Updated: March 16, 9:15 a.m.
The Park Square Theatre of St. Paul announced on March 14 that it will cancel the remainder of its current season.
Three previously scheduled productions will no longer run. These include the plays “Between Riverside and Crazy,” “ANN” and “Holmes/Poirot.” The last of these was scripted by Minnesotans Jeffrey Hatcher and Steve Hendrickson.
“I can understand the theater saying we would rather cancel productions or postpone them,” Hatcher said in an interview with MPR News. “If they can put things back together for next year, that'd be great. I'd rather see them do that than dig themselves into a deeper and deeper hole.”
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In a press release, the theater's board chair Paul Sackett cited "managing fiscally difficult circumstances," including the pandemic. “I think we have yet to find out the full extent of the pandemic shockwave,” Jeffrey Hatcher said.
“The Revolutionists,” which runs March 29 – April 16, will continue, as will all youth programs and previously scheduled rentals. The announcement says the board and new interim director Rachel Murch-D'Olimpio are developing a new strategic plan and budget.
In December 2022, the theater announced that they were canceling two 2023 productions, “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” At the time, the theater pointed to a study by Theatre Communications Group that found an 88 percent drop in total ticket income from October 2020 – September 2021.
Former Park Square executive director Michael-jon Pease, who is currently part of a volunteer team looking to address the theater’s financial problems, elaborated in an email to MPR News: “A few months into the global shutdown, when I was still executive director at Park Square, I realized that the real danger to our industry was not going to be the shutdown itself but the huge risks that would come with reopening,” he said.
According to Pease, “As one friend said, the pandemic was the earthquake in the ocean, but we are still experiencing the tsunamis and big waves of its impact.”
In January, Park Square announced that their previous artistic director, Mark Ferraro-Hauck, was transitioning to artistic director emeritus. Ferraro-Hauck had previously been the executive director of SteppingStone Theatre, which merged with Park Square in September 2022.
Ferraro-Hauck is moving on to be executive director of Theatre Nova Scotia, an organization centered in Halifax, Canada, dedicated to supporting and raising awareness of live theater in Nova Scotia.
Artistic associate Ellen Fenster, who was set to direct both “Anne Frank” and “ANN,” says some of the theater’s problems predate the pandemic. “Someone else can probably describe better than me,” she said, “but that includes a fair amount of debt. Pre-pandemic debt.”
“I think we have some baggage that we need to resolve and eliminate in full daylight and full transparency. And then I think we have some great people. I think our community is so vibrant and ready to work, and we can move forward. We've got some financial reconciling to do. And I'm not totally sure if it's possible, but we're gonna try.”
Pease had this to say in his email: “The early donor response has been tremendous. In just five days our emergency funding campaign is at 86 percent of the March goal and 30 percent of the total goal. We’re working hard, so please stay tuned for upcoming announcements and activities about the recovery progress.”
According to Jeffrey Hatcher, the theater exists in a unique space in the Twin Cities theater community: “Park Square’s role is terribly important, because it's classically a midsize theater,” Hatcher said. “It's not 1200 seats, like the Guthrie Thrust and it's not 150 seats like the Jungle [theater]. It's classically right there in the middle with a couple of hundred seats doing a wider range of plays.”
“Our arts community is experiencing a sea change. Our bigger theaters have all — there's been a leadership turnover,” Fenster said.
“It's all good. It's a natural course of events,” she added. “I think, also, our community has really worked hard to respond to the pandemic and to the social uprising that happened, and to try to really make sure that we're walking our walk. So, we're in a huge growth phase right now, which again, I've had a front row seat to. It is scary, and it could be incredible. We just have to hang tight, be kind, be creative, be patient.”