West Hartford's Playhouse on Park Celebrates Decade With Diverse Portfolio

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Who starts a theater company during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression?

"Yeah, there was that," says Tracy Flater, referring to the far-from-perfect economic climate 10 years ago.

Flater is one of the three founders and is the executive director of Playhouse on Park, the resilient little professional theater company on Park Road in West Hartford. But despite its shaky financial beginnings, this June the performance center will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary debt-free and even boasting a surplus from last season.

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Its journey from dubious arts enterprise to a solvent-and-stable facility illustrates the necessity for institutional nimbleness, the importance of reserves and the need for a varied performance portfolio.

Ten years ago, Flater, co-Artistic Director Sean Harris and co-Artistic Director Darlene Zoller were looking at possible spaces to present dance and theater and were considering a potential location in Collinsville. When that plan fizzled, another opportunity opened up with the closing of the Park Road Playhouse, which previously served as a venue for community theater productions.

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With lease in hand, a mere $3,000 investment and lots of pro bono help, they opened in fall 2009 with an ambitious season of theater and dance. But they faced setbacks from the start when they discovered lighting equipment missing, financial support from a bank falling through and delays in getting its nonprofit status.

Over three seasons, the company generated $300,000 in debt. As they went into the fourth season the leadership team had a "come-to-Jesus" moment, says Flater, who was previously director of off-campus programs and facilities for The Hartt School community division at the University of Hartford.

That's when they decided "to be here or not β€” and we stopped walking around saying, 'We might close.' We had to make the decision that we're here for the long haul," Flater said.

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