Local Theaters May Soon Feel Impact of Downturn

Photo: Aurora Theatre is one of several local theaters in Berkeley that has not yet felt the impact of the struggling economy at the box office.
Anna Hiatt/Staff
Aurora Theatre is one of several local theaters in Berkeley that has not yet felt the impact of the struggling economy at the box office.

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Local Theaters May Soon Feel Impact of Downturn
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Local Berkeley performance theaters are warily preparing for next year's season, with thoughts of the struggling economy and decreased corporate sponsorship driving the design of their budgets.

Many said they had already been told by usually steadfast corporate sponsors to expect smaller contributions in the coming year. On average, at least half of most local theaters' operating budgets come from corporate sponsorships.

"We saw our corporate contracts decline last year even before things went sour," said Lynn Eve Komaromi, director of development at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Downtown Berkeley. "The fact that the financial sector has been hit the hardest will translate to their giving."

Komaromi said that some companies, which she preferred not to name, have already told Berkeley Repertory Theatre that they will be decreasing their contributions and have advised the theater to adjust its budget expectations.

On campus, Cal Performances board member and long-time donor Kathleen Henschel said she understands why companies are changing their donation patterns and that even she is considering changing the amount of money she usually donates.

"I sincerely hope that I will continue to be able to donate with the same strength as before, but I'd be silly if I didn't sit down and reevaluate," Henschel said.

Henschel and Komaromi said it was too soon to tell how the seemingly inevitable cutbacks would affect their theaters.

Despite budget concerns, there has not yet been a significant decrease in ticket sales for local theaters. However, some said this may simply be because supporters bought their season tickets before the downturn.

"On the box office front, no we have not seen the effects of the economic crisis," said Susan Duncan, managing director of Aurora Theatre. "(That's) partly because it was a lucky accident of timing in that we are very well supported by subscribers and the subscription campaign was principally concluding before the economic crisis."

While support from season ticket holders remains solid, Cal Performances, which often holds events in Zellerbach Auditorium, has seen a 17 percent decrease in projected single-performance ticket sales, said Robert Cole, director of Cal Performances.

But while the economic outlook is somewhat bleak, Susie Medak, managing director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre, said she is hopeful patrons will find local theater performances to be an escape from real world responsibilities.

"The good news is that we have very popular shows," she said. "I think it's not unusual that in times of stress, people tend to gravitate towards the theater and more contemplative entertainment."


Contact Mai Fung at [email protected]

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