Guthrie Theater reports first deficit in 18 years

The Guthrie Theater is ending its 50th anniversary season in the red.

Director Joe Dowling said the $437,862 shortfall — which amounts to about 1.6 percent of the regional theater’s $27 million budget — comes as a “bit of a blow.”

“We’ve had a difficult year,” said Dowling. “Any year where there’s a deficit is a challenging year for us. Having said that, we’re a very sound financial organization because of the enormous generosity of donors and also because we’ve had the good sense over the years to develop our endowment, which in fact increased substantially this year.”

The news was announced Monday at the theater’s annual meeting.

Dowling blamed the shortfall on a season which included several new works, including “Nice Fish” and “Primrose Path.”

“We made some very conscious choices last year not to do a ‘best of’ but to reach out with some new work,” Dowling said. “We did a number of different things that didn’t have the same name recognition. That’s largely the reason. We were a little more ambitious with our expectations than we realized.”

Dowling said while the deficit is out of the ordinary for the flagship theater, he’s confident the Guthrie’s financial future is secure.

“We’re not going to change course by any means,” he said. “The theater has survived for 50 years and it will be here for another 50 at least – hopefully a lot longer than that. We’re conscious that we didn’t reach the goals we set ourselves. We have different goals this year — and we’ll reach them.”

Dowling said the the theater will continue to adjust its budget in order to ensure it doesn’t have a second deficit.

“Last year we cut $1 million in expenditure and we will do the same this year if we find ourselves in a similar situation,” he said. “We’re keeping our endowment intact, and we’re ensuring the future of the theater is secured.”

Dowling said that while the Guthrie box office saw a shortfall, he’s still proud of the quality of the work.

“Let’s put this in perspective,” he said. “Even though we didn’t reach the goals we set ourselves, we still reached 375,000 people. That’s an enormous number of people to come through our doors in any twelve month period.”