Herman Krawitz, executive director of the American Ballet Theatre, said in a recent interview here that the major reason ABT canceled its 1982 spring season in Washington was the Kennedy Center's failure to sell tickets and to help raise funds to cover deficits. "Other cities do these things," Krawitz said. "The company loves Washington, and we all want to play the Kennedy Center. But in these respects Washington is definitely lagging."
ABT, which is in the middle of a four-week run here, traditionally has staged both a fall and spring season in Washington. When it announced last June that it would not hold the spring season in 1982, it blamed the large rise in the cost of hotel rooms.
But Krawitz ascribed the ABT's problems with Kennedy Center to a lack of what he calls "adequate management and staff." "You people in Washington are mad not to have Martin Feinstein general director of the Washington Opera still doing his thing at the Kennedy Center," Krawitz said. "It's not that quality management doesn't exist in the city. You've got three of the finest management people in the country at your feet -- Feinstein, the Shubert organization, and Pat Hayes managing director of the Washington Performing Arts Society , but we're denied their help.
"Of course, Kennedy Center chairman Roger Stevens -- whom I admire personally, who's an astute businessman, and who's made major contributions to American theater -- could say, 'Who the hell is Herman to tell me who to hire?' And he'd be right, and maybe these aren't the right ones. But someone has to do it, and when you're seeking out quality management, you're looking for the Martin Feinsteins of this world. Feinstein may be rough and tough and not easy to deal with, but he knows his job." Feinstein served as the Kennedy Center's executive director of performing arts for seven years.
Krawitz spoke of the economic bind ABT, which has an annual budget of around $11 million, of which $3 million comes from donations, encounters in Washington. "If we come to Washington and it costs us $240,000, and we take in the $175,000 that's guaranteed to us by the Kennedy Center, we're losing money. Unless -- unless we raise it from other sources. Right now, we're raising it outside Washington. I refuse to believe this city doesn't have the largesse to help support us, as other cities do. There's enough of an affluent population. There must be people able to give $35, $3,500, or even $3.5 million, occasionally. But it takes a lot of hard work, and nobody's doing it here."
According to Krawitz, in cities like Miami, Detroit and others the company now visits in its extended tour programs, local presenters mount major efforts to raise funds for ABT -- "They don't always succeed, but at least we know they're trying," he said. "Don't get me wrong, we want to come to Washington. But in every other city they run galas, luncheons, affairs, something -- here there's virtually nothing."
Krawitz is also unhappy with the Kennedy Center's promotional activities. "Why was there no ad in the paper, on the third day of our engagement?" he asked. "Attendance has been falling off here, but how can we expect the public to show up if we keep the performance a deep, dark secret? As far as I can tell, there's not anyone at the Center that knows the first thing about selling tickets, and I don't mean just to ABT, but to any attraction."
ABT has been the "official" ballet company of the Kennedy Center since its opening in 1971, and it still comes to Washington, even minus a spring season, for a longer period (four weeks) than it spends in any city outside New York. Major ABT premieres, including Baryshnikov's "Nutcracker" and "Don Quixote," and this year, MacMillan's "The Wild Boy," have been presented here. Yet, according to Krawitz, "the Kennedy Center Opera House has a smaller seating capacity, the Washington ticket prices are lower on the average, and the audiences are less numerous than in any city we go to."
Roger Stevens, reached by telephone while on a business trip to New York, said of Krawitz's comments, "It's just ridiculous, I don't know what he's talking about. We haven't felt it our business to go out and raise funds for them, we've always taken the deal they've offered us. They raised our guarantee this year by $50,000, and the losses come out of our pockets, not theirs.
"As far as Martin Feinstein is concerned, it wasn't just a one-man operation by any means when he was here. I'm not saying Martin is not a good promoter, because he is; but a lot of us were involved besides him. I don't want to go into things like ads and selling tickets -- all these complaints come as a surprise to me, Krawitz hasn't brought them up before, and I'm on the ABT board, we just had a meeting a couple of weeks ago. I'd have to look over the figures before discussing these matters in detail. The one thing he did bring up was doing benefits, and I did disagree with him on that. In view of all the benefits that go on around Washington -- for the symphony, the opera, the arts gala -- it just didn't ever seem wise. On the other hand, I thought we'd agreed with ABT to put on a benefit for them, whether the company was here or not, this coming spring. I haven't had any follow-up from them on this, though."
For his part, Krawitz confirmed that he and Stevens had agreed on a benefit for ABT in Washington this spring. "But," he said, "this isn't the first time we've heard promises, and then nothing materializes. If you don't plan such an event in October, you can't expect to execute it in April. Yes, we had a nice talk, and agreed on a benefit, and we said we'd do our share and help in every way we could. But such affairs, as in other cities we go to, are in the hands of local presenters, and our experience in the past is they just don't get done here. There's not the staff or the mechanisms to make it happen."
Krawitz also confirmed that ABT and the Kennedy Center had discussed adding a fifth week to the company's annual December visit in lieu of the former spring seasons, but he said such an alternative is "highly unlikely." Another option under consideration at ABT is appearances at Wolf Trap; Krawitz said, "We're talking to Wolf Trap about possibilities, such as a week or two this spring or summer, but let me add that one shouldn't confuse discussion with a deal."
Summing up his position, Krawitz added, "We wish to continue our presence in Washington, no doubt about that. I don't want to be stirring up feuds. What we'd like to have is a joint effort, with the Center, to solve the problems that face us in a time of rising costs, reduced governmental subsidies, and economic recession."
Krawitz, 56, came to the ABT administration in 1977. A producer, impresario and administrator, the energetic New York-born executive had previously been assistant general manager of the Metropolitan Opera from 1963 to 1972. He has also produced a number of award-winning TV specials, including CBS' "The Nutcracker" with Mikhail Baryshnikov (now artistic director of ABT) and Gelsey Kirkland, and "Baryshnikov on Broadway."