Penumbra Theater cuts budget by 24%

Categories: Theater
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Well, after an announcement in the Star Tribune that the Penumbra theater would be diminishing its budget by nearly a full quarter, we at least know where the money WON'T be coming from.

The good news? Education and new play development programs, as well as the Penumbra's staff of 21, will be untouched by the budget cuts, which will slash $960,000 dollars off their annual budget of $3.8 million.

Further good news-- a planned refurbishment, which carries a price ticket of over half a million dollars and will add offices and restrooms to the theater, will continue as scheduled.

So... exactly where is this cool million dollars being shaved from?

The answer to that question isn't being made immediately clear, and its absence from the article is a rather foreboding omission. The budget cuts won't stop at the 2009 season, either, as Penumbra has confirmed that the 2010 budget will be yet more anemic, with an additional $300,000 slashed, bringing the operating budget down to $2.6 million.

But where's the beef? No firings, a structural face lift, and not one production culled from its line-up? It's the odd, anomalous case of a big fire that gives off little smoke, and there is the sense that perhaps the grisliest facts are, at the moment, remaining unsaid.

It doesn't hurt that the Penumbra entered the 2009 season free of a long standing debt, thanks to a robust fund raising effort that earned nearly $3 million dollars. Undoubtedly, the company couldn't have picked a better time to get free of old debt, and that zeroing out could conceivably account for a more sturdy foothold in the face of a recession that becomes more deeply entrenched by the day.

The company has vowed to continue with leaner casts and expanded national collaboration (which could help spread expenses around a bit and help the company stretch their budget that extra mile). But these tweaks seem like minor fine tunings, like Enron deciding to switch from incandescent to fluorescent bulbs while the stocks tank.

Though the company vows to continue with its mission to stage all 10 August Wilson plays with but a single postponement ("Radio Golf is being bumped from a March to an October opening), one has the dreadful sense that the harder truths are yet en route from the indispensable theater company. This is certainly a case where it would feel divine to be dead wrong.

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