Press-Republican

October 3, 2013

Depot Theatre cuts full-time staff

By LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

---- — WESTPORT — The Depot Theatre is restructuring and laying off its full-time paid staff to try to alleviate a dire financial situation.

Effective at the end of September, the nonprofit group eliminated the jobs held by Artistic Director Shami McCormick and Managing Director Angel Wuellner.

Depot Theatre Board of Trustees President Kim Rielly said that, as part of a new strategic plan being developed for the theater, both full-time staff positions were cut as a cost-savings measure.

Rielly said the theater has been ailing financially.

“Producing professional theater in a rural area is extremely challenging,” she said. “Ticket sales (for the past season), although they were strong, were not as high as anticipated.”

‘WORTH SAVING’

The employees’ salaries were not released, but the Depot Theatre has an annual budget of about $350,000, Rielly said. She said that budget comes from both ticket sales and donations.

The 136-seat theater produces plays in quarters at the Westport Train Station using professional actors who must belong to Actors Equity Association.

The theater has a seasonal schedule. 

No more plays will be produced until the theater’s 36th season starts in the spring, Rielly said.

The last production of the season was “Lombardi” in September, a play about legendary coach Vince Lombardi.

The Depot Theatre staged many musicals, which are expensive to produce and market to an audience, Rielly said.

“Examples of nonprofit arts organizations going out of business are abundant, and the board is determined to not let that happen to the Depot. 

“We believe that it’s an organization worth saving.”

‘UNIQUE PLACE’

Rielly said a new organizational structure and a plan for long-term sustainability will be put into place after the strategic planning process is completed. 

She said part-time interim staff and volunteers are taking over day-to-day operations of the theater until the reorganization is in place.

Wuellner started at the beginning of the 2012 season, while McCormick had been with the theater since 1980.

Wuellner said by email that she will miss working at the theater.

“The Depot Theatre is a very special and unique place, and I am proud that I was able to be a part of that. It was a pleasure working with members of the Westport community and the artists and staff who become like family over the course of the season.

“I wish everyone at the Depot all the best as it moves forward.”

‘NECESSARY CHANGES’

There likely will be full-time leadership again at some point, but it hasn’t been determined what the position or positions will be, Rielly said.

“Transition is a lot of work. We’re all volunteer board members. We all have strong personal ties to the Depot; in many cases, decades old.”

The group made the decision in order to secure the theater’s future, John Klipper, Depot Theatre finance chair and treasurer, said by email.

“The Board of Trustees is entrusted with ensuring the financial viability and future sustainability of the organization,” he said. 

“These changes are necessary to stabilize the theater’s operations for the future.”

‘TAKING STEPS’

Rielly said producing professional theater in a small, rural community is challenging, but it provides cultural and economic benefits to the entire region.  

“We are confident that we are taking steps to ensure its long-term viability.”

She said they’re grateful to the community for the support people have shown in these tough times for the theater.

“The Depot Theatre expects to announce its 36th season early this winter.”

Email Lohr McKinstry:lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com