By Peter Dobrin
With the help of former Kennedy Center president Michael M. Kaiser, the financially beleaguered Philadelphia Theatre Company has bought itself some time, buoying hopes for its survival.
Kaiser, who was brought in to devise and execute a recovery plan, says the group now has a month-to-month lease with TD Bank on its home, which the bank continues to market for sale. Previously, PTC's residency in the space at the base of Symphony House at Broad and Lombard Streets had been assured only through the end of December.
In the last three months, the theater has raised $400,000 in donations, in addition to an August grant of $2.5 million pledged by Ralph and Suzanne Roberts. PTC named its 365-seat theater for the wife of the Comcast founder when the space opened in 2007 in recognition of her longtime patronage, and this most recent gift seems to have helped spur a new round of generosity from others.
"It's really turning around," Kaiser said. "It's an organization that faces several difficult challenges, but everyone is really pulling together. The board is extremely supportive. We're not in this position where we can't pay payables or are having a weekly cash flow crisis, and we're starting to be in a place where the fund-raising and marketing programs that need to be there have established a solid core.
"There's hope now. It's starting to work."
TD Bank, which foreclosed on the company's building, has for the moment released its legal claims on the organization, said longtime board chairman E. Gerald Riesenbach. That lets the company complete audits from the last two years that had been on hold, he said, which will allow PTC to begin applying for foundation support. "We have not been able to receive funding from those sources," Riesenbach said.
Several TD Bank spokeswomen did not respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment.
On the artistic front, PTC is adding a new series of interviews with actors and writers who figure in the theater's history. Dubbed "Theater Masters," the Monday night series will feature Bill Irwin in February, Billy Porter in March, and Anna Deavere Smith in May.
"They all have an incredible story to tell about where they've come from, and how they've transformed their work and how that's reflective of what's going on in American theater," said Sara Garonzik, the PTC's executive producing director. The series will be free to donors at a certain level and offered at a discount to subscribers and students.
PTC is still far from assured of a venue. TD Bank, according to its agent at the time, had hoped to accept an offer on the space sometime after Labor Day, but continues to market the property, asking $7.5 million.
Riesenbach says it was still the plan for PTC to continue to occupy the space it built for itself by working out a lease with a new owner that would cost the company a token $1 a year for five years.
"We would like to have that be the case, but since we don't have any idea who the buyer would be, we don't know what the arrangements would be," he said. "But that is our goal."