With each Pacific Northwest Ballet production, Artistic Director Peter Boal creates a Director’s Notebook. We’re inspired today to bring you his latest editorial for JEWELS, giving you a glimpse into the business behind ballet.
By Peter Boal
Sometimes, just after the curtain rises, a soft collective “ahhh” and a smattering of applause are heard throughout the audience. That’s when the magic begins. I suspect we’ll hear a few “ahhhs” during the run of George Balanchine’s Jewels. Jerome Kaplan’s new designs for tutus, tiaras, tunics, and scenics are stunning. Bringing those designs to life is a team of artisans unmatched in their ability.
Go ahead, gasp. Long before you gasp, we plan. As you might imagine, there is quite a bit of business going on behind the scenes. In 700 words or less, I intend to introduce you to some of the nuts and bolts that make magic possible.
We have our own costume shop and wardrobe department with about a dozen employees who work for us year round. Much praise goes to Larae Theige Hascall for her calm and effective management of our shop. A build like Jewels requires more than a dozen, so we added seven employees. We also partnered with Mark Zappone, who established his own shop called Z Studios. Mark and his team of another dozen or so built costumes for Rubies and all of the men’s Costumes for Emeralds and Diamonds. Technical Director Norbert Herriges leads our team of builders and craftsman. Most work for PNB year round, but painters are project-based. Rico Chiarelli, a true magician, brings beauty and mood to the stage through his lighting design.
So what does all this cost? The build of Jewels alone is close to half a million. An extensive fundraising campaign has come to a close with close to sixty much-appreciated gifts. Our development department solicits and coordinates this effort with help from board leadership. We are still working to complete funding for our new New Works Initiative this year. If you want to know about contributing to New Works, start with our website. Small gifts matter and they open a door to a greater understanding and appreciation of the art form you admire.
More business. Most of our fundraising is directed to out Annual Fund, which pays for employees salaries and general operations for our institution, which currently has a $25 million annual operating budget. We employ close to 50 dancers, 3 ballet masters, 60 musicians, 30 faculty members, 14 in-school teaching artists, 30 accompanists, 1 drummer, 12 in costume and wardrobe, a team of backstage dressers, hair, and make-up artists, 7 in the box office, 6 in scenic, 2 stage managers, 11 Pilates instructors, a wellness team of another 7, plus a staff of about 50. We operate out of five buildings: McCaw Hall, the neighboring Phelps Center, the new Francia Russell Center in Bellevue, our scene shop in Fremont, and out storage facility in Tukwila–each with its own lease and rent. Add in our pointe show bill, which runs about $260,000 a season, and you see how we get to $25 million.
PNB has a well-deserved reputation for fiscal prudence. Executive Director Ellen Walker and our board of trustees oversee an endowment of approximately $16 million and a stabilization fund of about $2 million. Our endowment contributes 4.75% to our annual operating budget.
Ticket sales provide the lion’s share of our revenue, with between 11 and 12 million coming in through subscriptions and single ticket sales. More than half comes from The Nutcracker. The School contributes a small amount to the bottom line with its own $4.8 million annual budget, sustained by tuition, Summer Course dorm and audition tour revenue, and support from individuals, foundations, corporations, and government. Fundraising brings in between $6 and $8 million per year, depending on individual campaigns. A few more pots like Amusements, our audience education program, and rentals for studios, productions, and costumes help us break even. We often post small surpluses and count every dollar to do so.
It’s like a complex ecosystem with many essential and unseen factors contributing to the wonder of performance. Tiaras may grace the stage, but don’t fall from the sky. It takes the vision of a great designer, the artists required for the build, and the funding necessary to pay for it. Once complete, we need an exquisite ballerina in a beautiful hall, complete with ushers, dressers, musicians, stage hands, and you. Thanks for being part of the magic.
Featured photo: PNB Company dancers in Rubies. Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust, photo ©Angela Sterling.