Three months after it cut shows to balance funding shortfalls, St. Paul’s Park Square Theatre has cut the position of artistic director.
Flordelino Lagundino’s job was eliminated at a board meeting Jan. 13. He started Aug. 1, 2018, moving here from New York.
Last fall, Lagundino explained the decision to close this winter and spring, eliminating musicals “Evita” and “Miss You Like Hell,” as a response to both funding shortfalls from major donors and disappointing ticket sales for two shows he programmed — “Aubergine” and “The Rocky Horror Show.”
Together, that added up to about $425,000. But, as theater officials figure out a future for the St. Paul institution, that wasn’t enough.
“During the second half of 2019, we were exploring many different options related to how to sustain the theater and meet the demographic changes in audiences and the financial challenges we’re facing,” said Paul Mattessich, president of Park Square’s board. “The elimination of the position came out of that process.”
For “at least two years,” Park Square will be in the unusual position of being an arts organization without a full-time artistic leader, Mattessich said. Board members plan to arrive at a solution this weekend at a retreat, he said. The plan is to create an “artistic committee” — made up of Park Square staffers and Twin Cities theater artists — that will be involved in season planning (which Lagundino had already begun), working with collaborators and overseeing productions.
“We’re going to determine how best to staff that, whether there’s an existing staff person who can pick up part of it, or whether we can contract for that,” said Mattessich, who acknowledged that the theater has found “keeping two stages up and running has been a challenge.”
Park Square ran a deficit of $411,563 in 2017 and $178,998 in 2016, according to tax records.
As the theater moves forward, auditions planned for this weekend will take place. Mattessich also said there are no plans to significantly reduce the roughly $3 million budget and that Park Square will continue to operate two stages. The theater has been in talks with SteppingStone Theatre for Youth about a partnership. Mattessich said long-term plans also are on the agenda for the board retreat.
“We’ll be thinking about at least the next few years,” he said, adding that meetings with a nonprofit consultant has him feeling “pretty optimistic about the work we do.”
The theater’s main stage, dark since “Pride and Prejudice” closed Dec. 22, next sees a remount of “Marie and Rosetta,” beginning April 15.
Lagundino could not be reached for comment.
“I’m sad both on behalf of [Lagundino] and the theater that there hasn’t been a marriage that can be sustained,” said retired artistic director Richard Cook, who built Park Square over four decades. “That happens to a lot of organizations, especially for the first replacement after a founder or longtime leader.”
Some theaters do not survive similar transitions. But Cook believes that Park Square will find its footing.
“I don’t predict any disruption in artistic production, and I would rather them not go dead, even if it’s a thoughtful dead, because you lose contact with the community when you’re dark for a long period,” Cook said.
He also believes the first season Lagundino programmed, which was approved by the board, was a stretch for the organization, both artistically and financially. And there were bruised feelings among artists and subscribers after shows were scotched.
A fan of the theater before he joined the board six years ago, Mattessich said, “It’s obviously tough for many theaters right now because of the changing demographics and what people are looking for, but I’m really optimistic.”