By Chris Wellens, Treasurer, Shakespeare Santa Cruz Board
10 October 2006
Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SSC) is a non-academic department of the Arts Division of UC Santa Cruz (UCSC). Its mission is to produce a summer festival of plays that re-interpret and find a contemporary voice for the classics. SSC provides apprentice experience for theatre arts students to work along with professional, equity artists. SSC also provides an important link to the community through its outreach programs and schedule of plays.
SSC’s annual budget is $1.7 million. This sum represents the expense budget required to produce a summer festival with three professional major works and one student “fringe” show, in addition to a holiday show. To meet this budget, SSC obtains earned and contributed revenue. The earned revenue is in the form of ticket sales. The contributed revenue is in the form of major grants, donations, and contributions. SSC’s revenue split is approximately 45% earned revenue and 55% contributed revenue.
Unfortunately for the past few years, SSC’s revenue has fallen short of expenses, and UCSC has made up the deficit. UCSC has put SSC on notice that this cannot continue.
The purpose of this paper is examine the key reasons why SSC’s tight affiliation with UCSC makes it difficult to obtain revenue, control costs, and operate within a predictable budget, and to urge both parties to seek a solution that involves an organized plan for separation.
Here are the top three reasons:
- UCSC requires SSC to use an accounting system that has no real-time cost controls to manage the budget and spending.
- UCSC’s policies, practices, and procedures prohibit SSC from managing its operation like a professional theatre company.
- UCSC’s status as a state educational institution impedes SSC’s fundraising ability
Let’s begin with an overview of the major cost drivers in the theatre business.
Live theatre at SSC is a labor intensive business, requiring approximately 150 support staff and 40 artistic staff for the summer production. Unlike other businesses hiring seasonal workers, the theatre business has additional complications. Housing must be provided for those who are brought in from outside the greater Bay Area. SSC is required to hire a certain number of AEA (Actor’s Equity Association, a union) employees who are actors and stage managers. Those contracts require housing, telephone, internet and transportation.
The labor issues are further complicated by the fact that approximately six of the seasonal staff will have a huge impact on both the budget and the work assignments of the remaining workers. Specifically, each of the three plays in the season will have a director and each of the three directors will communicate an artistic vision to a scenic designer, a lighting designer, and a costume designer. These production-specific designers will then create a design for their area; that design is passed along to the production manager who will allocate the tasks of implementing the designs to the balance of the workers.
The diagram above highlights the work flow beginning with the initial designers to the Production Manager to the worker assignments. A major challenge of the work flow is the compressed schedule. The Production Manager must quickly evaluate the feasibility of the designs with respect to the budget resources and reject/revise/accept the designs. Furthermore, if there are performance problems with any one of the six key designers, there is no opportunity to regroup, replace, and replan. In other words, a bad hire cannot be terminated and replaced, due to the compressed timeframe. There is no possibility of slipping the schedule; all work must be completed in 90 days.
Even though the actual work flow occurs within a compressed 90 day or three month schedule, the planning for the actual season occurs on a twelve month schedule. In some cases, it is more than a schedule but a twelve month lead time to secure commitments.
Selection of plays→ Feasibility of production, cost of production, royalty and copyright issues, possible directors, possible equity actors, audience draw, marketability. Final selection of plays. (Time required: Two months)
Recruitment→ Discussions with possible directors, designers, key equity actors, negotiations and commitments. Final contract with directors and designers. (Time required: Two months)
Auditions→ Search for equity and non-equity artists, multi-city auditions, evaluation of actors, scheduling, offers. Acceptance of offers. (Time required: two months)
As indicated from the time lines above, six months is required for the beginning stages of the production. Once the play selection, recruitment, and auditions stages are completed, the design phase begins. Obviously if UCSC demands that SSC make changes to the budget 90 days before opening night for the first play, very little can be done to cut costs, as the materials have been ordered and labor contracts are in place. The only time that meaningful changes can be made to the budget is at the time the plays are selected, or 12 months before opening night.
Now that we have put forth the major cost drivers in the theatre business, let us turn our attention to the top three reasons that SSC’s tight affiliation with UCSC makes it difficult to obtain revenue, control costs, and operate within a predictable budget.
#1 UCSC forces SSC to use an accounting system that has no real-time cost controls to manage the budget and spending
The Production Manager must depend on the department heads (costume shop, set construction, etc.) to implement the design and stay within budget. The best way to do this is to create a budget and track “actuals to budget” on a daily basis. In a normal theatre operation, a department head issues a purchase order, the purchase order goes into the accounting system, the accounting system automatically tracks and records it. The Production Manager and all department heads can check their performance against the budget on a daily basis. If one department goes over budget, the Production Manager can respond immediately, come up with another solution, and control the cost overrun. Most small businesses incorporate an online accounting system with these capabilities. These systems are easy to use and available for less than $50 per month.
