Rentals may stave off Gladstone Theatre sale

By KRYSTLE CHOW
Published in the Ottawa Business Journal newspaper and website.
May 2, 2011 (May 3 on OBJ.ca)

Click here to view this article on OBJ.ca.

Theatre to stay for-profit; owners hope to produce shows again eventually


The Gladstone is one of the few for-profit theatres in the country.
Photo by PETER KOVESSY for the
Ottawa Business Journal.

Not only is “Rent” the title of a hit Broadway musical, but appropriately, it may also be what keeps The Gladstone theatre in business.

Half a year after putting the quaint property at 910 Gladstone Ave. up for sale with a $1.5-million asking price, owners Steve Martin and Marilisa Granzotto are contemplating the possibility of taking the building off the market due to the success they’ve had with renting out the space.

“We’re probably not going to renew with the realtor,” says Ms. Granzotto, noting the arrangement expires in roughly 60 days. “Or we’ll renew one more time and let the fall season that’s being developed right now be completed. Any pending sale will be conditional on that and happen after the fall season.”

Ms. Granzotto says she and Mr. Martin are putting the finishing touches on agreements with local theatre groups such as Plosive Productions and SevenThirty Productions that want to use the Gladstone to produce their work for an entire season, bringing in a steady stream of income for the two owners.

The pair has also taken rentals from church groups, musical acts, schools, comedians and bands in search of rehearsal space – all of which is helping them gradually pay down their debts.

“We’ve stopped the bleeding,” Ms. Granzotto says. “We’re not incurring greater debt; we have past debt but it’s not increasing.”

As one of the few for-profit theatres in the country, the Gladstone faced an uphill battle in its struggle to balance production and operational costs with ticket prices and sales, and the limits of the building’s capacity. Unlike groups and venues such as Arts Court, the Shenkman Arts Centre, and the Great Canadian Theatre Co. – which itself occupied 910 Gladstone Ave. for 25 years – the Gladstone took no public funding, leaving Mr. Martin and Ms. Granzotto alone to shoulder expenses such as the “exorbitant” cost of advertising.

“That’s where all the money went – any potential profit from the shows went into getting people into the space, and we couldn’t keep it going,” says Ms. Granzotto about the original reason for the sale. “If we had kept going for seven years, I think we would have begun to make a profit.”

Nancy Oakley, general manager of the Great Canadian Theatre Company, notes it’s generally very difficult to operate a for-profit theatre, since grants and public funding give theatre groups a lot of flexibility.

“It’s quite a challenge to run a theatre company on a for-profit model if you haven’t got a couple of things going for you: programming, especially of the blockbuster mainstream variety, and lots of seats, because even if you’re bringing in a style of programming that’s attracting general appeal and you only have 200 seats, you need to run a show a long time just to make the math work,” says Ms. Oakley. “It’s a hard ratio to get all the money for a show from tickets.”

She points to Toronto’s Mirvish Productions, one of the few successful for-profit theatre companies, which has a network of venues – several of which seat thousands – and the ability to bring in huge productions such as Disney’s The Lion King. That’s a far cry from the more intimate setting at the 235-seat Gladstone, or even at her own facility, whose largest space fits just 262 people.

In hindsight, says Ms. Granzotto, she and Mr. Martin probably ought to have taken the rental model first to pay down the mortgage, before producing their own shows. But with the resurgence in interest in the theatre, she’s optimistic and looking ahead instead.

“We’re going to continue and try to bring in a mix of entertainment; I love the idea of music in the space as the sound is phenomenal in the theatre. I’d love for it to become a whole entertainment venue, not just theatre,” she says.

With the rental money coming in, the hope is to be able to pay down the building’s debt in another four years, Ms. Granzotto says.

She adds: “And once we get into a position where the building is free and clear, we may produce our own shows again.”


THEATRE TALLY

910 Gladstone Ave. features:

  • Used as theatre since: 1982
  • Seats: Over 235
  • Asking price for property: $1.5 million

Source: Royal LePage Team Realty listing

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