The figures are in, and Forward Theater Company's first full-blown production was not only a critical success, it made a lot of money, too.
Ticket sales covered only a little more than half the cost of Forward's first big production, revealing how ambitious the company's business model is.
Madison's new professional troupe debuted in November with All About Eve, a staged reading. Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them was its first fully staged production, in the Overture Center Playhouse. After 15 shows it closed Jan. 17.
Total income for the production, as reported to the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, was $72,664.21. Expenses totaled the exact same amount, down to the penny.
Well, actually not. According to its own figures, Forward made a math error and underreported its cash income by $380.72.
The almost perfectly balanced budget is not an odd coincidence. When reporting to grantors, arts organizations like to show a balanced budget, and numbers for "in kind" donations such as donated services tend to be soft. For Torture, Forward counts $4,740 as in-kind revenue. Artistic director Jennifer Uphoff Gray says the value of volunteered hours was actually far greater.
For almost every dollar earned from a ticket, however, another was donated. One-time grants from Cultural Affairs and Overture earned the company $7,150. Income from individual and corporate donations was $24,230. All together, with total grants and in-kind donations, nearly half the production depended on revenue other than ticket sales, which brought in $36,924.
Virtually every arts organization depends on outside funding. Raising so many outside dollars is an enviable success for even a well-established group. But can it be sustained? Uphoff Gray is confident.
"We find that our donor pool continues to grow," she says. "We're very optimistic that those donation levels will continue for a little while."
Attendance is another soft figure; 2,142 attended, but only around 1,925 people paid. The rest were given free tickets to promote the show. And many of the $20-$40 tickets were last-minute "rush" sales, for an average revenue of $17.23 per seat.
"Honestly? That was a mistake," says Uphoff Gray of the rush sales. "We didn't know any better."
Arts managers around town have for months wished Forward success, while privately questioning the wisdom of starting a professional company right out of the box. Even Forward's predecessor, Madison Repertory Theatre, labored 18 years before turning pro. The reasons for waiting are the expense and the requirements of Actors' Equity. Just for Torture, Forward paid 24 performers and staff $31,557. (By contrast, while Overture is often blamed for high costs, facility rental was just $17,527, including equipment and a union stagehand.)
Uphoff Gray is unapologetic. "I have to say that if we had chosen to not go on as a professional company right away, there's no purpose to being a company at all. We came into being because of the importance of jobs for professional artists in this region."