If Bay Street Theatre executive director Tracy Mitchell could make one message about the future of Sag Harbor’s beloved not-for-profit clear this week, it is that the theatre is not closing.
That being said, the Bay Street Theatre East End residents have enjoyed for two decades will never be the same come 2013, when it will leave its home on Sag Harbor’s iconic Long Wharf after its lease with property owner Patrick Malloy III expires.
During a Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday night, Mitchell with the theatre’s creative director Murphy Davis announced the theatre would not seek to renew its lease with Malloy, citing the high cost of operating the theatre at that location.
The theatre’s board of directors, along with its management, is united in the decision, said Mitchell.
The theatre is also currently fundraising for its 2012 season. It has $250,000 of a $375,000 annual appear left to raise through donations, according to Mitchell.
“So we are getting there.”
“The idea is eventually we will have a permanent home in Sag Harbor, which is a place we are committed to staying in,” said Mitchell on Wednesday morning. “It may take a few years to do it, to raise the money and find the right place, but we are exploring every avenue possible.”
In the meantime, Mitchell said that after the 2012 season it is possible the non-profit may operate as a “theatre without walls” while solidifying plans for a new home. The board of directors and management have formed a Housing and Venue Committee and is looking at everything from empty spaces like the Stella Maris Regional School, said Mitchell, to partnering with developers in the village.
“Our number one goal is to stay in Sag Harbor,” continued Mitchell. “That was one of the reasons we got the news out there, in case there are people with the financial wherewithal to move this ball forward, because we will need help to do this, to find our new home.”
The reason Bay Street Theatre is unsustainable in its current location, said Mitchell, is primarily because the space the theatre occupies is not for sale. While reports after Tuesday night’s meeting cited declining ticket sales as part of the impetus behind the theatre’s decision to move on, Mitchell noted that ticket sales have actually increased over the last two years and that the theatre generally is at 48-percent capacity – much higher than the average not-for-profit theatre of Bay Street’s size.
On top of that, the theatre’s budget has been pared down some 30 percent over three years, said Mitchell. If the budget was cut any lower, it would impact the productions the theatre produces – the death knell for any performing arts company, she said.
According to Mitchell, the theatre pays Malloy about $185,000 annually. However, that is not the only rent the theatre pays. Because it employs union actors and staff, management must provide housing for those people within a half-mile of the theatre – in downtown Sag Harbor, in the summer. That adds an additional $150,000 to $200,000 in rent to the theatre’s budget.
The theatre also spends monies on a space in Riverhead to construct its sets.
“So we are talking about half a million in rent, and that is before we start talking about everything else the theatre needs to operate,” said Mitchell.
The not-for-profit is also often denied grants because such a large amount of money is going towards rent, and not towards the arts, said Mitchell. Large donors, she added, are reluctant to donate to a theatre that is not in a permanent location.
“We have been here for 20 years, and not it is time for us to take the theatre to the next level for the next 20 years,” said Mitchell. “It’s exciting really – a challenge, certainly, but exciting. Can’t you just picture what it will be like when we have a permanent home for Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor?”