A Conversation with Tracy Mitchell
By Christine Sampson
The Sag Harbor Express caught up with Tracy Mitchell, who is in her 10th year as executive director at Bay Street Theater, to find out how the organization is faring at this time of year.
Is there such a thing as “quiet time” at Bay Street?
There is never any quiet time at Bay Street, which, actually, we are quite proud of. This used to be primarily a summer-only venue with just the main stage season and once in a while some extended stuff in the shoulder seasons, but our board and management were very much behind us being here for the community year-round, so we have fought very hard to make the money-raising months stretch out to carry us through the long winter moths and do low-cost programming.
At what point do you start developing the next main stage season?
Immediately. The main stage shows, in fact, are being looked at year to year while we are in the midst of announcing this year’s schedules. We try to have one of the main stage shows ready to announce for the following year in August. But [artistic director] Scott Schwartz is already reading and developing work because it takes time to develop new work. It’s not just picking a play and producing it. As an example, the new work we did this year was a musical, “The Man in the Ceiling” by Jules Feiffer. To do a musical can cost upwards of $400,000, depending on the size of the show, number of characters and royalties. It’s a very expensive venture to develop new work, but it’s at the core of our mission that we do that.
Speaking of expenses, how is the theater doing in terms of donor support and patron attendance?
We can always use more money — we are a not for profit. Each seat in our theater costs us about $13,000 a year to run. We get a very high percentage through ticket sales. We get almost 50 percent and most theaters average 38 to 42 percent in terms of what they get for ticket sales versus the percentage of all the money they bring in. For us we bring in almost $2 million of a $4 million budget in ticket sales. We’re very lucky that the community, I think, values what we do, but I have to be honest, it’s always a struggle. This year it was a bit more difficult than it normally is because of all the additional fundraising going on for other wonderful organizations from one end of the street to the other — from Mashashimuet Park to the [Sag Harbor] Cinema to Bay Street. We have a lot of good causes here, but it’s a very small neck of the woods and a small group from which we all draw.
Are you set here in the long term or are you going to be addressing your lease in the near future?
I’ll just say that our lease comes due in five years and we’ll be talking to the landlord once again, probably sooner than later, just to see what his hopes are for the place. My goal for Bay Street is to see it have a permanent home. I hope it would be here. I want to secure Bay Street for the long term.
What are you excited about that is coming up at Bay Street?
The biggest thing we have coming is Nancy Atlas. She’s got a great following but anyone who hasn’t heard her should come down and see her. She threw in an extra show on December 30 just to cap it off at the holidays. And we also have some Goat on the Boat puppet shows for harried parents who need to pop in for an hour and keep their kids entertained. Hopefully that will wrap up a nice end to the year.
What do you think is important for people to know about Bay Street in general?
I really think that Bay Street serves as a resource. We are a gathering place for everybody in the community. I believe that in the bigger picture, in a democracy, art should not be a privilege. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience it. As long as I’m here, our goal will always be to be that resource for anyone who needs us or who wants to develop their artistic side.