By Zach Hagadone
The Panida Theater hosted its annual membership meeting and ice cream social Nov. 23, though this year the gathering was more social than meeting — a change that Panida Executive Director Patricia Walker said was meant to facilitate more one-on-one conversation to gather input from patrons.
Attendees, board members and theater staff mingled over cake and ice cream in the lobby of the Little Theater, celebrating the theater’s 92nd birthday and pausing to look at financial reports and other documents on display around the room.
The big takeaway: “It’s a tough balancing act with an extremely small staff. The goal is to have a balanced budget and with all the financial concerns, ending our fiscal year nearly balanced is cause for celebration,” Panida Executive Director Patricia Walker told the Reader in an email. “This next year may not be as rosy. The loss of fundraising income at the final two nights of the Festival and the loss of income from the road construction have made our fall a challenge.”
According to the theater’s profit and loss report, gross profit from August 2018-July 2019 amounted to $181,451.88 with total expenditures of $182,263.99 for a net loss of $812.11. That was buffered slightly by $89.45 in other income, bringing the final figure to $722.66.
The five biggest revenue generators at the theater are rentals, amounting to 21% of revenue; followed by movie ticket sales at 20%; beer and wine concessions at 13%; general concessions with 11%; and donations and contributions coming in at 9%.
Far and away, the biggest expenditures are salares, taxes and benefits ($111,434.44) followed by utilities ($16,677.27) and insurance ($10,347).
Given these figures, the Panida reported it needs to bring in $3,505 per weekend to cover its expenses. Yet, film distributors take between 35% and 70% of ticket revenue, meaning the theater regularly brings in less than $4 per ticket and requires more than 200 tickets per screening to break even.
Dealing with distributors has been one of the biggest challenges facing the theater.
“We can sometimes collaborate with a nonprofit bringing in a film when they get special rights to show them and that can avoid some fees, but we cannot get every movie we request,” Walker wrote. “Many man hours go into trying to secure films. We check into every request made to us but results vary. Those fees go directly to the distributor, though, and don’t cover the expenses of the theater. It is easy to see what is needed when a movie ticket is $8-$7 and we pay a distributor such a large portion of that.”
All of that is not to mention the changes to film viewership itself — driven entirely by technology.
“People now have access to large screens in their homes and, where there used to be a window when a movie was released before it was available to the public and you could get new films in for first or second runs easily, now they go very quickly to VOD (video on demand),” Walker wrote. “The expanded role of streaming services has changed and had an effect on our ability to get movies and our ability to draw crowds large enough to pay for the expenses. … [T]he competition is fierce.”
The other major challenges facing the theater are structural and staffing related. Chief among them is the need for a new roof at the Little Theater, which has suffered water damage due to lack of drainage.
“We have re-sealed it and patched, but it needs a new roof and new configuration,” according to Walker. “The budget has not been adequate to take on that project but the damage when it leaks is concerning.”
Panida operators would also like to hire a house manager — a position that was eliminated due to budget constraints, but which is sorely missed as more movie times, events and usage of the Little Theater have strained the ability of current staff and volunteers to keep up.
Looking forward, a membership drive is set to begin in January 2020 and Walker wrote that the theater is eager to fill positions on a number of committees.
“The fact we still remain the heart of the community when they have so many other choices is up to all of us to keep that heart beating,” Walker wrote. “I’m grateful for a very weary but extremity talented staff, a working and contributing board of directors, a dedicated and amazing core of volunteers, and a community of patrons who stop me many times every week to tell me how much they love the Panida and how much they appreciate how much we have going on.”
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