Fargo building on 4th & Main in downtown Hillsboro and raising money to turn it into the company’s permanent home. The whole point of the campaign was to eliminate the risk of the Venetian closing or selling. And we almost made it. Almost.”
How the City of Hillsboro helped ensure a performing space for the arts
B&B’s Board and staff touched off a campaign to find a permanent new home, one that would be fully owned and operated by the theatre. That effort led to an historic partnership with the City of Hillsboro, which provided B&B with a $750,000 loan to purchase the derelict former Wells Fargo Bank Building. The goal is to refurbish the space into a new administrative and performance home for the company, while also providing a space the Hillsboro community could use for events. The capital campaign, a $1.4 million project, is almost 100% complete, with construction already underway, and a completion and opening date of September 2017.
Unusually for an arts organization, Bag&Baggage has never operated at a deficit
Although on balance canceling Noises Off will protect Bag&Baggage’s long-term financial health, there will be a significant negative impact on the company. Ticket sales from Noises Off, projected to be one of the most successful shows in the company’s history, were crucial for cash flow to get B&B through the remainder of the 2016-2017 season. Combined with the move of Brontë to the much smaller Hillsboro Library (also due to uncertainty about the status of the Venetian), the company is projecting an Operating Loss of nearly $85,000 and a potential cash flow crunch.
“For a company that has not operated at a deficit – ever in our 12 year history – $85,000 is a scary, scary number,” Palmer said. “We may have to undertake staff layoffs, salary cuts, and reductions in our essential expenses in order to reduce that figure and, without donations from our patrons, there is no doubt we will end the year with a moderate deficit, starting our new season and opening our new building on somewhat shaky ground.”
Nachtigal, who has been Chair of the B&B Board for six years, and serves on the Financial and Executive Committees, said, “This is a tough time, not only because we are so close to being in our new home, but because we have had such a great season so far. We will do everything we can to protect the company, our future, and the generous donations from our supporters and funders of the Capital Campaign. I am 100% confident that, with the support and patience of our fans, we will see everyone in our new home in just a few months.”
Palmer, who started Bag&Baggage as a small, semi-professional touring company in 2005, has been the company’s Artistic Director ever since. “This has been an incredibly difficult decision for us. We love the Venetian, and the current owners are our biggest supporters and our partners. Without them, Bag&Baggage simply wouldn’t exist. We are thrilled that there is a new owner, and wish everyone involved in the sale the very best of luck and all the success in the world. In fact, we look forward to partnering with the new owner to promote the arts in downtown Hillsboro for years to come. But, without a 100% guarantee that we can perform in the Venetian, we can’t take the risk on this final show. We can’t ask our stakeholders – who include the City of Hillsboro – to take this risk.”
In the coming days, B&B staff will be reaching out to Season Ticket holders and those who have already purchased tickets to Noises Off to discuss options. More information can be found online at bagnbaggage.org.
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Editor’s Note: artist renderings of the new Bag&Baggage building and photos of B&B productions in The Venetian available upon request.
Box Office Hours:
M/W/F 3:00pm-5:00pm and 1 hour prior to performances
Our Mailing Address/Main Performance Venue
350 E. Main St., Hillsboro, OR 97123