Guthrie announces drastic cuts to budget, upcoming season

Guthrie Theater
The entrance to the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, as seen in 2013.
Tim Nelson | MPR News 2013

The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis has drastically scaled back its plans for the next season of plays, and says there will be staff cuts and layoffs as its budget for the upcoming season has been reduced by 60 percent.

In a message to staff Friday, Artistic Director Joseph Haj wrote that the next season of three plays is now scheduled to start next March. That'll be a year after the Guthrie's previous shows were canceled amid the pandemic.

And that means the cancellation of the Minneapolis theater's annual production of the "Christmas Carol" next holiday season.

Haj called the move to a shortened season, and accompanying layoffs, "brutally difficult decisions."

"This three-play season as outlined allows us to keep some core operations intact; it gives our audiences a long runway to consider returning, and gives the organization the chance to be nimble should we be able to open earlier," Haj wrote. "It reduces though doesn’t eliminate our financial risks, and we believe it allows us to remain relevant to stakeholders in our community."

The theater did not release details on the extent of the layoffs, but said affected staff would be notified in the coming week.

Haj noted that the March 2021 opening "could be optimistic," though if conditions improve the theater would consider bumping up the start of the season.

Two of the three plays in the shortened season will be Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Sweat," which initially had been slated to open this July; and Noel Coward's "Private Lives," which had originally been slated for a September opening. The third play has yet to be determined.

The budget for the shortened season, approved by theater's board, will be $12.6 million.

Less than two months ago, the theater had announced a 2020-21 season with a budget of $31 million. Then in early April it scaled that back to a nine-play, $25 million season with the option to cancel shows if it was not yet safe for audiences and casts to gather.

"In the end we determined that path was neither feasible nor sustainable," Haj wrote. "The nature of our work, with long timelines to build productions, expense so heavily front-loaded, and revenue only secure when performances happen, meant that we were putting the organization at great risk, in both the short and long term."

"For a time, we will necessarily be a much smaller version of ourselves. We remain focused on our mission, vision, and values and are taking steps now to ensure that we will come back in a way that allows us to grow and continue to serve the amazing community that has supported us for nearly 60 years," he wrote.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.