Theater companies decide to share scripts

Richmond Shakespeare at Agecroft Hall. (Photo by Bruce Parker)

Richmond Shakespeare at Agecroft Hall. (Photo by Bruce Parker)

To merge or not to merge? That was the question.

Richmond Shakespeare and Henley Street Theatre, two local theater companies, struck a deal last month to combine their management operations over the next two years.

For now, both organizations will keep their names and independent boards of directors, but they’ll produce a joint 2013-14 season of Shakespearean plays and contemporary dramas.

Jacquie O’Connor

Jacquie O’Connor

The merger will allow the two companies to share fundraising money instead of competing for it, said Jacquie O’Connor, managing director for the six-year-old Henley Street Theatre.

“It’s the right move for us artistically and on the management end,” O’Connor said. “The Richmond community is rich with arts, but the patron base hasn’t caught up to it. Now we won’t be two companies vying for the same dollar.”

Jan Powell

Jan Powell

O’Connor said the troupes would launch a capital campaign Aug. 1. She said the goal is to raise $250,000 over three years.

The announcement comes less than a year after the Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV merged to form the Virginia Repertory Theatre. They then set off on a $14 million capital campaign.

Before the most recent merger, each troupe brought in between $70,000 and $80,000 in donations annually, O’Connor said. Richmond Shakespeare brought in $141,000 in revenue in 2010 and Henley Street generated $70,000 in 2011, according to the most recent data available. The companies will share a combined operating budget of about $350,000. O’Connor said the two groups will most likely form one entity with one name by the end of the two year mark.

Jan Powell, artistic director for Richmond Shakespeare, said the merger would give the 27-year-old company the management structure it previously lacked.

“It’s been very difficult to grow the organization,” Powell said. “Financial stability has been a challenge. Marketing has been a challenge. This merger is going to give us the support structure we need to move forward.”

Henley Street and Richmond Shakespeare each produce five shows a year. Neither one has a permanent theater building, but they’ve both performed at Richmond CenterStage.  Richmond Shakespeare also contributes to the annual Richmond Shakespeare festival at Agecroft Hall.

Both organizations currently have fewer than five full time employees, but work with a rotating cast of about 80 actors and directors.  O’Connor said Henley Street Theatre plans to hire two to three new employees to help with the administrative side of both operations.

Richmond Shakespeare and Henley Street Theatre worked together for the first time in 2010.

They opened talks about a potential merger in November, after Henley Street Theatre’s artistic director stepped down.

“That was kind of an ‘aha’ moment for us,” O’Connor said. “We said, ‘You need a managing director, we need an artistic director, let’s talk.’”

Powell said the merger should help shore up support for both groups.

“We’re building a theater organization that’s grounded in the classics but will offer a broad scope of dramatic work,” Powell said. “It’s going to be a tremendous value to Richmond.”

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What a spectacular photograph!