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March 28, 2024

‘Not merely survival’: Torrington’s Warner Theatre partners with The Bushnell to reduce deficit

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED A Connecticut Forum event at Hartford's Bushnell.

The Warner Theatre in Torrington has partnered with a larger performing arts center, The Bushnell in Hartford, in order to survive, officials said.

“Immediate action is needed in order to reduce – and ultimately eliminate – an annual operating deficit,” said Stephanie Fried, co-interim executive director of the Warner Theatre, “not to mention a relatively (by industry standards) small endowment and deferred capital expenses in the millions.”

Under a memorandum of understanding, Fried, who is The Bushnell’s chief operating officer and vice president of marketing, and Patrick Langevin, The Bushnell’s vice president of programming, are serving as co-interim executive directors of the Warner through the end of June.

Brian Mattiello, chairman of the Warner’s board of directors, informed patrons that the two organizations were “in the process of formalizing a longer-term collaborative alliance” on Wednesday.

“The current financial and operating position of the Warner Theatre has necessitated changes, including staffing and programming, to ensure the organization’s long-term viability,” Mattiello said.

The current memorandum of understanding expires at the end of June. After that, the organizations anticipate the long-term agreement to commence.

Fried said she and Langevin will become co-executive directors of the Warner, while retaining their titles at The Bushnell.

The two organizations will share resources “in order to right-size the Warner’s operations and finances” and to “maximize the opportunities provided by scale” by leveraging each other’s strengths, she said.

The Warner will compensate The Bushnell for its work, she said. However, the cost of receiving The Bushnell’s support is a “much lower cost than seeking out and hiring that support themselves.”

The Bushnell will not assume any debts or expenses of the Warner. 

Fried said The Bushnell will also benefit from the partnership by increasing its scale.

“The creation of scale benefits us both, and the ability to develop our acumen and experience here is a primary benefit of the relationship,” Fried said. “Additionally, there are many others including: opportunities to create and produce new content at the Warner as well as the potential for a stronger voice for performing arts venues as we advocate for support.”

The alliance comes as Connecticut theaters continue to face challenges following the pandemic, which had a detrimental impact on the industry. Many theaters closed for months or even more than a year during the worst of the pandemic, and have struggled to return to pre-pandemic attendance levels and ticket sales. 

The Bushnell, which is a 3,707-seat venue, is known nationally for its shows, concerts and for hosting The Connecticut Forum, which attracts high-profile speakers, including recently Liz Cheney.

In fiscal year 2023, The Bushnell recorded a $453,048 surplus on $26.9 million in revenue with total assets of $75.7 million. In fiscal 2022, The Bushnell reported a $3.9 million deficit on $18.3 million in net revenues, with total assets of $79.9 million, according to its annual report.

According to its most recently available 990 tax form, the 1,772-seat Warner Theater in fiscal 2022 reported a $383,282 surplus on $3.8 million in revenue with total assets of $10.9 million. In fiscal 2021, Warner reported a $519,180 surplus on $1.9 million in revenues, with total assets of $10.2 million, according to its tax filing.

Mattiello, in his letter, said the organizations believe the partnership will lead to long-term sustainability.

“This vision for the Warner is not merely survival; it is a thriving future characterized by financial resilience, a vibrant facility, an unwavering commitment to community enrichment and securing the legacy of this historic institution for generations to come,” he said.

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