Cash-strapped Georgia Shakespeare cancels ‘Henry V,’ considers future

Chris Kayser, Richard Garner and Aaron Muñoz in "One Man, Two Guv'nors" at Georgia Shakespeare this summer. CONTRIBUTED BY GREG MOONEY

Chris Kayser, Richard Garner and Aaron Muñoz in “One Man, Two Guv’nors” at Georgia Shakespeare this summer. CONTRIBUTED BY GREG MOONEY

Citing insufficient operating funds, Georgia Shakespeare announced Friday that it is canceling its production of “Henry V” that was to open Oct. 1.

Instead of presenting the history play, company leaders will spend the next month determining if the troupe founded in 1986 might itself become history.

If this comes as a surprise to many Atlantans after the high-profile Save Georgia Shakespeare emergency campaign that exceeded its $500,000 goal in 2011, well, it’s a complicated drama.

Donations from more than 2,000 contributors did keep the nonprofit’s doors open, pay down debt and prop up the operating budget, but that still left Georgia Shakespeare owing creditors just under $500,000. Determined to make good on its bills, it paid off $103,000 in 2013 and $110,000 this year.

But in resolving debt with operating revenues, the company has “created this cash crisis for ourselves,” managing director Jennifer Bauer-Lyons said. “We’re not able to find the funding that we need to continue operating and reduce debt at the same time. So we’ve found ourselves in the position where we just don’t have the cash to move forward.”

Bauer-Lyons, producing artistic director Richard Garner and board members spent six weeks this summer pitching potential funders, but were unsuccessful in finding help clearing red ink (currently at $343,000) — always a tough sell in arts fundraising — or in rebuilding the operating budget.

“People have been very generous to Georgia Shakespeare over the years, and have continued to be,” Bauer-Lyons said, “but we’re running out of time and out of cash.”

Despite the critical prognosis, there have been promising signs for the company’s recovery. In addition to operating with a small surplus, Georgia Shakespeare attracted record crowds totaling 5,800 to five Shakespeare in the Park performances of “As You Like It,” 2,600 more than an average run. It exceeded the first phase $200,000 capital campaign goal (in an ongoing $1 million drive) that paid for a redo of its picnic grounds and new sound equipment, among other improvements, at Oglethorpe University’s Conant Performing Arts Center. And presenting recent seasons of individual plays, rather than running them in repertory, the practice for most of its history, has proved more cost-effective.

Bauer-Lyons said the company, operating with an annual budget of $1.64 million, does not plan a second public Save Georgia Shakespeare campaign (though it is accepting donations via http://www.gashakespeare.org or 404-504-3407). “We know that you do one of those in the course of the life of an organization,” she said.

But while leaders spend the next month “making sure we’ve turned every stone over and shaken every bush,” Bauer-Lyons said they didn’t want to hide from the public that the company’s future is at stake.

“We’re in a really different position in terms of where we are with our balance sheet and where we are in terms of (operating with) a much healthier business model,” she said, “but we’re just kind of out of cash now.”


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