Imagine you’re running one of the largest, most successful regional theaters in the country. Imagine you’ve planned to implement a massive, multimillion-dollar renovation of your building in stages over several years. Imagine planning your upcoming season around all of that.
Then imagine getting slammed by the deadliest, most economically crippling pandemic to hit the world in over a century.
That has been the plight of Andrew Kato, producing artistic director and chief executive of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, and his team. But he shrugs it off with characteristic aplomb.
“I find that the hardest part of it has been the unknown and not being able to manage to anything finite,” Mr. Kato said. For somebody who’s used to working towards an end goal, it’s been frustrating.”
Picture of Andrew Kato
The financial hole left by the pandemic has been a deep one, he conceded.
“We didn’t get to finish the run of ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,'” Mr. Kato said. “That shut down before we had our first preview. It cost $570,000 to mount that show. On top of that, we have about $620,000 worth of deferred ticket revenue. That means we owe people a show or their money back. But there are millions more in lost revenue because we weren’t able to run the show.”
Luckily, he added, the theater has received two Paycheck Protection Program loans and is the beneficiary of an endowment, both of which have helped sustain it through this dark time. Hoped-for funds from the Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program are on the horizon. However, they have yet to find their way to the theater due to a perception on the SBA’s part that capital expended on the buildout precludes immediate eligibility for money that would go to paying staff and keeping the theater’s operations going.
“As a result of that, we are not in the first two grant periods,” Mr. Kato said. “So we run the risk that the money might be gone before we’re able to apply for it.”
Conversely, according to Broadway News (an online guide to the state of the Great White Way), eligible Broadway theaters stand to receive up to $10 million each from the SBA to cover expenses such as payroll costs, rent, mortgage payments, utilities, and personal protective equipment. Regional theaters, in the meantime, must stand in line behind them.
Despite everything Mr. Kato has seen the last year, he had an opportunity for some deep reflection on how his theater has succeeded and what needs some work.
“We’ve taken the time to have more committee meetings, doing strategic planning and trying to determine just what our future will be,” he said. “I’ve tried to slow my life down, see the forest through the trees and enjoy life a little.”
Mr. Kato added the COVID-19 crisis forced him to trim his staff of 36 down to 13, which has taken over temporary offices about a mile or so from where the Maltz Jupiter Theatre is undergoing its transformation.
“That was very painful because you’re affecting people’s lives,” he said. “It was a little like ‘Sophie’s Choice.’ I’m proud to say the people who were furloughed retained their health insurance for a long time. And by the way, I have gotten vaccinated. Just about everyone on our staff has either gotten their first shot or is scheduled to get one. But in the end, I kept those staffers I thought would be capable of doing multiple jobs — especially in terms of staying in touch with our donors, putting out marketing materials, and keeping the business moving forward.”
As for subscribers, at the theater’s height, it had 8,200 of them. Currently, that number stands at about 5,200. But Mr. Kato believes he’ll get many of them back.
“I’m sure many of those people needed the money for other things,” he said. “Things were so uncertain at the outset of the pandemic. I’m confident we’ll see many subscribers return once they learn of our reopening.”
While other area theaters branched out by doing online play readings, discussions, and interviews via Zoom, Mr. Kato said his team had spent that time focusing on transforming the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. They were changing the theater from its current size to one capable of serving as both a venue for bold, new productions and a tryout house for Broadway-bound shows.
The original concept of the buildout was arranged in three phases. The first was completed last summer, giving the theater a redesigned parking lot, new marquees, and electrical infrastructure to support the new 30,000-square-foot addition to the building. The next phase, which now encompasses both the original second and third phases, will include numerous upgrades to the current facilities. A Broadway-scale stage, an expanded orchestra pit, a state-of-the-art production center, a second 199-seat theatre, a new dining experience, and an enlarged version of the Goldner Conservatory of Performing Arts. The final price tag: $42 million.
The Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s expansion will include this three-story wing with a rehearsal space, restaurant and conservatory along the west side of the building. COURTESY RENDERING.
Footage of construction at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre build-out with cranes, concrete, and scuba divers. (Video courtesy of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre)
“We’ll reopen before all of the upgrades are complete,” Mr. Kato said. “The entire project should take several more years to finish.”
In the meantime, the upcoming season has been primarily determined. First up is “Murder on the Orient Express,” an Agatha Christie whodunnit, followed by the musicals “Sweet Charity” and “Jersey Boys.” Paul Rudnick’s comedy “I Hate Hamlet” is next, and the season concludes with the musical “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” Mr. Kato said between 20-40 percent of his shows are cast locally with professional South Florida actors and will hold to that, despite financial and procedural challenges due to COVID-19.
“Currently, Actors Equity Association has put somewhat onerous limitations on in-person auditions, so I don’t know what that’s going to look like,” Mr. Kato said. “Maybe some of them will lift as we see how New York casting sessions resume for Broadway productions.”
Regardless, he added, mounting a new season while mounting an enormous renovation to his theater resembles putting together a big, multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.
“And every decision made affects the timeline,” he said. “But we’re not holding back on anything. The whole purpose of the buildout is to help us grow. So in the end, our shows will be even more impressive than in the past.”