In the Heart of the Beast makes cuts, plea for support

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, which funds and organizes the annual MayDay Parade and Festival, announced today that it is making cuts to its staff and programming  to stay financially viable.

The theater has placed its staff members on a two-week furlough through the end of August. They will return as as needs and finances permit, with the hope of bringing them back full time as soon as possible Executive Director Loren Niemi said.

Niemi said the company needed to furlough its workers because it was hit by a property value reappraisal which bumped up its mortgage payments and lowered its line of credit. The Lake Street puppet theater plans to meet all contractual job obligations, he said, but will have to “step back and take a hard look at what new projects we can do.”

Javier Lopez Perez, 8, blows bubbles as he watches the 40th Annual MayDay Parade, presented by In the Heart of the Beast Theatre and friends, on Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis May 4, 2014.
(Courtney Perry / For MPR News)

It’s not the first time the company has hit on hard times.

“Due to faith, miracles and hard work, we’ve emerged every time,” Niemi said. “There’s no reason why we can’t do it this time. But this time what has to change is that it can’t be based on old habits. It has to be based on a different kind of partnership, a different kind of relationship to ourselves, to the artists, to  the community.”

According to Niemi the two largest expenses for the theatre are staffing and the fixed costs of the building.

“It’s an old building and needs upgrading — it’s not what I’d call energy efficient,” he said. “In winter, heating costs us an average of $1,600 a month, and in the summer there’s air conditioning.”

In the Heart of the Beast is committed to continuing the annual May Day Parade, Niemi said, but  for the company to remain financially sustainable, the parade needs more financial support from the community.

“So over the next six months I’m going to be looking at how we might partner with neighborhood organizations — the Lake Street Council, Meet Minneapolis and all the other organizations that benefit from the existence of May Day — to have them participate in the ongoing costs and management of May Day,” he said.

Kirstin Wiegmann, chair of the organization’s board, said its predicament, which she said  is not a crisis but more of a “significant financial bump,” comes in the midst of long-term planning for the 40-year-old institution.

“Our Artistic Director Sandy Spieler is nearing an age where retirement is a question for her. The board is thinking about succession and what’s next for HOBT so that we can best serve the puppet community, the arts community and the community at large for the next 40 years,” Wiegmann said. “It’s super unfortunate because we’re at this time where we have so much momentum and an incredibly engaged board that’s ready to help HOBT move forward. So hitting this right in the middle of that is pretty challenging.”

Wiegmann said she hopes the financial challenge will actually serve as a catalyst to propel the organization forward into its next growth phase.