When the news broke on June 6 that Arizona Jewish Theatre Company was closing after 24 seasons, it was disappointing, but not surprising.
"Since 2008, our revenue has steadily and rapidly declined," read the email blast that was sent to AJTC subscribers and supporters. "Government and corporate support has virtually disappeared, individual contributions are down and, with all of our moving around, our audiences have dwindled. So we're closing up shop." AJTC will close at the end of its youth theater camp on July 13.
The organization eked through the 2011-12 season due in large part to a December 2011 emergency fundraising campaign that raised more than $29,000. But when founder and producing director Janet Arnold looked ahead to the 2012-13 season, the forecast was not good.
While ticket sales had gone up when AJTC moved from Paradise Valley Community College to Phoenix College in 2010, they dropped significantly between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. Arnold says some of the reasons for this include what some patrons considered an unreasonably long walk between the parking lot and the theater, and shortcomings in the theater layout, including a lack of handrailings and steep stairs.
Funding was also going to be a problem: AJTC relied heavily on donations and grants from corporations and government organizations. As Arnold explains it, APS and SRP, two longtime corporate donors, declined to give AJTC money for the next season. Wells Fargo, another regular contributor, hadn't yet told AJTC if it would donate. The Phoenix Arts Commission, which had given AJTC money in the past, was now requiring AJTC to perform a $3,000 financial review in order to secure a donation of $2,000.
"There was the fear that we just wouldn't get the numbers (of tickets sold) that we needed," Arnold says, "and I didn't see any avenues of money that could come in. I couldn't do this anymore. It just seemed to me that it was time."
For Arnold, who founded AJTC, directed and acted in its productions and kept it going through years of financial difficulties, the end is incredibly difficult.
"It's hard. I'd put this up against a divorce or a death any day," she says.
And though AJTC's days are numbered, its (and Arnold's) financial problems are not. AJTC has about $70,000 in debt that Arnold is personally responsible for despite the demise of the organization.
"There is no special dispensation for a nonprofit," she explains. "Somebody has to be responsible, and I'm the one who signs the checks and the credit card slips, so it's me." In the June 6 email blast, Arnold asked for tax-deductible donations to help pay off the debt.
As for Arnold herself, she is looking for work for her post-AJTC life. "Psychologically, emotionally, I'm not ready to retire," she says. "I have no bucket list I need to get to. I like to work."
She would love to act and/or direct, and she is talking with the Arizona Jewish Historical Society about planning cultural programming for its Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center.
As Arnold packs up the office she has worked in for so many years, every poster, photograph and script represents a memory. She mentions a snapshot from "Milk and Honey," a musical about the creation of the state of Israel that AJTC produced in its second season.
"In the small theater at the Herberger Theater Center, we had a cast of 25, an orchestra of 12, a live sheep and a live goat," Arnold says. "I look at this picture and think that it's amazing what you can do when you don't know you can't do it. I just can't believe we did that. I'd never try anything like that today. And it worked," Arnold says.
"There are absolutely wonderful memories, and it's going to take me a little bit of time to be able to enjoy those as much as I would like to. It's just a little painful, still."
To donate to Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, visit azjewishtheatre.org.