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It was a Calculated Risk

Arizona Theatre Company Managing Director Billy Russo wanted the 50th anniversary to invigorate and draw the community to the theatre.

They took a chance and produced the big musical “Fiddler on the Roof” with 26 paid actors—more actors than had performed in the entire previous season. They also incurred the orchestra and choreography expenses that come with this kind of production.

It paid off. The theatre company sold 10,000 additional single tickets in Tucson and Phoenix when they extended the show for a week. They also increased their subscriptions by 15% and ended the 50th anniversary with a surplus. That allowed Arizona Theatre Company (ATC) to reduce the nonprofit’s deficit that had led to some serious soul searching by theatre board and staff.

“It doesn’t work to cut your way out of a crisis,” says Russo. “It may seem counterintuitive, but when faced with hardship, it’s important to invest in the art. Producing ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ was the right decision and we’re seeing a resurgence of the community’s sense of ownership and the value they place on ATC as an important part of our communities.”

The 51st season’s big musical “Man of La Mancha” and the drama “Outside Mullingar” also were particularly well received. ATC’s new Artistic Director David Ivers made his directorial debut with the latter, which took its place in the top five best-selling non-musical plays in ATC history.

Community Support for ATC

Community support in challenging times was also key to ATC’s recent successes. Individuals made significant donations and several community-based lenders collaborated to step up support for this iconic community arts resource.

The Tucson IDA (The Industrial Development Authority of the City of Tucson) and the Pima IDA  (The Industrial Development Authority of the County of Pima) provided a four-year loan in 2014.

“We were pleased to help ensure the continuing operation of ATC, which is an important community institution that anchors professional theatre statewide,” says Gary Bachman, President, Board of Directors, Tucson IDA. “It wasn’t a difficult funding decision for the Board of Directors to make.”

Over the past three years, a consortium of community-based lenders has provided short-term bridge loans annually to assist ATC with cash flow. The consortium includes: the Tucson IDA, BDFC (Business Development Finance Corporation), and the Nonprofit Loan Fund of Tucson and Southern Arizona.

“Even with the groundswell of support, it would have been economically difficult to get through the two months that precede season ticket sales,” says Russo. “These bridge loans allow us to focus on the mission of the theatre and not the temporary cash flow issue we have each year.”

Arizona Theatre Company’s 52nd Season

The 52nd season begins in September. It is the first full season for which Ivers is responsible, and it reflects his interest in who we are as a community. All six plays, which come from both new and established voices, are bound together by the literal theme of family in America, thus the season name “Scene in America.” And yes, the new season offers a big musical—“The Music Man.”

“This new season honors the Arizona Theatre Company’s legacy and moves us into the future,” says Russo. “It’s about the power of love and hope in trying times.

“We’ve taken a big leap forward. And there is still work to do.”

David Ivers and Billy Russo
Arizona Theatre Company Artistic Director David Ivers and Managing Director Billy Russo