Guthrie reports a record $3.8 million deficit

First came the heady celebration at the Guthrie Theater, then the reckoning.

After a 60th anniversary season of high wattage shows such as "Hamlet" starring Michael Braugher, the world premiere of Suzan-Lori Parks' "Sally & Tom," which has been remounted in New York, and "Into the Woods" as the big summer musical, Minnesota's flagship performing arts company is reporting a $3.8 million deficit.

The shortfall represents 11.8% of its $32 million budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year. Both the deficit and budget figures are the largest in the theater's history.

The Guthrie last announced a record operating loss of $2.72 million for its 2019-20 fiscal year.

"Though reporting a deficit is sobering, I remain optimistic about the Guthrie's future," artistic director Joseph Haj said in a statement. "In our first full season back onstage since 2019, we wanted the lineup to reflect the level of artistic excellence our community has come to expect from the Guthrie throughout the last 60 years."

Managing director Trisha Kirk said the gap is mostly due to the fact that patrons and benefactors have not come back as robustly as the Guthrie had hoped.

"We made assumptions about audience and donors, and our assumptions were wrong," Kirk said.

The theater had 300,000 patrons to its shows and programs and 5,580 donors in the 2023 fiscal year. That contrasts with with 353,000 patrons and 6,591 donors in fiscal year 2019, the last full pre-pandemic season at the Guthrie.

The theater's books have been helped in the past by pandemic relief funds. The Guthrie had a $3.17 million loan from the Payroll Protection Program that was forgiven.

Guthrie officials said that the fiscal challenges are being addressed through finding efficiencies and adjusting programming and staffing. Both the 60th anniversary season and the current season had 10 shows, for example, whereas the upcoming 2024-25 roster has eight shows, and one of them, "The Mousetrap," has a 10-week run.

"If we have fewer shows, we need fewer people to run them," Kirk said, noting that other savings are being "captured through open positions."

Kirk gave another example of cost-saving efficiency. The scenography for the Guthrie's marathon Shakespeare History Plays was designed and built for the same setup used by "A Christmas Carol" last year. That saved on labor and other costs involved in breaking down and rebuilding the set.

The Guthrie budgeted for, and expects, a $1 million gap for this current fiscal year, Kirk added. But after that, the books are expected to be balanced.

The theater will get through these challenges with "relentless incrementalism," she said, crediting arts leader Ben Cameron for the phrase. "We don't have to do enormous gestures. We're finding tweaks and efficiencies that save on costs but we will continue to deliver the same quality work that people have come to expect from the Guthrie."