Society for the Performing Arts, like all the home companies of Houston’s Theater District, was knee-knocked by Hurricane Harvey. But it’s doing its best to stand up again.
As an “anchor” presenter for major touring acts from around the world, SPA utilizes both of the district’s damaged marquee venues, Jones Hall and the Wortham Theater Center. Adding to the headaches, the organization also lost its offices in Jones Hall’s flooded basement.
Executive director June Christensen said she’s now behind on scheduling the 2018-19 season’s programs because, in the storm’s aftermath, she had to miss the national booking conferences she normally attends.
Scrambling like her colleagues in the district to reschedule the current season’s shows, she’s now scored a few victories.
Significantly for the organization’s bottom line, SPA has re-booked the veteran magic-comedy duo Penn and Teller for June 8 at Jones Hall. Their performances usually generate $80,000 – $10,000 in ticket revenue.
Also rescheduled, some with new venues:
- Piano Battle – 3 and 7 p.m. Jan 28. 3, Hobby Center
- Bria Skonberg – 7:30 p.m. March 23, Jones Hall
- Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic – 7:30 p.m. April 20, University of Houston’s Cullen Theater
- Ballet Hispánico –7:30 p.m. May 18, University of Houston’s Cullen Theater
Christensen expects Jones Hall to be open again for “a crazy-busy weekend” in early November with performances that illustrate SPA’s range: Classical music with the hip group 2Cellos on Nov. 4, the Argentinean dance company Tango Buenos Aires Nov. 3, opera diva Renee Fleming Nov. 4 and humorist David Sedaris Nov. 6.
Nearly half of SPA’s season was impacted by the closure of the Wortham and Jones Hall, affecting 10 of the 26 acts it booked for 2017-18.
Many touring groups’ budgets rely on ticket sales in Houston, so the hit to any shoes SPA can’t reschedule could be felt industry-wide. To honor contracts, Christensen may shift some lost shows to next season — such as Momix, the contemporary dance company, whose Sept. 15 show at Jones Hall had to be canceled.
The moves, however, cost money. Christensen said the marketing expense alone for reshuffling this season’s shows will exceed $50,000. And she expects a decrease in ticket sales, although patrons have so far been patient: Some have donated their season ticket buys to the organization or agreed to whatever rescheduling happens rather than seek refunds.
Until the storm, Momix tickets had been selling well. Including loss of revenue and the cancellation of some major SPA fund-raising events, Christensen anticipates that SPA could post an $850,000 loss to its $5.5 million budget this season.
“We keep projecting downward at this point,” Christensen said. “Fortunately, our board is supportive, and we will look at SBA loans, but it’s not clear what that looks like.”
Christensen said the affected artists have all shown more concern for Houston and SPA than themselves, and the feeling is mutual. “These are artists we care about, and we do want to return them to Houston.”