Updated: 4:45 p.m. | Posted: 10:46 a.m.
The acclaimed In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre in Minneapolis says it will reduce its operations in 2019 as it assesses its future.
The theater announced Wednesday that this year will also be the last time it is the sole presenter of its most famous event, the annual MayDay Parade. The theater said several anticipated sources of income had fallen through. In an interview, Executive Director Corrie Zoll said it's time to talk.
"We will have a MayDay. It will be a celebration of what we have accomplished in 45 years," he said. "And it will be a conversation about what are the most important pieces of the MayDay celebration, and what do we want to see carried forward?"
Zoll said there is money to keep Heart of the Beast going, but now seems like a time to discuss what the community wants and will support. He said there will be discussions with the community in coming months, although what form those conversations will take has not been finalized.
Heart of the Beast faces challenges faced by many midsized arts companies, he said. First, ticket revenues don't come close to covering costs. He pointed to Heart of the Beast's popular Christmas show, "La Natividad."
"And we can charge our highest ticket prices of the year, we can sell out every single performance, we can bring in $30,000 in ticket income," he said. "But that show costs $60,000 to produce."
In recent years companies have depended on grants to cover the difference. But nowadays there is less and less grant money available for organizations of their size, particularly if they are well established. This makes budgeting a challenge. This year, Heart of the Beast's luck ran out.
"In at least a couple of cases we made a budget assuming that we would receive grant income," Zoll said. "It turns out then, later last fall, we did not get that grant income. And so we have to cut those programs."
The 45th MayDay celebration also presents a financial challenge. The event costs between $180,000 and $200,000 to produce, and generally only brings in $150,000 in revenue from donations. In 2018 the event operated at a loss of over $50,000, which Heart of the Beast covered using reserve funds. However, Zoll says the theater can no longer afford to take on the risk alone.
It also announced that company founder Sandy Spieler, who has acted as artistic director of the MayDay Parade, will step down after this year's event. Heart of the Beast will present limited programming in coming months at the Avalon Theater. It will continue to offer residencies in schools, places of worship and other communities. It is also hoping to rent out the Avalon for events and performances.
In the Heart of the Beast grew up in the Powderhorn Park area of south Minneapolis. While using professional actors, there is a great deal of community involvement, as well as outreach to local schools and other organizations.
Actor Steve Epp, now one of the leaders of the Moving Company, worked at Heart of the Beast early in his career, and still performs there. He said it's been very influential.
"Their work has gone everywhere. It has gone all over the world," he said. "It's influenced a lot of communities in many countries and in other places in the U.S. At its heart, it's about community building."
And no more so than at the MayDay celebration. Sixty thousand people attended last year. Epp said people plan their year around being at MayDay. "It's become an important ritual to thousands and thousands of people," he said.
Founder Sandy Spieler said it's time to go to the community and see what it wants.
"That's what this moment is about," Spieler said. "This is the bare naked look of what we are dealing with."
The company is asking for support in whatever way people can provide, whether through donations, ticket purchases, theater rentals or volunteering, particularly at the MayDay Parade.