Unfortunately UCSC does not permit SSC to use this type of system. Instead, SSC must use the UCSC accounting systems which are the norm for all universities. These systems capture and record costs on a quarterly basis. University costs are highly predictable so there is no need for daily reporting as required by most businesses. Thus, if SSC exceeds its budget, it is not known until the end of the season and little can be done in the way of real-time damage control. To compensate for the shortcoming of UCSC accounting, the managing director and a UCSC business analyst attempt to manually capture the information in ad hoc spreadsheets and analyze it. This is of course, a major waste of manpower and resources, as the accounting is now being done twice. In addition, SSC may only make purchases from UCSC approved vendors. Vendors must complete a three page application. Often, vendors are not willing to wait 60-75 days for payment. These requirements make it difficult to choose the most cost-effective suppliers.
The inadequacies of the accounting system have a negative effect on other aspects of the operation, particularly planning for the subsequent season. Specifically, the financial reports for the Festival season arrive so late that the information (“lessons learned”) cannot be incorporated into planning for the next season. In other words, the planning and commitments for the next season are well underway before the financial results are received. This means that Total Quality Management (TQM), the process where a business relentlessly and systematically tracks, evaluates, corrects and improves its financial performance, cannot be realized.
#2 UCSC’s policies, practices, and procedures prohibit SSC from managing its operation like a professional theatre company.
There are several instances when UCSC has unconsciously and inadvertently made decisions that have a direct negative impact on the SSC budget. Let’s examine three of them.
SSC has a great relationship with the Santa Cruz community receiving “in-kind” contributions from many local businesses. Restaurants and wineries, for example, contribute food and wine to SSC fund raising events and enjoy the favorable publicity for supporting the Festival. However, UCSC changed its policy regarding food services on campus; UCSC introduced a new “list of approved caterers”. This meant that SSC now had to select a caterer from the list, and pay for food and wine that was cheerfully donated in the past. The negative results were twofold: (1) a budget overrun and (2) damaged relationships with many fine restaurants and wineries who had been great supporters of the Festival.
Another example of an adverse UCSC decision negatively impacting the SSC budget is the rental car fleet. UCSC decided to reduce the internal fleet of rental cars. SSC has paid UCSC for these rental cars to meet transportation requirements during the start of the festival season. When SSC learned about the decision to reduce the number of available rental cars, SSC had to cover. SSC was forced to obtain rental cars from commercial suppliers at the last minute. If SSC had known six months in advance that UCSC was not going to meet the rental car requirements, SSC could have made alternate arrangements. For example, SSC could have approached the rental car companies in Santa Cruz and negotiated in-kind contributions of rental cars, or at a minimum, reduced rental rates (based on the quantity of cars required and duration of the rental). Housing could have been adjusted to minimize the impact. Without any advance warning of this change, UCSC’s decision resulted in a cost overrun for SSC.
Another example is a UCSC policy that prohibited SSC from achieving its budget. In order to reduce costs, SSC made the decision to construct a semi-permanent stage in the Festival Glen, expected to last for five years. This new stage would introduce re-usability (an important aspect of cost control for all businesses) as well as positively constrain directors for future shows. A local builder, Barry Swenson, offered to build the stage as an in-kind contribution and his offer was accepted by SSC. However, UCSC only permits union carpenters to work on campus and Barry Swenson does not employ union labor. Therefore, the offer had to be rejected. The negative results were twofold: (1) a budget overrun and (2) a damaged relationship with one of the great supporters of the Festival. The union carpenters constructed the stage, with a schedule overrun of three weeks and a budget overrun of $20,000. This had a domino effect causing the balance of all the set design to fall behind, requiring more overtime hours and introducing more cost overruns.
These are just three simple examples of decisions, policies, and procedures introduced by UCSC without consideration to the effect on SSC and its budget.
Unfortunately, there are many other aspects to UCSC policy that interfere with best practices theatre operation and negatively affect the SSC budget.
Let’s look at modern business practices that could be utilized at SSC but are not.
As described in the previous section, the Production Manager and his Department Heads are responsible for the purchasing of all labor and material for the Festival. These four individuals should be properly motivated and supported to achieve the goal of high production quality within the budget. For example, the head of the costume shop should create the very best costumes, meeting the highest artistic standards, for the lowest possible cost, but at all times operate within the budget. That should be the goal for the head of the costume shop. His compensation should reflect that goal. This is typically done with an MBO (Management by Objective) or “Pay-for-Performance” system. A very simple implementation could be a $5,000 bonus for meeting the objective. To get the Production Manager and his Department Heads to achieve the desired performance, they need to be specifically compensated for the desired performance. Unfortunately, the UCSC compensation system prohibits commissions, bonuses, and pay-for-performance. This prohibition comes at an enormous cost. Consider that if the proposed bonus system had been implemented during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, bonus checks of $40,000 would have been issued and a $400,000 deficit avoided.
