Stage Fright


Published: Friday, January 2, 2009 at 6:43 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 2, 2009 at 6:43 a.m.

Andre Valladon and Carla Amancio get paid eight months out of the year as dancers with Dance Alive National Ballet, the city's professional ballet company and official state touring company of Florida.

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Dance Alive National Ballet husband and wife dancers Carla Amancio and Andre Valladon, both of Brazil, perform during rehearsals for the production of "Nutcracker" at the Phillips Center on Dec.17.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun

This year, that number of months dropped to seven.

The Brazilian-born dancers are among the 10 dancers and staffers being temporarily laid off because of low donations and decreased grant funding to the not-for-profit dance company. Dance Alive simply can't pay them their full salaries for January.

For many performing-arts organizations in Gainesville, the 2008-2009 season has been tough financially — and the rough times are expected to continue into the new year.

The economic downturn, funding cuts on all levels and a drop in donations have forced groups to make their own cutbacks and find ways to stay afloat.

Valladon and Amancio, who have been in Gainesville since August 2007, started tightening their belts once they were told about the layoffs.

"Normally, we work until April and then we pretty much live off savings until August, so if January is already compromising savings we might not have enough money," Valladon said.

"Dancing and being here is what we do. It's not that we don't have another choice, but we don't want any other choice because we love dance — and to be able to do that, we have to go through the hard part."

Off pitch

Lynda Bucciarelli, president of the board of the Gainesville Chamber Orchestra, predicts the professional, 45-member orchestra will have "tremendous difficulties" this year. She said its annual grant from the city was cut 15 percent, and more cuts are expected.

"In my mind, unfortunately, I am anticipating that the same thing is going to happen with our county grant and the line item in the city's budget for our annual Pops Concert that we do in conjunction with the Santa Fe College Arts Festival," she said, her voice full of worry.

The orchestra has enough money to cover its Jan. 30 concert at University Auditorium, thanks in part to an annual donation of $25,000 from a private individual through a foundation. However, Bucciarelli is concerned that the orchestra won't be able, financially, to put on spring concerts.

"We have to have fluid funds in the account (to pay the musicians before the concerts) and that is going to be a real big problem this year because we do not have any extra cash floating around this year," she said. "Our donations are way down and our season ticket sales are way, way down. It's going to be a problem."

Even the annual fundraiser is taking a hit. It's usually held at the Shands at the University of Florida Orthopedic Center. This year it will be at the home of conductor Evans Haile.

Bucciarelli said that is one way to cut costs, but the orchestra has run into a brick wall when it comes to finding other cost-saving measures.

"We've cut back the last two years. We have nowhere else to cut other than to cancel concerts," Bucciarelli said. "We've actually considered that."

Off schedule

Michael Blachly, director of University of Florida Performing Arts, which presents events at the Phillips Center and University Auditorium, said about a year ago he anticipated the economic downturn and decided to trim programming.

In the 2007-2008 season, there were 85 events. This season, 2008-2009, there will be 61.

"Everything that people expect and appreciate from us will not change. It's just not as frequent a number as it's been in the past," Blachly said. "We kept the diversity, the internationalization, and we're still commissioning new work."

Blachly said these days the organization is operating more leanly. For example, the hard-copy newsletter was replaced with an electronic version. And now, if there is a choice between two events that are similar in level and quality, the one with the more reasonable fees gets picked.

None of the major sponsors, which include Shands at UF, the Dharma Endowment Foundation, Pro Gifts and Oak Hammock, have indicated that they're going to pull out or drastically reduce their contributions, Blachly said.

"We're doing quite well under the circumstances; 2008 has been very healthy, but I cannot speak on next year (2009)," he said. "We're all aware it's going to be a challenge, but I know the donors and companies are proud of the programs … At this point, it looks like the commitments are there and the support will continue to be there."

Off point

At Dance Alive, revenue streams are running dry.

Corporate and individual contributions are down. State and county grants are lower than in years past. Dance Alive's fundraiser in September raised more than $2,000. It was expected to bring in $10,000.

In November, artistic director Kim Tuttle thought Dance Alive's "Nutcracker" productions might be in jeopardy, so she started campaigning for funds. That appeal to the community raised $30,000.

In addition to the short-term layoffs, she let go of the truck driver and the people who put up the sets.

"The dancers helped unload the 25-foot truck for ‘The Nutcracker' and I'm driving the 25-foot truck," said Tuttle, who also co-owns Pofahl Studios with her sister Judy Skinner. "We're cutting everything that we can possibly cut."

Off stage

Mary Hausch is banking on community support and a strong audience base to get the Hippodrome State Theatre through this year.

Hausch — the producing director and one of the founding members of the professional theater company — said the cuts and the economy are the worst she's seen in her 35 years with the Hipp.

The theater receives federal, state and local funding and "really on all levels we saw cuts, but our biggest one was probably from the state," Hausch said.

The $3 million budget has dropped to $2.5 million, which is what it worked with in 2003.

This past summer, Hausch cut five positions, mostly production staff, after learning of the grant cuts. She said 75 percent of the funding goes toward salaries for the staff, resident artists and bringing in professional actors from all over the country. The theater employs 50 permanent staffers.

Hausch said it was "tempting" to raise ticket prices, but because of the tough economy "we really didn't want to make it more difficult for people to come."

Ticket prices cover about 50 percent of the expenses of producing a show; the rest comes mostly from grants and sponsors.

So the Hipp has made other adjustments.

Starting this month, the cinema at the Hippodrome will be open Wednesday through Sunday.

It used to only be closed on Mondays.

Staffing in the box office also has been reduced, and it is accepting fewer people in its spring internship program. In fact, some of the interns aren't even receiving the traditional stipend.

"There are a lot of people who said they don't care about getting paid. They just want an internship, so we have some people who are coming in as unpaid interns. That's the first time we've ever done that," Hausch said.

Sponsors at the theater haven't bailed out, "but they might be a smaller sponsor this year than they have been," Hausch said.

Hausch said although it will be difficult to find other ways to scale back, they will continue to find ways to be more efficient and "reinvent" how they operate.

Hausch said she believes the theater is vital to the cultural landscape of Gainesville and "important to the economic impact in the community," by drawing people into downtown and subsequently to restaurants, bars and retail stores.

"In Gainesville proper, we just have such a huge artistic community and such wonderful arts and cultural organizations," she added.

"I think it's one of our biggest resources in this town and I think it attracts many people to this town," Hausch said. "I think everyone is feeling the effects of this, but I think we have to be careful that we don't kill the golden goose by making it impossible for some of these organizations to exist."

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