Bay Street Theatre Faces Financial Deficit


A dwindling endowment, a looming lease negotiation and a summer season that was marred by car accidents, illness and the brutality of Mother Nature doesn’t seem to have impacted the plucky disposition of Bay Street Theatre’s Executive Director Tracy Mitchell.

Even faced with the reality that the theatre has entered into yet another capital campaign — chaired by new board member, television personality Joy Behar — and will need to raise $375,000 to move forward with its 2012 season, Mitchell remains undeterred, convinced the theatre will find enough community support to continue its year-round programming.

“After 20 years, we have always managed to eke through and I don’t see this year being any different,” Mitchell said this week. “I am just going out there and trying to meet people who can help us continue our programming for another year.”

Bay Street Theatre may have found critical success this year with its three Mainstage productions — “Tru,” followed by the controversial “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” and  the final summer production “Enter Laughing, The Musical,” but the season was not without drama behind the scenes.

In addition to illness that sidelined two performances of “Tru,” its star, Darrell Hammond, was in a car accident at the end of the show’s run, leading to the cancellation of the final two performances — a revenue loss of more than $25,000.

If sickness and accidents were not enough, Bay Street also suffered at the hands of Mother Nature. When the bands of Tropical Storm Irene swept over the East End, the theatre was forced to cancel three performances of “Enter Laughing, The Musical” — a show that happened to be the commercial success of the season. The impact was the loss of over $70,000 in ticket sales alone, according to Mitchell.

The total loss of eight summer performances meant that Bay Street Theatre lost 10 percent of its projected ticket sales revenue due to situations beyond their control. Given that ticket sales account for only 48 percent of what Bay Street needs to survive, that left the theatre with another uphill battle to fight this fall. So they’re reaching out to the public in the hopes of raising enough money to keep the theatre alive.

If the theatre cannot raise the $375,000, noted Mitchell, with an endowment that is now virtually non-existent, the reality could be a darkened Bay Street in 2012.

“There is so little left and that is the issue,” said Mitchell of the theatre’s endowment. “We are feeling the pressure because we don’t have a place outside of fundraising to go to for this money even if we wanted to.”

Mitchell said the theatre will need the aid of community members who can give Bay Street even $15 or $25 as well as those who are able to provide larger donations if the theatre is going to being able to raise the necessary money.

“We are trying to run a non-profit theatre in one of the most expensive areas in the world,” said Mitchell. “No non-profit theatre I know of has ever made it without the donation side of funding. We have cut our expenses to the bone, and we just can’t draw anymore blood from the stone.”

Mitchell said that on the bright side, Bay Street Theatre did not see a drop off in ticket sales this year, and has successfully secured a number of new subscriptions to the theatre for next season, meaning its sales will likely grow in 2012. The theatre has already announced that the 2012 season will include the commercial and critically successful musical “Into the Woods” by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim as well as the Charles Busch comedy “Red Scare on Sunset.”

The theatre has also offered a Bay Pass, allowing patrons to pay $20 a month for access to any Mainstage production, workshops, its Literature Live! programming and the Bay Street Picture Show.

“It is a sign that people are saying they are committed to the theatre and all that we do,” said Mitchell.

Looking beyond 2012, to 2013, the theatre will begin negotiating a new lease with building owner Patrick Malloy III.

“It is the goal of Bay Street’s management and board to stay in Sag Harbor,” said Mitchell. “That is where we want to be, and we will do our best to stay in this location. That being said, we do have to be realistic about the costs and we will see what happens during negotiations.”

Mitchell was candid about the fact that Bay Street Theatre management have looked at other spaces, despite wanting to remain at their current home.

“I took a lunchtime walk with some of the other members of the management team to look at an available space last week,” said Mitchell referring to the now dormant Stella Maris Regional School building. “On the way back, I stopped for a sandwich and I swear I had three messages on my voicemail asking me if we were looking at new spaces.”

At the end of the day, Mitchell said if the theatre cannot negotiate a new deal with Malloy, they will look at any, and every, potential theatre space in Sag Harbor.

“We are at the mercy of either philanthropists or developers — anyone who has the capability to help us and recognizes this village needs arts and culture at its center to keep it going,” said Mitchell.