The Kennedy Center yesterday announced a net loss of nearly $1.9 million for fiscal year 1984, blaming escalating production costs in general, and seven major ballet, opera, musical theater and theater productions in particular.
The operating deficit -- accumulated from Oct. 1, 1983, to Sept. 30, 1984 -- is the first to be reported by the Center since 1972, when start-up costs resulted in a deficit of approximately $276,000, according to Roger L. Stevens, the Center's chairman.
Although the Center presented a number of profit-making plays last year -- among them "Agnes of God," "Noises Off" and the Dustin Hoffman revival of "Death of a Salesman" -- their success was offset by such attractions as Arthur Kopit's drama about the nuclear arms race, "End of the World," which lost $596,857, and the two-week engagement of the Metropolitan Opera in April, which lost $509,686. In both cases, losses came despite private subsidies of $570,000 for the Kopit play and $125,661 for the Metropolitan Opera. The figures were first revealed in a report to the Center's Board of Trustees on Thursday.
Stevens described the Center's financial situation for the past three years as "precarious," adding that it was aggravated last year by rising ticket prices, mixed-to-negative reviews, a shortage of sure-fire road attractions and the growing reluctance of audiences to risk their money on anything but pretested successes. The Center suffered especially, he said, from a lack of big musical comedies.
In the past, the profits generated by musicals have allowed the Center to subsidize its opera and dance programs, which invariably lose money. But except for "Zorba," which recently concluded a six-week sellout run in the Opera House, the most popular Broadway musicals have been turning up at the National Theatre. "There is very, very little quality product out there for booking," Stevens said.
The Center's overall expenses for presenting 38 attractions and related public service programs last year were $32.4 million. Income amounted to $30.5 million -- box-office revenues were approximately $21.3 million; grants and private contributions totaled $7 million. In addition, parking fees, restaurant concessions and continuing royalties from earlier Kennedy Center productions brought in $2.2 million.
The Center recently has been under fire from a handful of congressmen who had sought to block proposals absolving the Center of $33 million in compound interest on bonds that helped finance construction of the facility. On Oct. 11, Congress passed legislation waiving that interest, requiring the Center to repay only the $20.4 million principal in annual installments, beginning in 1987. The legislation provoked such heated debate, however, that Stevens said he was releasing the Center's operating deficit to stave off "any further misinterpretations and controversy."
Besides "End of the World" and the Metropolitan Opera, significant losses were recorded by the American Ballet Theatre ($208,464); the New York City Ballet ($412,928); the Vinnette Carroll musical "When Hell Freezes Over, I'll Skate" ($389,980); the Leonard Bernstein opera "A Quiet Place and Trouble in Tahiti" ($132,726); and the recent British drama, "Master Class" ($251,883). In many instances, the deficits resulted despite substantial private grants. "When Hell Freezes Over," for example, lost an additional $240,000 in subsidies.
In an attempt to control future losses, this year's engagement of the American Ballet Theatre will be cut from four weeks to three, the Metropolitan Opera will go from two weeks to one, and the New York City Ballet has been dropped altogether, Stevens said.
Although the Center is operated as a nonprofit institution, it has usually managed to turn a small profit. Fiscal year 1981 showed the largest profit, $650,000, and fiscal year 1983 had a surplus of $117,000. "You win some, you lose some," said Stevens, who added that he was "optimistic" about the Center's long-range financial picture.
Now that Congress has relieved the Center of interest on the construction bonds, Stevens said he is able to proceed with an endowment drive; he revealed that the Center already has received pledges of nearly $1 million. He estimated that ticket sales for the Kennedy Center Honors Gala, to be held in early December, should net more than $800,000. During the next four years, the Center also will be able to draw on $4 million realized from the sale of the ANTA Theatre in New York -- money already earmarked for the formation of the American National Theater, under the direction of Peter Sellars.
Sellars' first prodution is scheduled for this spring and will be followed by a full slate of productions in the fall of 1985. By generating some of its own programing, the Center hopes to relieve its dependence on Broadway attractions.
Still, Stevens said he is also counting on two upcoming bookings to ease the financial pinch: the Royal Shakespeare Company's critically hailed two-play repertory of "Cyrano de Bergerac" and "Much Ado About Nothing" early next year; and a pre-Broadway revival of "South Pacific," starring Richard Kiley, now scheduled for this spring.