By Bill Hirschman
The Maltz Jupiter Theatre on Monday publically kicked off a five-year campaign to raise $25 million to $30 million for a massive construction expansion to enable it to expand its offerings.
The project’s headline facet would create a second smaller theater where more risky plays and new works can be produced.
The new space would feed Producing Artistic Director and Chief Executive Andrew Kato’s long-yearned-for desire to perform works that would stretch the theater, its artists and its audience — with an eye toward attracting younger patrons.
Additionally, the mainstage will be made ten feet deeper and six feet wider on either side, allowing the theater to qualify for pre-Broadway and national tours. A third-floor rehearsal studio will provide actors with a view, and residents will have the opportunity to see actors working and rehearsing. The Goldner Conservatory of Performing Arts will double in size and ability to serve more students.
But the second space will allow for adding three more shows including other more challenging fare that Kato sees as essential to building a national reputation as a major regional theater.
“At a certain point to be a legitimate regional theater you have to be kind of like ‘This isn’t summer stock; we’re a regional theater and we’re going to take the chance.’ It will be strategic, but …. we’re moving into a direction where we’re going to be a little more daring…. I think when we do it, people are going to go, ‘Oh my God, this is great!’ I really do.”
“Our goal is to become one of the great professional regional theaters in the country. We believe the Maltz Jupiter Theatre can not only be the best regional theater in Florida, but one of the best regional theaters in the nation,” said Kato.
The Maltz staff has been quietly raising funds from board members and regular donors with about $4 million pledged already, Kato said. The theater had been hoping to receive $15 million as part of a proposed penny sales tax in Palm Beach County this fall, but county officials rejected it. Still, his board decided to go ahead and try to raise the money from patrons.
The theater leaders plan to raise funds over the next two years and break ground on the expansion at the end of the 2017/18 season. Construction is slated to be completed in phases by November 2019, with the staff and conservatory to continue operating offsite during the renovations as it did during the last project two cears ago.
In that effort, the theater expanded with a $2.5 million campaign that resulted in the renovation and expansion of its second floor with event space and office space, and added seats in a premium skybox area.
Architectural plans for new undertaking were approved by the Jupiter Town Council in October to double the square footage of the building without affecting the 617-seat audience chamber’s intimacy.
Besides the mainstage shows, the Maltz has a dizzying roster of auxiliary programs including concerts, special events and conservatory productions. But it’s the regular season slates that have helped the Maltz buck a nation-wide trend of dwindling season subscriptions. This summer, the theater posted a record-setting 7,720 subscriptions and last season filled about 100,000 seats overall.
Arguably the largest non-profit theater in the state, it consistently wins Carbonell Awards for excellence. Although famous in the region for generous donors providing $2.5 million of its enviable $6.3 million operating budget, it’s also famous for its emphasis on strategic planning worthy of a corporation. The theater is known for its ability to use those resources thriftily, such as having a comparatively small staff of about two dozen full-time employees and a dozen part-time employees, although about 100 people are employed during the production season.
The announcement comes on the cusp of the company’s 12th season that Kato has carefully constructed. The nature of the new season continues to gently push at the comfort level of some long-time supporters with plays recently seen on Broadway while assuaging them with warhorse titles emblematic of the theater – but pledging a fresh vision for those weary of “that again.”
The lineup is:
—Peter Morgan’s The Audience (Oct. 23 – Nov. 6) traces 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s weekly meetings with Prime Ministers from Churchill to Cameron.
—Me and My Girl (Nov. 29 – Dec. 18) is a 1986 Tony-winning riff on 1930s British music hall shows. In it, a charming street Cockney learns he is an heir to royalty. The collision of cultures features peppy music and dance.
—The Producers (Jan. 10 – 29) the irreverent satire of show business held the Tony winner record until Hamilton this year.
—Disgraced (Feb. 12 – 26) This Broadway hit from 2012 is a harrowing Pulitzer-winning look at prejudice barely buried in polite sophisticated society. Four friends – an American-born Muslim-raised attorney married to a white artist, and a Jewish art dealer married to a black lawyer — find their dinner party sinking into conflict.
—Gypsy (March 21 – April 9) is arguably one of the finest musicals ever written and will be directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge.
The Maltz is designed as a teamwork operation, but Kato is also clearly the leader with a hands-on approach to not just the balance sheet but in gently but firmly collaborating on the artistic efforts akin to producers like David Merrick and Cameron Mackintosh.
Still, among his key jobs is picking the season. He doesn’t consciously choose a unifying theme like some other theaters. He prefers offering an obvious variety of genres to his patrons.
“I only ever produce things that I love,” he said last month above the din in the company’s new scene construction shop in West Palm Beach. “But also I don’t produce the Andrew Kato season because that would be very different.” For instance, he is eager to produce the Stephen Sondheim musical about a serial killer barber, Sweeney Todd, and says that may happen someday, but his “advisors” have strongly recommended against it right now.
He’s okay with that — for a little while. “I think the number one rule of producing is ‘know your audience’ and I’m very attuned to what our audience is, but I also have a responsibility to stretch that, understanding that you have to challenge them from time to time.”
So he mixes comfort food shows like Me and My Girl with the lacerating Disgraced. “I happen to adore musical theatre. But I get more excited, frankly, about the plays. Even when I go to see them on Broadway, I usually enjoy myself more at a play than at a musical (because) I’m a little bit more judgmental of because it my bailiwick, it’s my wheelhouse.”
So when the Maltz does musicals, Kato’s hallmark is to encourage directors to reinvent the old reliable titles. For instance, director Dodge and actress Vicki Lewis delivered a thoroughly satisfying but reimagined version of Hello, Dolly! in 2012.
“We’re not attempting to recreate the Broadway version. We never do that anyway with our musicals. Just because you’ve seen the show before, it’s our responsibility and our pleasure to reinvent the musical within certain guidelines. You have to honor it to a certain extent, but that’s the fun of it. You don’t want to duplicate.”
On the other hand, you can’t frustrate audiences who expect to see certain iconic moments and tableaus. That balance will be a challenge when the Maltz mounts the Mel Brooks musical The Producers.
The grandfather of works like Spamalot and The Book of Mormon, The Producers was “one of the first musicals to be so outrageous, especially coming after 9/11 and so much of the sadness and discord within our country. Suddenly you have this unadulterated no holds barred musical where you’re asking should I be laughing or not,” Kato said.
The key with good directors in such cases is “they are all looking for a sense of truth within that piece. The audience will be with you if you find the truth in that piece.” In Dolly, the truth was depicting a widow in late middle-aged reawakening her life.
Kato knows not everyone will like every title, but the secret to building subscriptions is a track record that instills trust in the quality of the productions, even when the patrons aren’t familiar with the show.
“They know that it’s going to be different, it’s going to be excellent, it’s going to be fresh, so sign up, come with us on our journey,” he said.
But even in artistic choices such as choosing a season, the corporate planner is at work. For instance, the desire to try riskier fare is consciously balanced out by programming “an antidote” musical that is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.
The Maltz even plans long-term for a fiscal disaster. “For me, over my last 11 years, it’s about creating infrastructure. It’s about making sure that a theater company is able to sustain a loss. You want to have everything in place so that an unanticipated blow doesn’t shut you down,” he said.
Kato and much of the Maltz family may be working hard to mount this season’s productions, but they are always thinking simultaneously about the future. That’s not hype. Kato has the roster of mainstage shows for the next ten seasons roughed out on his smartphone.
For more information about the theater’s upcoming shows and subscription options, visit www.jupitertheatre.org or call the box office at (561) 575-2223. For group sales, contact Shannon Murphy at (561) 972-6117.