You Can't Say This Is a Total Surprise: Dallas Summer Musicals Needs $5 Million Pronto

Categories: Arts, City Hall
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Michael Jenkins
Only last week, following the Wilco-Nick Lowe two-fer, we asked: Why isn't the Music Hall at Fair Park, long ago a popular venue for pop music, used for more concerts? At which point we were told: That's certainly a possibility. Matter of fact, said Jayne Basse, who books the joint for Dallas Summer Musical Management Group, LiveNation and AEG both have dates on hold for the Music Hall, but for whom she would not say.

So happens Dallas Summer Musicals, which runs the city-owned Music Hall and spends close to $400,000 every year keeping the lights on, could use the added revenue sooner than later: Following up today's story in The News, DSM just sent a release documenting its efforts to raise $5 million pronto, lest it face the very real possibility of insolvency. Says DSM Chairman Michael Steindorf in the release that follows, "It became clear that we can't keep doing business as in the past. We need to reduce our operating costs, shore up our financial base, re-establish our long-term reserve funding and prove our value as part of the Dallas Arts Community."

I've left messages for DSM President Michael Jenkins, who, you may recall, handed the Majestic Theater back to the city in 2009 after DSM's contract to operate the landmark facility expired. As Maria Munoz-Blanco, director of the city's Office of Cultural Affairs, explained at the time, it costs around $1.2 to $1.3 million annually to operate the Majestic, and DSM used some of its revenue from the Music Hall to help defray those costs.

No doubt, though, you could see this coming: Three years ago, long before the official opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center (then known as the Center for the Performing Arts), Schutze wrote about Jenkins's clearly well-founded fears that the Arts District's new buildings would "cannibalize" the Music Hall and the Majestic. As Jim wrote:
Both sides in that fight have strong arguments to make. Michael Jenkins is one of three people who have produced successful Broadway theater in this city since the Summer Musicals began in 1941. But the CPA is a very serious, extremely well-funded new kid on the block. They contend that a little competition will spice the soup, not spoil it.
What a difference three years makes: The AT&T Performing Arts Center -- which, unlike the DSM, takes city money -- has its own financial struggles to deal with, and now the DSM is in trouble.
Dallas Summer Musicals confronts "new realities" in arts funding

DSM leadership adopts Advisory Committee recommendations to address urgent financial conditions facing the 72-year old Dallas institution

(DALLAS--December 9, 2011) - Dallas Summer Musicals (DSM) leadership announced the adoption of key recommendations made by a special Advisory Committee appointed in October to address urgent financial conditions facing the not-for-profit institution. Former DSM chairman and recently retired Comerica Bank-Texas Chairman Charles Gummer chaired the Strategic Support Committee that examined the difficult financial challenges facing the organization that has offered "the Best of Broadway" to Dallas audiences for 72 years. DSM joins other local performing arts groups that now face "the new realities" of falling donor support and declining attendance.

"In a way," said Michael Steindorf, DSM Chairman, "DSM was hit this year with 'the perfect storm' of events that changed our view of the long-term future. First, Texas may have fared better during the recession, but the economy certainly has had an enormous effect on donations, sponsorships and attendance."

Steindorf also said DSM has been impacted by competition from other theater groups and the various entertainment options in the region. In the case of touring Broadway shows, the overall selection of such shows has declined, with fewer blockbuster productions available to Dallas.

Steindorf expressed confidence in DSM's Michael Jenkins' abilities to find cost-cutting measures, raise new dollars for the Musicals and assist in the rejuvenation of the organization.

"It became clear that we can't keep doing business as in the past," said Steindorf. "We need to reduce our operating costs, shore up our financial base, re-establish our long-term reserve funding and prove our value as part of the Dallas Arts Community."

Among the Strategic Support Committee recommendations adopted by the DSM Executive Committee last week:

· Launch of a challenge grant program targeting individuals and corporations
· Continued reduction of operating expenses
· Reach out to other arts organizations to explore mutually beneficial synergies
· Increase in Board and Executive Committee contributions
· Daily outside monitoring of cash balances and expenditures
· Immediate search for new sponsors

For most of its existence, DSM has been self-sustaining. Ticket sales traditionally generated more than enough revenue to cover the cost of presenting world-class touring Broadway productions. That track record and strong leadership has had unique benefits for the Dallas community and the North Texas region. For example:

· The Broadway musicals at Fair Park are second only to the State Fair of Texas in attendance
· According to economic impact studies DSM productions have the largest economic impact of any other performing arts organizations in the Dallas area
· 3,000 school children attend the Broadway shows free of charge each year
· DSM is the only major arts organization that does not receive any city subsidies

DSM President and Managing Director Michael Jenkins said he is cautiously optimistic about the future.

