MOSCOW – It’s not yet curtains for the Idaho Repertory Theatre.
The IRT recently received notice from the University of Idaho that the institution, while continuing to support the program, will no longer be in the position to cover the theater’s operating costs. In 2013, the Focus of the Future Prioritization Evaluation recognized IRT as a program that needed to become more self-supporting.
The university provides facilities, equipment and part of the staffing for the IRT season. That leaves the theater to cover expenses for costumes, scenery, guest housing, salaries and royalties. Ticket revenue can’t cover those costs alone, which has IRT relying on the support of individuals in the community.
Six years ago, IRT was paying off debt that had been accrued over time. UI forgave the last of IRT’s debt, and the program is now working toward operating and building a debt-free future.
It’s a difficult task, said IRT Producing Artistic Director Ann Hoste.
“We’re trying to make the ethical choice in being financially responsible and also paying people who do the work behind the scenes, while also maintaining the quality of good theater and keeping the prices of tickets down,” Hoste said.
The IRT will use the money it brings in from its limited summer season to try to build a safety net, and next year’s season will be dependent on how the safety net looks.
Hoste said IRT has tried raising ticket prices in the past, a move that was found to be unpopular among community theatergoers.
“Our mission is to keep quality theater as accessible as possible,” Hoste said. “By raising the prices, we can’t adhere to that mission.”
Hoste said moving forward modestly is the theater’s best option. This season, IRT will present productions of “The Little Prince” and the “Swan Boy,” the latter of which was written by Hoste and a former student, Jeff Petersen.
The production of “Swan Boy” will be unlike anything IRT has done in the past — the show will be free to the public, a move made possible by a grant.
Hoste said she expects people will ask why a program that has been asked to become more fiscally responsible would pay actors for a show that has free admission.
“We’re presenting this so we can generate the theater audience of the future,” Hoste said. “We’re also going to be suggesting that those who enjoyed the performance donate to IRT.”
Investing in the future of IRT is something Hoste strongly believes in, and it starts with children.
IRT provides youth summer camps for children ages 6 to 16, and the revenue generated from registration fees this summer was enough for IRT to cover all of the camp’s costs.
Hoste’s intent is that the program continues to grow while staying in the black; but how quickly and in what direction it will expand depends largely on community support.
For summer 2016, Hoste hopes to continue a free youth theater production and summer camps, along with producing two shows. For 2017, IRT could add another show to the season, depending on support.
The money that comes in from future plans, Hoste said, will have to cover the IRT’s operating expenses. She also said she’s exploring grants.
“The university doesn’t want IRT to go away, and neither do we,” Hoste said. “This is a really exciting time for us because this new direction is unfolding as we move forward.”
Idaho Repertory Theatre summer season
IRT for Youth presents “Swan Boy,” by Josh Petersen and Ann Hoste. Tickets are free and can be picked up at BookPeople of Moscow or by calling (208) 885-6465. Showtimes are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday June 20, 27 and July 11 at the Forge Theater, 404 Sweet Ave., Moscow. “Swan Boy” follows the story of a girl who comes to understand the importance of acceptance and determination with the help of a lively forest gnome.
IRT’s production of “The Little Prince” is also coming to Moscow this summer, adapted and directed by UI’s award-winning assistant professor in theater, Matt Foss. Performances are 7:30 p.m. July 23-25 and Aug. 1, 7-8, with afternoon performances at 2 p.m. July 26 and Aug. 2 at the Hartung Theater, 625 Stadium Drive, Moscow. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $10 for UI faculty, staff and senior, and $5 for children 12 and younger. Tickets go on sale in July at BookPeople of Moscow, at UI Theatre Arts Department in Shoup Hall 201 or by calling (208) 885-6465.