[Theaterfacultystaff] Tantrum season update

Dennis, Daniel dennisd at ohio.edu
Tue Nov 1 13:50:26 EDT 2016

Hello everybody,

I am writing to give you an update on our Tantrum season planning. I’m sure you have been wondering what’s going on and why we have not yet announced the season.

We are still planning on the three shows we last discussed—A Midsummer’s Night Dream; Caroline, or Change; and Into the West—but we have been mired in budget issues for the last four weeks, trying to make sure we can afford to produce these three shows. It is a large step forward from our first season. So, now I’m going to talk about money.

To be clear, in our first season we spent about $162K over what we budgeted. This is not surprising to me considering the brief amount of time we had to plan, the fact that it was the company’s first season in a largely untested market, and the particular challenges of producing in both Athens and Dublin (this last concern doesn’t seem to be going away). We also were under our projected revenues by $90K. We budgeted our revenues at 50% of our capacity, and we ended up averaging 12% of what was possible in ticket sales. We have a more realistic view for season two and are now budgeting for 33% in ticket sales.

In order to meet our goals of building audience and cultivating a better company culture, we are making two sets of changes. The first, we have discussed: the three shows themselves. I am excited about these choices, and we think they will enable us to meet our big goals.

The second set of budgetary changes has to do with operational stuff. We are increasing costs by bringing in more guest professionals in our production shops, hiring a faculty production manager (shared with the Division), and paying for our Producing Director’s full year’s salary, rather than just a couple of months. This is countered by finding efficiencies in some areas. We think we will be able to control travel costs much better this year, and we are working on some new housing options that will enable us to spend less per person and still meet our needs for good housing.

We are asking the upper administration for a one-time increase in our budget to afford season two. In order to make the argument, it has been important for us to determine how much more the second season’s shows will cost over the first season. We’ve separated out operational costs from the show-specific costs by looking at the operational changes we intend to make for season two with the first season’s show numbers. Then we have compared the first season to the second. (This is why it has taken as long as it has.)

Based on that, we know that to do the shows we want to do, we need about $80K more than we spent last year. We are arguing that the additional money is necessary to meet our goals of building audience, creating opportunities for our students, developing a sustainable work environment, and raising the stature of our company as one that addresses serious, contemporary issues. We think we have a good argument, largely due to our Dean’s astute questioning and diligent work in response by Ian, Rachel, and CoFA budget analyst Kari Saunier.

If, however, the university chooses not to spend this additional money, plan B is to replace Caroline, or Change with the musical Next to Normal by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt. This would save us about $60K. Next to Normal is a Pulitzer and Tony award-winning musical with about half the personnel of Caroline. That said, we would still plan to cast at least one OU student (Caroline allows for two). It does not take race or civil rights as its central focus, and this is why we didn’t propose it in the first place. It is, however, a story that I think will find resonance in Dublin. It’s about a Mom’s struggle with bipolar disorder and her reconciliation with a family that she has largely ignored. It is a show that I love, with a driving rock score and difficult and familiar relationships, and it would allow us to reach out directly to OU’s Dublin campus programs in health sciences.

It seems important that we do a musical for its ability to draw a summer crowd. This is what our partners have voiced, as well as some folks here at OU. We don’t have scientific evidence, but there is anecdotal evidence that audiences will attend musicals in the summer. We want to keep A Midsummer Night’s Dream because of casting possibilities there for our students as well as Dublin kids. Casting kids from the community is the best way we have to directly engage with Dublin families. We feel the play also has a certain amount of draw. Thus, our plan B is to switch Caroline, rather than Midsummer.

I think the argument we are making for our first plan is a good one, and I have been moving forward with plans, speaking with possible directors and designers. But we will have to see what those who hold the purse strings say. Elizabeth will meet with the upper administration tomorrow. They already have our final budget numbers.

That is where we are. Thanks for your patience and understanding. It seems my messages to you about Tantrum are always way too long. My apologies for that. But I hope that it gives you clarity about what we are doing. We hope to hear good news this week and to announce that news as soon as possible. But the truth is we don’t know when we’ll be able to announce. I will update you again when I know more. In the meantime, please keep all our season plans confidential.


Daniel C. Dennis
Artistic Director
Tantrum Theater

Lecturer of Voice and Movement
Division of Theater
Ohio University
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