Las Vegas Art Scenesters Buckle Up for Bumpy Roller Coaster Ride

The Las Vegas Art Museum shutdown last month.  The Nevada Ballet has cutback on staff and postponed programs.  The Las Vegas Philharmonic is cutting back and holding on.   art

The Nevada Opera Theatre, though feeling the economic impact,  is cushioned somewhat by their pre-recession budgeting. 

“The effect on us has not been as traumatic as on the philharmonic and the ballet because of their much larger agenda and audience participation,” said founder and director Eileen Hayes, whose theatre actually has seen a budget increase from about $225,000 to $300,000. 

“Yes, contributions have been down, especially between the last two years and this year, but we’ve been in the mode of reducing our once big deficit dramatically over the last few years. And our audience attendance is really starting to rebound.” 

Beyond those factors, the company has not tied itself to a set season of performances and the attendant costs. When it does perform, it is at smaller, less expensive venues. Though for the past two years the company has not staged its usual production at UNLV’s large Artemus Ham Hall, Hayes expects that to resume. Tickets have been kept less than $50, and the group has kept close tabs on production budgets. 

“We’re just being very careful what we do,” Hayes said. “We have cut back on guest performers over the last several years. We used to bring in entire sets and costumes, but now we’ve gotten frugal and rent pieces locally and from Southern California. We used to rent entire sets from New York, but those days are gone.” 

At Opera Las Vegas, finances are actually on the upswing. Citing “prudent and creative fundraising,” Hal West, vice president of marketing and public relations, said his company is aiming for a 50 percent budgetary hike, increasing program investments from $50,000 to $75,000. Containing expenditures by staging only two productions this year, they briefly considered doubling the top $40 ticket price but nixed that notion. 

Similarly, the 32-year-old Las Vegas Little Theatre, Las Vegas’ oldest community theater, is functioning fairly well on a nearly $200,000 budget, maintaining six productions in the main stage theater and three in the smaller Black Box. 

“We’re not rolling in money, but we’re no worse than in previous years, paying our rent and electric bills,” said board President Walter Niejadlik, noting that keeping expectations reasonable and avoiding grandiose goals helps steady the balance sheet. “We’re not doing huge productions costing $20,000 a pop that never have a shot at making money back. It’s the undoing of a lot of arts organizations in this town. Everyone’s going to be the next greatest thing, doing art for art’s sake, but with no business sense.” 

Theater audiences traditionally skew older than for other art forms — on average, 65 to 70 years old, Niejadlik said — with more discretionary income to spend on the arts. But that demographic reality has a sad side: the steady attrition of season subscribers. Las Vegas Little Theatre loses about 70 subscribers a year. 

“Without being terribly morbid, they’re dying,” Niejadlik said. “We get a list of subscribers who have passed away. Our big focus is on getting younger folks into the theater.”

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