FORT WORTH -- Performing Arts Fort Worth and Casa Mañana are ending a 12-year arrangement in which the organizations shared revenue from touring Broadway shows that they co-presented at Bass Performance Hall.
Beginning next season, Performing Arts Fort Worth, the main operator of Bass Hall, will keep all proceeds from touring productions, such as the current Fiddler on the Roof, instead of splitting them with the smaller organization.
Performing Arts Fort Worth reported assets of about $80 million in its most recently available financial statement, dated 2007.
Casa's reported net assets for that year were $1.6 million.
The new arrangement raises questions about Casa Mañana's identity and financial future.
"The principal difference in the new relationship is that Performing Arts Fort Worth will now assume the lead role of presenting Broadway touring product at Bass Hall, while Casa Mañana will focus on producing Broadway shows at Casa Mañana Theatre," Dione Kennedy, Performing Arts Fort Worth's president and CEO, said in a statement.
The key to understanding the arrangement is in the words producing and presenting.
A producer creates an entire show, essentially from scratch -- from hiring the actors to painting the sets.
A presenter takes a show that someone else has created and "presents" it at a selected venue and sells tickets for it.
Kennedy characterized the change as "transparent."
"Performing Arts Fort Worth will also be working jointly with Casa Mañana to present a Casa-produced Broadway show at Bass Hall next season," she wrote.
The organizations "have jointly created two 2010-2011 Broadway seasons across both venues that will allow patrons to experience the best of Broadway tours with the best of Casa-produced Broadway shows," Kennedy wrote.
Casa's executive director downplayed the shift's significance.
"Yes, there will be some changes in the partnership between Casa Mañana and Bass Hall," Wally Jones, Casa Mañana's president and executive director, said in a statement. "In the past Casa has been the presenter of record. [In the future] we will partner on produced shows at Bass Hall and we will send out a joint season that offers more shows at Casa Mañana, as well as the season at Bass Hall."
Neither Jones nor Kennedy would elaborate.
Immediate effect on Casa
Casa Mañana relied on the revenue derived from the Bass Hall partnership in two ways, according to Denton Yockey, Casa's former president and executive producer.
"One, Casa's portion of the net proceeds went to substantially offset its annual general and administrative expense," Yockey wrote in an e-mail.
"And two, Casa used the gross box office receipts from the Bass Hall productions as its cash flow and working capital. Casa will have to replace these or eliminate or reduce its need for both of them."
Todd Hart, former associate producer with Casa and current executive producer with Theatre Arlington, confirmed that, during an average season, Casa might net $60,000 to $100,000 for a single co-presentation with Bass Hall of a Broadway show. Thus, co-presenting six or seven shows might yield Casa annual revenue of $500,000 to $700,000.
A person familiar with the financial relationship between Casa and Bass Hall confirmed that Casa could lose $3.5 million a year under the new arrangement.
"That is raw cash flow money that will no longer be running through Casa's books," the person said. "Without that kind of cash running through your books, you have less money to play with, less ability to maneuver around, and you just have to run a tighter ship by deciding which bill to pay.
"Potentially, Casa goes from a $9.5 million organization to a $6 million organization."
Casa's new challenges
Casa Mañana was in part the brainchild of Amon G. Carter Sr., owner of the Star-Telegram and an avid promoter of Fort Worth.
The theater opened in 1936 as part of the Frontier Texas Centennial, an in-your-face competition with Dallas' official state centennial exposition.
Casa Mañana was built in a cow pasture with the world's biggest revolving stage, where Broadway showman Billy Rose produced the Frontier Follies starring Paul Whiteman and burlesque queen Sally Rand.
Shows continued at the theater for a few years, but it was closed as World War II approached.
Casa reopened in 1958 as a full theater complex, topped by an iconic aluminum-sheathed dome, devoted to Broadway musicals presented on a round stage. Casa went on to produce its own shows, often headlined by stars such as Ruta Lee who became local favorites.
The partnership with Performing Arts Fort Worth in 1998 largely changed that focus.
Then, in 2003-04, under Yockey's leadership, Casa returned to its roots by producing a series in the dome. At the same time, the old theater was renovated, eliminating the round stage for a more conventional one.
The new stage reduced the number of seats, which had a financial impact on the organization. And according to a 2007 Star-Telegram report, "That series' bestselling show sold only 40 percent of the house." Other shows sold even less.
Now Casa, back on its own, faces even more competition. Besides Bass Hall, venues such as Dallas' new Winspear Opera House and Nokia Theatre at Grand Prairie are tapping into the same audience.
"There's no new money," said Ray Hair, president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Professional Musicians Association.
Some believe that Casa has viable options.
Michael Jenkins, Dallas Summer Musicals president and managing director, called the changes "wrenching for Casa" but said it could present "little" plays, such as Driving Miss Daisy with Sandy Duncan in the lead as it did in 2009.
Jenkins said Jones approached him shortly after coming to Fort Worth in 2008 about joining Dallas Summer Musicals in securing shows for Fort Worth.
"We were enthusiastic to be able to have a wonderful relationship with Casa and Fort Worth in particular," Jenkins said. "We may be assisting them with, or they assisting us with, shows that they are doing at their original location.
"Casa has asked me to help them organize a show that may go to Broadway."
Several prominent members of the Fort Worth arts community consider the new directions for Performing Arts Fort Worth and Casa Mañana to be tailored to, and reflective of, the specific talents brought by Dione Kennedy and Wally Jones to their respective organizations.
"Everyone knows that Dione's forte is presenting shows -- it's what she was known for doing when she was in Dayton -- so it makes sense for her to do it for Bass Hall," Hart said. "And Wally always had a reputation for loving to produce shows and having stated when he came on board at Casa that he wanted to produce more shows at the dome."
Darren Woods, general director of the Fort Worth Opera, speculated that in the long term the move might benefit both organizations, although he expressed uncertainty whether the community would support a full slate of Broadway shows at both Bass Hall and Casa Mañana.
"Only time will tell whether offering twice as much Broadway in two different venues will prove to be a good idea," Woods said.
JOHN AUSTIN, 817-390-7874
ANDREW MARTON, 817-390-7679