"This really is an unprecedented situation," said Jenkins. "The Music Hall has always been a 'must stop' for touring show producers because they love the building, the number of seats available, the new sound system, and they appreciate our local audiences. I think the musicals at Fair Park are a huge contributor to Dallas' reputation for excellence in the arts. Now, we hope that can continue."

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27 comments
Guest
Guest

I used to really enjoy going to DSM offerings at Fair Park, and was excited that I could take the light rail to get there.  But - they haven't really offered much that I'd like to see.  If they were going to offer 'The Book of Mormon', plays, etc. - you bet I'd go see those things!  A good mix of family friendly and more cutting edge is needed, along with a level playing field (City needs to get out of financing so many venues - if private investors aren't willing to make a new venue happen unless the city is going to pitch in - that means the market just isn't there for that venue and their money can be better invested in our existing arts venues instead), and better marketing (note I didn't say 'advertising', but marketing) to potential acts/shows/etc AND to the public who would be attending.   I'm sure that the leadership now is doing their best. But, overall a better plan needs to be in place.Its easy for all of us in Dallas to forget about the things in Fair Park unless its during the State Fair, or we are hearing more negative news about the neighborhood around it.  If the city wants to help the arts and culture scene in Dallas - stop supporting projects that pull museums and activities OUT of Fair Park!  It needs to be a year round destination - and not just seen as 'a bad part of town, but we go during the fair'.  If you list museums, gardens, concert venues, etc. available in Fair Park - then note which ones are moving out of it, and of those that will remain for 2012 - the other things that also do what they do in Dallas... well, you'll see the picture.  

Its So Sad
Its So Sad

Has anyone noticed that DSM is running year-round? Never did this before Winspear opened.

They tried coordinating bookings with ATTPAC when it first opened and got snubbed, so DSM decided to book every available touring show and starve ATTPAC for programming. Problem is, Dallas doesn't have THAT big an appetite for musical theatre.

Result: ATTPAC takes MORE money from the city because it is owned & operated, while DSM is now hurting for money because it is overspending. This is what happens when children fight over the toys - everybody gets a bloody nose.

We sure can build some pretty buildings, though...

Fed Up Citizen
Fed Up Citizen

Agree with you about Wyly and Kalita Humphreys for theatre. August Osage County should have been presented at the Wyly, never at the Winspear.

Larger musicals (Q, the Rock Star show, etc.) are great at the Winspear which has divine sound, unlike the Music Hall, a disaster acoustically regardless of how much amplification they add. Worst sound in this entire town.  

halldecker
halldecker

Boils down to,   there are only $X available to buy theatre/musical/sporting/ etc.  tickets.

$X is much smaller than it was a couple years ago when the new venues were on the drawing board.

There simply isn't enough $X to keep all the doors open.

Although,  my cleaning lady's tax dollars ought to be used for something more critical than supporting what free enterprise won't.

Yeah,  I know,  we can't be a true International City without the Arts.   We can,  however,  be dead 'cause there aren't enough police.

pbluett
pbluett

I know that there is a potential audience for Broadway caliber theater.(plays, not musicals)  The problem is the Fair Park Music Hall is a huge multi-seat venue and evidentally each musical is booked for long periods of time. Weekday performances are generally not well attended and weekends have greater demand and appeal to the working audience in our metroplex (unlike NYC which is  much larger and flooded with tourists). Contracting for a better variety of offerings for shorter periods of time might be helpful.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Maybe its time for this OLD Guy and his OLD GUY Ideas to exit the stage.

He is way past his sell by date.

 

Augie
Augie

I would love to see figures as to whether the revenue depletion is being caused by decrease in ticket sales, decrease in non ticket revenue sources ie charitable giving to the cause, or if it is failure to control cost.  Probably a combination of those things, but, without knowing how the numbers break down, there is a missing link between the presumption that having a second performance venue is what caused the DSM to go broke. 

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

More Wilco, Foo Fighters, raves etc.  and no more Lion King.  Just let the musicals die in peace.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

Quick, somebody build another performance hall!

