Theatres’ alliance earns rave reviews … Bravo for Brevard

In an effort to save one financially strapped cultural institution and to expand another’s artistic reach, the Henegar Center for the Arts and Titusville Playhouse have forged an alliance.

Titusville Playhouse artistic and executive director Steven Heron has assumed, simultaneously, the same titles at the Henegar, while Doug Lebo has resigned as Titusville’s board president and has become president of the board at The Henegar.

“This is a seismic change in Brevard’s cultural landscape,” Heron said. “We’re going to be one of the largest arts organizations in Central Florida. There’s a potential of being a $4 million to $5 million operation between the two.”

The boards of directors at both institutions unanimously agreed last week to the partnership.

“There’s a deficit of approximately $32,000,” said Cliff Bragdon, immediate past president of the Henegar board.

Bragdon, who is now board vice president, said that the alliance is helping keep the doors open to the Henegar, which has experienced a decline in patronage in the past year.

Lebo and Heron led the turnaround for Titusville Playhouse. Seven years ago, when Heron was hired and Lebo went onto the board, TPI had $200,000 in annual revenue. It now has $1.4 million in annual revenue. Each year has seen a 30 percent growth with TPI purchasing adjacent properties and growing into a stable organization with 13 mostly sold-out productions a season.

TPI has gone through a five-year, $1.5 million renovation, but the organization was still growing, Lebo said. So he floated the idea about expanding.

“I presented options on building a new theater, trying to expand our current theater, or the third option was partnering with another theater in a way to grow our influence in the arts,” Lebo said.

The next month Lebo approached Bragdon with the idea of a merger. The resulting synergy would allow the two organizations, 40 miles apart, to share resources and costs while maintaining individual patron bases. TPI has 1,800 season subscribers. The Henegar has about 400 season subscribers.

Bragdon showed interest, so Lebo put together a proposal based on financial facts he obtained from public tax records of the nonprofit Henegar.

“I said you guys are in a very similar place we were in seven years ago,” Lebo said. “I said Steven and I could help (the) Henegar.”

Lebo, chief Launch Conductor for United Launch Alliance, will first focus on the Henegar’s finances and strategic planning. Heron, who will still be leading TPI, will focus on raising the quality of programming, building patronage, marketing and working within a strict budget. Later, the two expect to work on facility renovations at the Henegar.

Heron, who is a 30-year professional in the entertainment industry, has a wide network of connections and is already using those to reduce the Henegar’s production costs.

“I’m just trying to save a penny where I can save a penny,” Heron said. “From now to June (the beginning of the Henegar’s next fiscal year), my job is to find how to make fiscally responsible decisions and still put on the best show we can put on.”

Currently, Heron is taking a look at The Henegar’s next production, “Tarzan: the Musical,” which opens March 8.

The scenery for “Tarzan” had been budgeted for up to $4,000 and a contract had been signed for $10,000 for rental of complicated flying rigging. However, Heron arranged free loans of scenery and costumes from two other theaters – Manatee Players in Bradenton and Richmond Civic Theatre in Indiana. He was also successful in changing the contract with the flying rigging company, reducing the cost by more than half.

Additionally, instead of live music from an orchestra pit, the Henegar, like TPI, will use recorded music.

“It’s not ideal,” Heron said. “We may have to supplement their sets with a couple of pieces.”

Dominic DelBrocco, director for “Tarzan,” is eager to embrace these changes so that the theater can develop its own “personality.”

“As a contracted director, I am excited for the change to come down to be able to infuse new ideas,” he said. “To get a more cost productive way to make the production happen without sacrificing quality.”

Additionally, Heron and other TPI personnel will volunteer their time at the Henegar while continuing their jobs at TPI. There will be a combined staff of at least 18 employees working for both theaters. A creative staff will bounce between the two theaters.

“The whole community is rallying together to make this turnaround happen,” Lebo said. “It’s a great, beautiful building that needs a little more pop to it.”

Heron, whose Titusville theater opens a new show every four to 10 days, said that working simultaneously at the two theaters will be “tight” but all it needs is planning.

“It’s going to be awesome,” he said. “I haven’t heard of anything like a central management company producing two theaters. But we’re gonna do it.”

TPI will travel two of its productions this season – “Sondheim on Sondheim” and “Rent” – to the Henegar this summer. The dates will be announced later.

Heron will announce the Henegar’s new season at the Henegar Building 100-Year Anniversary Gala Fundraiser March 29.

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