BSO takes financial hit with cancellation of season finale

Tuesday August 30, 2011

LENOX -- Tropical Storm Irene may have pulled its punches as it churned through the Berkshires on Sunday, but it delivered a body blow to Tanglewood's bottom line.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra could lose several hundred thousand dollars, based on a sharply reduced lawn crowd for Saturday night's all-Beethoven program, featuring violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman, and for its canceled season finale on Sunday afternoon -- the traditional performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It was the first time in the 74-year history of the BSO's summer home that an orchestra concert was jettisoned because of weather.

Based on the sold-out Shed for Sunday's performance (5,100 seats) and an equally large lawn crowd anticipated, the loss is likely to be in the low- to mid-six figures, according to Eagle estimates based on ticket-price averaging, because concertgoers are being offered full refunds.

Other cultural organizations also had to cancel performances.

Jacob's Pillow Dance in Becket took the second-biggest hit, losing about $40,000 because of two performance cancellations Sunday, the final day of the season.

Some patrons donated their tickets back to the organization, said Mariclare Hulbert, director of marketing and communications, by accepting credits for performances next season. Others were offered and accepted full refunds.

BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe said he could not provide the exact amount of the weekend loss at Tanglewood. He acknowledged that the orchestra's summer season is on track for an overall deficit of $3 million to $4 million, based on the gap between revenue and maintenance and operational costs as well as expenses for the Tanglewood Music Center summer institute aimed at advanced young professionals. That amount of red ink remains steady compared to recent seasons.

For the overall BSO year, which includes the season in Boston, Boston Pops performances and tours, Volpe was hoping to break even, "but it's challenging," he said.

Ahead of the upcoming weekend's Jazz Festival and the Wine and Food Classic, overall attendance for the season so far was running close to 5 percent higher than last summer, Volpe said -- before Sunday's cancellation.

At Jacob's Pillow, the cancellation of the final two, sold-out performances on Sunday -- Mark Morris Dance Group at the 620-seat Main Stage as well as Kyle Abraham and Camille Brown in the 230-seat Doris Duke Theater -- was "very disappointing, emotionally" for patrons, staff and performers, Hulbert said.

All ticket-holders were contacted and offered credits for the 2012 season or refunds, she added.

Despite the $40,000 setback, Hulbert said, once all the totals are computed, the full season is expected to match last summer's $1.9 million total in box office ticket sales. "It has been a great revenue season," she added.

In addition to the box office setback, a large tree fell at the Blake's Barn archival building, damaging an outside deck and a small portion of the roof, but the operations and production crew was able to make the necessary repairs.

Shakespeare & Company in Lenox suffered no box office losses since all performances were held as scheduled and ticket-holders who could not attend were offered exchanges rather than refunds, said Allissa Wickham, communications associate. Most ticket-holders were able to attend Sunday evening's performances of "As You Like It" and "The Memory of Water," though matinee shows were canceled.

Barrington Stage shut down its Sunday performances and offered ticket-holders alternate performances or refunds, said Managing Director Tristan Wilson. He described the impact as "pretty minimal, probably under $2,500."

No performances had been slated for Sunday at the Berkshire Theatre Group's Colonial in Pittsfield or BTF stages in Stockbridge.

At the Williamstown Theatre Festival, ticket-holders for Sunday's canceled season finale of "Ten Cents a Dance" were being contacted individually, said Managing Director Jenny Gersten in a prepared statement.

"After 193 performances of 28 productions and workshop shows over the past 10 weeks, it's pretty disappointing to be rained out just before our last at-bat," she stated.

WTF officials did not return calls seeking comment on box office losses in time for this report.


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