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Hey how about having Ticketmaster pony up 10 to 15 bucks a seat Per show ?

OakParkStudio
OakParkStudio

As a season subscriber to both Dallas Summer Musicals and The Lexus Broadway Series at the Winspear, I see there are many reasons why both are struggling. Some problems can be fixed others will be more difficult to overcome.

First, while I've enjoyed the DSM at Fair Park Music Hall for years...the venue is sorely in need of a facelift. Not only that, but even after a sound engineer helped the musicals re-do acoustics years ago they are still lacking.

Second, DSM has limited itself artistically by continuing to bring in family fare. How may times must I sit through Lion King, Phantom of The Opera, Stomp, Mama Mia, etc.?

Third, while Jenkins admitted this morning in the DMN he "wouldn't touch" musicals like Spring Awakening and Avenue Q...shows that premiered at the Lexus Series at the Winspear...a majority of Dallas theatre goers won't TOUCH these musicals either. And if they do, they walk out mid-way through the performance with thoroughly disgusted looks on their smug faces.

I witnessed a huge walk-out when the Tony Award winning Spring Awakening was here. Same for the X-rated Sesame Street Avenue Q. Yes, there was talk of sex, masturbation and homosexuality in both...but come on Dallas...you do want to be become a world-class city right? Grow up. Both shows were amazing...the kind of Broadway theatre not normally seen here..

It a shame to get real theatre I have to go to New York to see it. I don't mind doing it. I love seeing Broadway shows on Broadway. It is a very different experience. Audiences are more accepting.

Dallas has great venues. The issue that cannot be changed is the simplistic Dallas theatregoer. DSM has to book family-friendly fare and that limits what they can bring to town...what is touring, etc. The Lexus Series is taking a chance on real Broadway theatre and audiences are turning their noses up and walking out at intermission.

You can't win with that formula. It is no surprise to those of us who are patrons that this is happening.

I wonder why so many shows seem to be booking now in Ft. Worth at the Bass? I knew seem to hear the hue and cry there.

Charles McGarry
Charles McGarry

Why the he** does DSM use the same corporation to act both as a promoter of theater presentations AND to operate a venue under an agreement that gives it year-round venue risk?  It's insanity to the point of negligence by the DSM board. It's not the musicals that are being cannibalized; they could just as easily move to the AT&T PAC as well, were it not for the conflicting demands of the venue.  No one in their right mind should assume venue risk from the city while the city supports the construction of competing venues. Just ask Ross Perot, Jr.

Ed D.
Ed D.

We should all be grateful that the Performing Arts Center didn't get one of those sweetheart "favored nation" clauses that let the American Airlines Arena wipe Reunion Arena quite literally off the face of the Earth. It's too bad the same boldface society page names that love the attention and the lunches and the publicity that come with getting a new space built can't get the same satisfaction from, for example, renovating Memorial Coliseum.

jon from tjs
jon from tjs

shouldn't these issues have been sorted out prior to the arts district development?  as you said, who didn't see this coming?

for those keeping score, we went from being a big city with small town arts buildings to now having 2-too many?  (see your last arts district post about the neighoring performance halls that are just now figuring out they cannibalize each other's business)

Meanwhile the city and tax payer dollars are wrapped up in all of them at a time when our schools police and streets are hurting.

What is the city's job if not to coordinate all of this kind of stuff?

Wcrow
Wcrow

wrong...... you haven't been to the Music Hall for awhile....they have a new state-of-the-art sound system.......excellent

Fed Up Citizen
Fed Up Citizen

@pbluett and @Augie earlier hit it on the head. Competition isn't a bad thing for consumers or for the companies themselves.

However, the Dallas Summer Musicals management has apparently not been able to figure out that their business environment has changed and that business as usual isn't going to cut it any more. Repertoire needs refreshing, length of run and showtime/showday need to be analyzed. It is as if they don't have spreadsheet software to chart and analyze metrics.

Bob
Bob

So you are saying that the problem with DSM is that it presents too many "familly" shows, and the problem with BLS is that it presents too many "unfamily" shows?  Would the problem be solved if DSM presented more "unfamily" shows and BLS presented more "family" shows?  Not hardly.

Michael Jenkins  has kept DSM afloat for many years through many, many changes in his industry, and he knows a thing or three about what is wrong and what needs to be done to fix it.  Which is more than I can say about the Office of Cultural Affairs and its "administration" of arts in Dallas.

