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Theater to seek director

December 07, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - On Jan. 1, The Maryland Theatre's board will start its search for a permanent executive director to run the Vaudeville-era venue.

Jenni Hatcher has been the interim executive director for more than eight months. She began in March when Brian Sullivan resigned.

Aside from planning popular shows, a top focus for the next executive director will be making improvements at the 93-year-old local landmark, which was designed by renowned architect Thomas W. Lamb.

Board members acknowledged the challenge of trying to fill the theater's 1,300 seats for big-name acts and also gambling a little with eclectic shows.

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The nonprofit theater has had both successes and failures.

Monday's concert by blues legend B.B. King nearly sold out. However, last year's one-man show about Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee lost several thousand dollars, according to board member Scott Draper.

"One thing we need to do at the theater is have an established business plan," said board member Ron Bowers, the outgoing president.

Draper said he's not convinced the theater can afford an executive director, but praised Hatcher for her work since stepping in. He credited her with bringing King to Hagerstown and rallying a Circle of Friends volunteer group to work on fundraising activities.

"She puts her heart and soul into it," Draper said.

Hatcher started working for the theater in September 2007. She was director of development and marketing.

Sam Young, who was named president last month in the annual board election, said Hatcher is welcome to apply to be the permanent executive director.

Reached on her cell phone Thursday, Hatcher said she was too busy to talk until the following day. On Friday, she didn't return two phone messages.

The board's job notice says the next executive director "will oversee a revitalization and concentrated effort to improve the theatre and ensure its long-term health and survival."

The search committee formed a few months ago and expects to start placing ads locally and nationally within the next month, Young said.

He said there will be a salary range for the job, but it probably won't be listed in ads, so it isn't a factor in whether someone applies.

Asked how much Hatcher is being paid, Young would only give a range of $50,000 to $60,000.

The theater's 2007 U.S. Internal Revenue Service tax statement, a public record, lists Sullivan's salary at $55,000.

The board hired Sullivan in 2006 as Patricia Wolford's replacement.

Asked at the time how many people were considered for the job, Bob Borngesser, who was the board president, said Sullivan "really was the primary candidate."

Sullivan was recommended to the board, which checked his references and hired him, Borngesser said then.

After about two years on the job, Sullivan abruptly resigned in March. Bowers, as board president, said at the time that he was "not surprised," but he didn't elaborate.

Under Sullivan, the theater pursued entertainment that was described as more financially risky.

Draper said last week that Sullivan edged away from Wolford's safer strategy of using the theater mainly as a rental house instead of negotiating directly with performers.

That, Wolford said in 2000, is how the theater's finances turned around after two difficult decades. Independent promoters paid a base rental fee and covered the cost of a crew and technical needs. The theater got a small percentage of each ticket sold.

Bowers said the theater has been in the black since Wolford turned it around in the late 1990s.

Still, fluctuations in the theater's finances are reflected in its revenue the last several years.

The 2006 IRS tax statement shows gross receipts of nearly $800,000 in 2002 and nearly $900,000 in 2003.

Gross receipts dropped to about $400,000 in 2004 and about $500,000 in 2005.

Bowers said the greater revenue is linked to high-profile performers, such as the late comedian George Carlin.

Although bigger-name acts bring in more money through higher ticket prices, they also force the theater to pay more to promoters, Bowers and Draper said.

"It's such a hit or miss with these shows," Draper said.

After losing money in 2006, the theater posted a profit in 2007, tax forms show.

In 2007, revenues were $829,876 and expenses were $809,763, for a profit of $20,113.

In 2006, the theater lost $99,016.

However, that includes a $52,960 depreciation of assets for accounting purposes, so the cash loss was around $46,000, said Draper, an accountant who prepares the income-tax returns.

In 2005 and 2004, the theater reported losses of about $12,000 and $20,000, respectively, on its tax forms. But, with depreciation factored out, the theater would show a profit for both years, Draper said.

"We're in a positive cash flow, but like most theaters, you tend to live hand to mouth," Young said.

The theater reported $684,344 in net assets and fund balances at the end of 2007. About 24 percent was cash, compared to about 8 percent the previous year.

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