Philadelphia's Theatre Alliance Takes a Final Bow

Photo Source: Tony Fischer

After more than two decades dedicated to developing the theater community and its audiences in Philadelphia, the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia declares, "Mission accomplished." The alliance has announced its plans to discontinue operations at the end of its fiscal year on June 30.

Rather than compete for arts funding with the same theaters and artists it was created to serve, the nonprofit group's 25-member board of directors voted April 5 to turn over its responsibilities and support for theater in the region to other organizations, according to a memo released to members April 11. Margie Salvante, the Theatre Alliance's executive director since 2007, has also announced her resignation, effective June 30.

"We're trying very hard to avoid saying we're calling it quits," Salvante told Back Stage, "and instead we're declaring victory. We want very much to reassure the public at large that theater in Philadelphia is thriving as it never has before."

Philadelphia has 51 professional stages, the most in the city's history, and these area theaters employ more than 1,000 people, from actors, directors, and producers to costume, sound, lighting, and scenic designers, box-office personnel, and more. The region has nearly 1,000 Actors' Equity members.

This positive trend -- matched with a growing online community and more competitors moving into the market -- led the alliance to reconsider its role and the viability of its business model. A thriving theater scene was the goal when the alliance was formed in 1990. It is now a reality, and the alliance's job is done.

"So many arts organizations around the country are afraid of throwing in the towel or calling it quits that they continue to hang on well past their needs being met," Salvante said. "The Theatre Alliance board is trying to make a bold step."

While the name may fade, many of the Theatre Alliance's programs will live on. The Walnut Street Theatre will take over the alliance's annual combined auditions program, through which performers are able to audition for 30 or more artistic directors at one time. (The 2012 auditions will be held as planned on April 30.) The Wilma Theater will oversee the Tessitura Project, a ticketing system that 10 theaters use as their box-office program. The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance -- which represents all of the arts in the area, including theater -- is considering taking on some of the Theatre Alliance's membership services and audience development program, including online theater listings. The fate of the annual Barrymore Awards is undecided, but Salvante promises that the awards will continue to honor excellence in theater.

Tom Kaiden, president of the Cultural Alliance, told Back Stage that tough economic times have made all cultural and service organizations re-examine their missions and re-evaluate the most effective ways to impact their communities. "I think that means ensuring that we're delivering on the essence of our mission as efficiently as we can," Kaiden said. "In some cases, that's going to lead to consolidation and collaboration, and in the long run that's a healthy thing for the sector, as long as we stay really focused on the critical role that culture plays in making for vibrant communities."