San Jose Rep Defends Financials, Accuses Mercury News of Sensationalism

This is not the first time the Rep has faced financial crisis, real or otherwise - every few years or so, dire headlines proclaiming its imminent demise make the rounds.

SJ Rep artistic director Rick Lombardo talking with Stark Insider in 2010 about the theater's 30th anniversary season.
SJ Rep artistic director Rick Lombardo talking with Stark Insider in 2010 about the theater's 30th anniversary season.
SJ Rep artistic director Rick Lombardo talking with Stark Insider in 2010 about the theater’s 30th anniversary season.

UPDATE 02.22.2013: San Jose Repertory has informed me that the headline in question refers to the Mercury News print version (not the online version) which ran above the fold in the Local section and reads: “Rep’s Survival in Doubt.”

Local institution San Jose Repertory, one of Stark Insider’s favorite arts organizations, has issued a formal response to a Mercury News article which called into question the financial viability of the theater (“its financial auditors continue to question whether the troupe that has been one of the city’s major investments in downtown revitalization can survive past August”).

In the letter (see below for full text), Sharon Kirsch, president of the Board of Trustees, said the Merc presented “an accurate but incomplete picture of the Rep’s operation” and went so far as to suggest the headline was sensational. She assures the faithful that the 2013-14 season planning is underway and that “the Rep is here to stay.”

This is not the first time the Rep has faced financial calamity, real or otherwise – every few years or so, dire headlines proclaiming its imminent demise make the rounds. Most of that concern revolves around the city’s $2 million bailout in 2006, which prevented the lights from going dark. Re-payments are still made annually.

I searched mercurynews.com using “San Jose Rep” and found what I suspect is the article in question: “Auditors question San Jose Repertory Theatre’s survival” written by John Woolfolk of the Mercury News, but also syndicated on the Marin Independent Journal. The Bay Area News Group can be a confounding beast at times (try finding Karen D’Souza’s theater reviews… I eventually discovered you need to click on “Entertainment” and then scroll way down the page to “Theater & Dance” which is located below “Horoscopes”). If that indeed is the headline in question I don’t think it’s sensationalist. Still, in these difficult times for arts organizations (and non-profits in general), nerves can be frayed, and emotions can run high.

The Merc, in fact, is actually quite positive, and there’s an undercurrent of hope, despite the economic headwind. A city official is quoted as saying that the Rep “draws about 75,000 visitors to downtown San Jose and contributes $9.1 million annually to the local economy.” But, “Should the Rep fail, San Jose would either have to spend $685,000 a year to run the theater while searching for a new entertainment company or $105,000 to maintain a shuttered building.”

It’s unlikely this brouhaha will reach New York Times/Tesla status, but if anything the back-and-forth at least gets the San Jose Rep into the public eye. Hopefully, the community will respond by getting out to see shows, donating and/or buying season packages.

“Grumpydoc” expressed his frustration on the KQED web site, “First American Musical Theater and now the Rep. San Jose continues to be a cultural disappointment.”

A commenter on Mercury News wrote, “I think theatre is one of those products (like newspapers, postal mail, cable TV, etc.) that’s becoming less viable due to an aging demographic or changing technology. NPR reported this afternoon that Reader’s Digest is filing for bankruptcy, as the printed press is becoming less profitable and the older target audience is less appealing to advertisers.”

Long-time readers of Stark Insider will know that the San Jose Rep was instrumental in giving us our break; getting us involved in covering theater in 2009 (now you know who to blame!). It was then that we shot our first interview with the energetic cast of The Kite Runner, a stellar production. From that point on, Bay Area theater has been a regular beat on these pages. I salute those who make a living in the arts. It’s not easy. The enrichment it brings to the community and our lives is immeasurable. In this rapid-fire era of 12-second videos and 140-character status updates we need to do what we can to hold onto these cultural prizes.

I’m hoping for the best.

[Mercury News: Auditors question San Jose Repertory Theatre’s survival]

San Francisco Bay Area Arts and CultureThe Rep is here to stay!

San Jose Repertory Theatre San Jose, CA
February 21, 2013

Dear Friends,

On behalf of the Board of Trustees for San Jose Rep I’m writing to you in response to an article that appeared on Wednesday, February 20, 2013 in the San Jose Mercury News regarding the Rep’s 2012 audit. The Mercury News story presented an accurate but incomplete picture of the Rep’s operation and, sadly, employed a headline that was more sensational than descriptive. Indeed, the story detailed many positive fiscal steps the theatre has taken and quoted City Officials stating their high confidence in a bright future for San Jose Rep.

The story centered on the note of concern in our FY12 audit, but the fact is that the Rep has had this note on its audit since 2009 when the effects of the recession hit our just recovering organization very hard. Yet the good news is that, despite financial struggle, the Rep has continued to produce high quality work under the leadership of current Artistic Director Rick Lombardo, and has continued to cut costs, manage expenses, and meet all our debt obligations to the city under Managing Director Nick Nichols. The Rep’s trustees are fully confident in our executive leadership’s ability to continue to manage through these difficult times, and has put plans in place to raise the additional funds needed to gain greater long-term fiscal stability.

We are well into planning our 2013-14 season and I want to assure you that the Rep is here to stay. Of course, one of the most important components in our continued success is the support of you, our donors, subscribers and friends. We want to thank you for your patronage and support and look forward to a bright future of outstanding theatre at San Jose Rep. Check out our upcoming season of innovation at www.sjrep.com

Sincerely,
Sharon Kirsch
President of the Board of Trustees of the San Jose Repertory Theatre

Explore. Create. Live. Follow Stark Insider on Twitter and Facebook. Join our 9,000 subscribers who read SI on tablets and smartphones on Google Newsstand. Prefer video? Subscribe to 
Stark Insider on YouTube, the largest arts & travel channel in San Francisco.