Madison Theatre Guild is in crisis, as Isthmus reported on July 20. Since then, additional concerns have surfaced over the troupe's management. The nonprofit now faces questions from inside over possible missing funds.
Some Guild staff are worried about inadequate ticket-sales records and poor cash-handling policies.
"There were simply no records of ticket sales or receipts, so nobody had any idea how much money was earned or owed...or misplaced," says John Nicholas Schweitzer, a past Guild president who served as a board member until he resigned in May 2006. He adds that he has no reason to believe that funds went missing during his tenure on the board.
The Guild's shared venue, the Bartell Community Theatre, also has no records for the troupe. "Each participating theater company handles its own sales," says Bartell president Sarah Whelan-Blake.
Madison Theatre Guild president Jeanne O'Malley is unable or unwilling to share records required by state and federal law to be open, such as corporate tax returns and minutes of the board of directors. Despite repeated requests, she has not made herself available for a phone or in-person interview.
O'Malley states in an email, "I have not ever diverted funds to my personal use from the Guild accounts. As a matter of fact I (and others) have paid Guild bills and not always been reimbursed or asked to be."
Her only other comment, in a separate email, is that "Madison Theatre Guild continues to work on its business situation and to plan for its upcoming seasons at the Bartell."
Besides other debt, Madison Theatre Guild faces six delinquent tax warrants (judicial writs authorizing judgment or seizure) totaling nearly $15,000.
Meanwhile, Madison Theatre Guild has avoided its most immediate threat. It will be allowed to produce at the Bartell during the 2007-08 season. The decision was made at a meeting of the Bartell board on July 25.
"I am very, personally, pleased with the outcome of the meeting," says Whelan-Blake.
Lee Ann Cooper, the Bartell's managing director, says that the Guild paid "more than half" of what it owed the Bartell, previously estimated by Whelan-Blake at $5,000 to $7,000. Cooper will not say if the Bartell laid down conditions for the Guild's continued involvement.
Madison Theatre Guild is contracting to rent Bartell space three times next season, the same as during 2006-07. (Last season two shows were produced in tandem, bringing the total number of shows to four.) The three planned shows, announced Sunday, are The Laramie Project, Wit and Into the Woods.
This is a marked production downturn. In 2005-06 the Guild produced five shows, and eight the season before. The nonprofit desperately needs income; according to one insider, money was so tight last year that the Guild's building, a former fire station at 2410 Monroe St., was without power for several days.
On July 27 the Bartell issued a statement of support, which reads in part, "The Bartell board supports Madison Theatre Guild's efforts to move forward artistically, financially and in strong leadership.... The Bartell board particularly appreciates Jeanne O'Malley's leadership in bringing Madison Theatre Guild to this next step in its continued development."
O'Malley has not called the annual required meeting of the Guild's dues-paying membership since 2005. The membership has therefore been unable to elect new corporation officers. Two Guild board members, including the treasurer, resigned the weekend of July 7. O'Malley announced Sunday that a general membership meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 28, at the Bartell Community Theatre, 113 E. Mifflin St.
Last week Whelan-Blake remained optimistic about Madison Theatre Guild's future. "Time," she said. "Give it time."