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September 21, 2014 at 8:29 PM

Balagan Theatre out of business

Seattle Times theater critic Misha Berson writes:

Balagan Theatre announced Friday that, due to financial concerns, it will shut down permanently.

“This is not a decision that the board took lightly,” said board president Jim Griffin, in a company press release. “When viewing the big picture of our overall financial health, this was a difficult conclusion, but ultimately a responsible fiscal action to take.”

The press statement offered no details about the extent of the eight-year-old, nonprofit Seattle theater troupe’s fiscal difficulties, but did state that being unable to meet the projected costs of continuing to produce after losing its recent home, The Erickson Theatre, was a big factor, and that “the board is still working out how to address creditors.”

The move was surprising to even those close to the company, including Balagan  founder and longtime producer Jake Groshong and previous artistic director Louis Hobson.  The two had left their administrative posts this summer to form a for-profit entity, Indie Theatricals, which was set to co-produce two world premiere musicals in Balagan’s six-show, 2014-15 season:  “Make Me Bad” and “Citizen Ruth.” Hobson says he was “blindsided” by the closure, but still hopes to mount the shows in Seattle.

Balagan started out presenting a mixed menu of modern and classical works in the basement of a Capitol Hill multi-use building on East Pike Street. In 2011, the group signed an agreement with Seattle Central Community College to manage and perform in the 133-seat Erickson Theatre on Harvard Avenue. Since then, Balagan has attracted fans, rave reviews and local awards for dynamic versions of such popular modern musicals as  “Spring Awakening,” “Avenue Q” and “Les Miserables” at the Erickson. And it has branched out to present “Jerry Springer, the Musical” at the Moore Theatre and “Ernest Shackleton Loves Me” at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Balagan moved out of the Erickson recently, after Seattle Central reclaimed the theater for its own programming.

However, the troupe announced it would continue with a six-show, 2014-15 season staged at various other venues.  The season opened in August with “Urinetown,” co-produced with  Seattle Musical Theatre in Magnuson Park.

Update, Sept. 23:

When contacted by The Seattle Times, Griffin said that, so far, he had few hard  details about the extent of the 8-year-old nonprofit Seattle theater troupe’s fiscal difficulties.

“The board realized that we had an overwhelming amount of debt, which was larger than the money raised and generated through ticket sales last year,” he said.  “It was enough debt that we could not ethically continue to operate the business as usual and promise to pay the [small office staff].”

Griffin said the seven-member board had recently reviewed Balagan’s books  and was stunned by the  shortfall.

Though he doesn’t know yet if advance ticket and subscription purchases can be refunded, Griffin said Balagan is “moving forward with the dissolution,” and “part of this process will be consideration for our subscribers.”


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