Just like the rest of the United States, Texas, and Dallas, has been hit hard by the economic recession that began 3 years ago.  People have less money to spend on entertainment, and with the BLS they have more choices.  Smaller pie, more pieces, equal dilution of revenue for each show, and each presenter.  If two producers can't make it in this city at this time, then one will fold, and the other will see its business improve.  My bet is on Michael Jenkins and the DSM, rather than the new kids on the block.  If and when the city stops subsidizing the BLS (and the ATTPAC) and the DSM has a level playing field, the DSM will survive and continue, and the Winspear, the Music Hall, and the Majestic will all be utilized (though perhaps not at an optimum level for some years into the future).

Fed Up Citizen
Fed Up Citizen

Maybe AT&T PAC doesn't want to have re-run musicals all the time. AT&T PAC paid for the construction of the Winspear with private money (they did) while Dallas Summer Musicals gets a rent-free building that was built by taxpayers. Years ago, mind you, but still it's a free building for the Summer Musicals.

Dc
Dc

where is Memorial Coliseum?

OakParkStudio
OakParkStudio

I think you're missing my point here.

DSM suffers from it's one-trick-pony, multiple showings of family fare musicals that come back here year after year. Think Les Miserables. How many times must we see this? Wouldn't matter if I wanted more progressive theatre or not. DSM won't have any of it.

Dallas audiences are the problem here. I'm not going to rehash but support for more cutting edge theatre is lacking. Pushing the envelope at either venue wouldn't necessarily work any better until local audiences wise up.

Yeah, economics does play a part but in the case of DSM, when you've see a show multiple times, do you really need to spend the money again?

The competition between the two venues is a good one. They aren't competing for the same eyeballs but they are swimming in the same apathetic pool.

Ed D.
Ed D.

Dallas Memorial Auditorium (my typo earlier, sorry) is on the east side of the Dallas Convention Center and includes a 9,816-seat arena that's hosted countless legendary music acts over the years. It lost its top spot for big acts when Reunion Arena opened and has been allowed the slowly degrade over the years but it's a fundamentally sound space in a great location. (Best of all, that AAC deal doesn't cover it so it's free to compete for acts that need a lot of seats but not 20,000 of them.)

OakParkStudio
OakParkStudio

Le Mis. Doesn't matter where its going we've seen it multiple times in Dallas over the past decade.

That we have to see it again brought to us at the Lexus Broadway Series is sorry and another sign of pandering to the vanilla marketplace.

Again, why is it there is always something or someone happening in Ft. Worth at the Bass that I want to see nowadays?

What is going on cowtown that isn't here?

OakParkStudio
OakParkStudio

YES! You hit the nail on the head. Dallas, as a whole, doesn't give a rat's ass about quality theatre. AND, a small slice of Dallas thinks we need performance venues like the Winspear...where if you're a season ticket holder you can get your picture taken and a free glass of wine on opening night to maybe get featured in PaperCity...whupwhup!!...and also that we need freeway deck parks and stupid bridges so we can be like New York.

Exactly. Thank you!

RTGolden
RTGolden

Obviously, there isn't enough of an audience, not even and apathetic one, to support multiple performance venues in Dallas.  Perhaps the problem isn't with the greater population of Dallas not giving a rat's ass about theater.  Perhaps the problem is with a small slice of Dallas' population thinking we need multiple performance venues, freeway deck parks, and stupid bridges so we can 'be like New York'.

Lee
Lee

I don't get your point on Les Miserables, which is opening at the Winspear very soon.

Bob
Bob

The presenters (DSM and BLS) can only present the shows that are currently available on tour, unless they choose to produce one or more shows on their own (a much riskier proposition which DSM has done in the past with varying degrees of success and failure).

If your point is that Dallas audiences will not pay to see edgier or more adult fare for the most part, then I agree with you totally.  But DSM and BLS are not in business to change the taste levels of their audiences, and they will go broke trying to do it.  They each are trying to sell tickets to shows that they think will appeal to specific demographics.  Few shows have such broad appeal that all demographics will rush to throw ticket money at them.  The trick is to find and present shows that will have enough appeal to sell enough tickets to keep the lights on and the stagehands employed.

When people have less money to spend, they will spend less money.  When those fewer dollars get split between two separate vendors, they both suffer.  Neither DSM nor BLS is in a position to create new product, so they must sell what is available to them.  It's a sorry state of affairs, but it is unfair to blame DSM or BLS for it.

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