The Effects of Theatre Mismanagement

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on Thursday, 07 August 2014 in Blog Posts

A little over three years ago, Rome’s Teatro Valle was occupied.  Teatro Valle, a theatre and former opera house in operation since 1726, was not occupied by an invading army (at least not this time), but rather by a group of actors, stage technicians, and costumers concerned about plans to privatize the theatre, following what the occupiers have characterized as the Culture Ministry’s abandonment of support for Italy’s arts community.  At the time of the occupation, even Italy’s Deputy Culture Minister conceded that money had been spent unwisely.

More than 5000 miles away from Teatro Valle, Coconut Grove Playhouse, a renowned facility located in a lush Miami neighborhood, in operation since 1927, and host to some of America’s most renowned stage productions of the latter 20th century, closed its doors in 2006 amidst a mountain of debt, and questionable financial management.  Reportedly, state grants had been misused by the theatre’s management, all while the theatre’s board was either unwilling or unable to effectively oversee the person or persons that were mismanaging the theatre.  As a result, a historically significant theatre, that helped drive the economy of a small Miami neighborhood for decades, now sits as a rotting ghost of its former glory.

While the above two tales of real-life theatrical drama may well serve as inspiration for a bonus track to some future re-issue of the Synchronicity album by The Police (one can dream!), more practically, the woes of Teatro Valle and the Coconut Grove Playhouse provide cautionary tales from which we as managers of creative business can learn.  In both cases, yet for apparently different reasons, the management of these theatres failed to address the business needs of their establishments.  In the case of Teatro Valle, it’s all too easy to merely blame some hapless government ministry, but to get to the point where the facility is physically occupied takes a special breed of bungling.  As for the Coconut Grove Playhouse, while the theatre’s management may have been accused of mishandling funds, it’s the lack of effectiveness by a theatre board that both hired theatre management, and was charged with the oversight of said management, that remains as a stunning example of failure.

As with all good theatre, this blog post needs a proper ending, so here is an update on the current status of Teatro Valle and Coconut Grove Playhouse.

It appears as though the occupation of Teatro Valle is nearing an end.  Local government has given the occupiers until August 10th to leave the theatre, with one city official being quoted as saying “the illegality of the situation was no longer acceptable”.  For now, it seems as though Teatro Valle will continue to operate, and will remain owned by the city of Rome, under the direction of Rome’s municipal theatre company, Teatro di Roma.

The future does not look so rosy for the Coconut Grove Playhouse.  The city of Miami and a local theatre company are slowly working on plans to open a theatre on the playhouse’s property, but it looks as though after years of neglect, the historic 1927 building is likely to be demolished.  Vendors and past employees that were owed money after the 2006 failure of the theatre will likely never see any of the money owed to them, and Miami will have lost a community treasure, thanks to mismanagement and poor oversight.

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