Another modern business practice is asset utilization, tracking, and management. This is measured by most businesses through RONA (Return on Net Assets). In other words, RONA is a method for making sure that all assets are fully utilized. When running the business you want the managers to make good decisions about when they should rent, when they should buy, what inventory should be maintained and capitalized, and so on.
Unfortunately, because universities do not measure their performance with RONA, UCSC does not support or allow SSC to do so. This results in erroneous financial reporting of the SSC operation. For example, the new, semi-permanent stage in the Glen is an asset with an expected life of five years. This asset should be capitalized, not expensed. Each year for a period of five years, the budget should show $4,000 of expense for the stage. Taking the entire $20,000 cost of the stage in one year is incorrect business accounting and artificially inflates the expenses of SSC by $16,000 for 2006.
Unfortunately, this incorrect business practice creates a negative effect on other aspects of the SSC operation. Because everything is expensed, there is no incentive or reward for the staff for the proper treatment and tracking of assets. All the costumes, light instruments, and other items that are truly assets could be RFID tagged and inventoried. However, these items are not tracked and there is no incentive for the production staff to do so or to make an effort to reuse these assets. Recall that in a previous section, we explained how re-usability is an important aspect of cost control for all businesses.
To summarize, UCSC is preventing SSC from using modern business practices such as MBOs and RONA to effectively manage the operation and meet the budget.
#3 UCSC’s status as a state educational institution impedes SSC’s fundraising ability
First, SSC enhances and supports UCSC’s Theatre Arts program.
SSC was founded by Audrey Stanley and had its first production in 1982. The goal: to foster links between modern scholarship and contemporary theatre practice. As a result, there are three UCSC Theatre Arts programs connected to SSC: Shakespeare To Go, the Intern Program, the classes “151 Studies in Performance” and “50 Fundamentals of Production” All of these programs offer students practical training in theatre arts. In addition, there are many indirect connections between the UCSC Theatre Arts department and SSC. For example, Professor Michael Warren, a Shakespeare textual scholar, works with the equity actors before the start of rehearsals to help them understand the meaning of the text.
It is possible for SSC to become a separate organization from UCSC, and through a series of contracts, continue to work in concert with the UCSC Theatre Arts program by supporting and fostering the link between modern scholarship and contemporary theatre practice. Indeed, student exposure to the business aspects of contemporary theatre would be far more realistic, if SSC was a separate entity.
However, the reverse is not true; UCSC does not enhance SSC. In fact UCSC’s reputation impedes SSC, particularly with fundraising.
Even though SSC is considered one of the top ten Shakespeare Festivals in the United States, this is not widely known to potential audiences. As a result, there is an impression and expectation among those who have never attended, that the Festival is “student theatre”, meaning amateur theatre at a level below community theatre. Unfortunately SSC’s association with UCSC implies or connotes student, amateur, unprofessional, etc. This is a deterrent to many potential Festival attendees who dismiss the Festival because of this association without further consideration. It is an expensive, uphill battle to promote and market the Festival against this built-in perception.
In addition, since the performances take place on the UCSC campus, there is an expectation that SSC is supported financially by the UC system (indirectly the State of California). Thus potential donors have the impression that since they pay their taxes, there is no need to contribute to SSC.
Furthermore, among those who have contributed, there is a concern that the contribution dollars may not actually reach SSC, since the administration of the gifts is handled by University Relations. (This problem was very well documented by Laurie MacDougall in her July 2006 report “Development Audit: Shakespeare Santa Cruz”).
Although it is quite clear that UCSC would like to assist and support SSC’s fundraising efforts, because of the implied financial support of the University and the impression that SSC is offering student theatre, both contributed and earned revenue are negatively affected by the association.
SSC’s tight affiliation with UCSC makes it difficult to obtain revenue, control costs, and operate within a predictable budget for the following reasons:
- UCSC requires SSC to use an accounting system that has no real-time cost controls to manage the budget and spending.
- UCSC’s policies, practices, and procedures prohibit SSC from managing its operation like a professional theatre company. Standard business management practices such as TQM, real-time accounting, re-usability, MBO and pay-for-performance, and RONA are foreign concepts to UCSC.
- UCSC’s status as a state educational institution impedes SSC’s fundrasing ability. Unfortunately, UCSC’s status connotes “paid for by taxes” and “student/amateur productions” and works against SSC’s ability to fundraise.
This paper has been circulated among the administrators at the UC Santa Cruz campus. The author was told that there were factual errors, by Marcus Cato, the former Managing Director. The author requested (three times) an enumeration of the errors. No list of errors was ever produced. The author stands by her work.