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CBT Finally Makes Plea

The company expects as much as $270,000 in budget shortfalls

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The Charleston Ballet Theatre made its first public pleas on Dec. 13 and 14 during performances of its annual Nutcracker shows.

And it came just in time.

Charles Patrick, board president, and Jill Eathorne Bahr, CBT's long-time choreographer, told the audience at Gaillard Auditorium that the dance company needs $180,000 by year's end. They did not say what would happen without the money, except that 2009 programs might be "curtailed."

In an interview with City Paper, Patrick said CBT anticipates a fund-raising shortfall of as much as $270,000. If $180,000 is not raised immediately, he said, CBT might not be able to pay employees. He also allowed for the possibility of having to cut dancers.

How many?

"At least two," he said.

Downsizing will likely be done by attrition, but Patrick did not rule out layoffs. Ballet Mistress Jessica Roan is planning to relocate with her husband at the end of the season. Another dancer is expected to retire. They probably won't be replaced, Patrick said, if $180,000 is not raised in the short-term.

"We need that to survive the next couple of months," he says.

Bahr told City Paper that one dancer left the company prior to the start of the season, reducing the corps ensemble to 16 (other dancers flesh out the CBT's numbers on a pay-per-performance basis). Bahr also clarified that the two departing dancers will not be replaced next year.

Bahr was reluctant to talk about what might happen to CBT dancers if $180,000 could not be raised by year's end. She would not comment on whether CBT will have to lay off dancers, but did not rule lay offs out either. She said time will tell, as will the generosity of CBT's supporters.

"As for layoffs, we'll know by the end of the season," she says.

Patrick says this weekend's plea for support yielded a pledge of $10,000 from a former board member and a $5,000 pledge from a board associate.

So far, $38,000 has been raised due to the "special plea," Bahr says. Early estimates of Nutcracker sales show a gross of as much as $120,000. On Dec. 16, a special brainstorming session was held to figure out new ways of boosting contributed income.

"We've already cut the budget to the bone," Patrick says.

As a result of that meeting, Bahr says, CBT's parents guild offered a $20,000 matching pledge. Another $20,000 pledge was promised by the CBT Guild, a separate fund-raising entity. Last week, CBT's dancers committed two days to calling the 4,000 people on CBT's telephone database.

"We're not there yet," Bahr says. "We still need dollars coming in."

What's certain is that CBT dancers will dance more. The Gaillard and Sottile Theatre cost too much. CBT's Black Box Theatre on King Street is cheaper but holds fewer people, so more performances would be necessary. Case in point is The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It was first performed in November, but more shows were added last weekend to meet demand.

The CBT is the last of Charleston's Big Three to go public with its financial woes. It is also the second of the city's largest performing arts groups to reveal its troubles during a performance at the Gaillard. The CSO did the same thing during the intermission of a Masterworks program on Nov. 15.

But CBT's crisis has been brewing for weeks. On Nov. 20, the company sent an e-mail warning that "An Empty Stage Cannot Be Our Future." The author wrote, " ... at this time and at this moment, we are asking for your support to simply maintain our 20-plus-year-old dance company's survival."

Additionally, on Dec. 6, Jill Eathorne Bahr wrote on her blog (www.cbtbahr.wordpress.com) of the need to raise $180,000: "The future of the ballet is contingent upon the meeting of this important goal," she wrote.

The CSO needs $1 million by the end of the season. Charleston Stage needs about $200,000. Each has pleaded its case to the public with special focus on major donors who have held on to their cash instead of giving it as they normally would. Since going public, the CSO and Charleston Stage have streamlined budgets and reported modest gains in fund-raising.

Like the CSO and Charleston Stage, the CBT has suffered from budgeting that assumed too much from an economy in deep recession. The dance company based its fiscal year on sponsorships that did not materialize, on contributions from reliable patrons that were not forthcoming, and on grants from charitable foundations that were smaller than expected.

Also like the CSO, CBT's biggest outlay is its artists. Its total expenditure was $1.7 million in the 2006-2007 fiscal year, according to the most recent tax documents. Of that amount, dancers cost $318,460. Compensation for "officers, directors, key employees" was $108,000 (Jill Bahr draws $60,000). And renting its King Street Black Box Theatre cost $70,299.

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