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FMCT almost shut down temporarily

The Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre has suffered from a decline in gaming revenues and grant money. Dave Wallis / The Forum

As corporate, grant and gaming income declined earlier this year, the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre Board of Directors briefly considered temporarily closing its doors to work on a new business model, said Director of Theater Scott Brusven.

There was talk of closing for the season or for a shorter period of time, but those conversations were very brief, said FMCT Board President Cheryl Lausch.

"It would have been a huge - I feel - detriment to the community to lose the community theater, even if it was just going to be for a year for planning," Brusven said.

Permanent closure of FMCT was never discussed, Lausch and Brusven said.

"We have too great a space; never could that happen," Lausch said.

Instead, the board eliminated several jobs, Brusven said.

The positions of business and development director and business manager were cut in January. In June, the box-office manager, artistic director and assistant to the technical director positions were eliminated.

Brusven said the theater now has three full-time employees and one part-time employee, with plans to hire part-time, contract and seasonal help as needed.

Lausch said no job cuts were related to performance.

FMCT also developed a new model for the organization.

The board "really looked at the business model and the financial model that we were operating under and went line by line," Brusven said.

It's been a trying year for the theater. Along with hits in corporate dollars, grant funding and gaming, a drop in ticket sales and the flood have hurt FMCT. Rick Stenseth, gaming manager and interim executive director, estimated that revenue for FMCT was $100,000 less in the 2008-09 fiscal year than was budgeted.

Despite the difficulties, FMCT organizers see some silver linings. Lausch is excited about the new model and hopes it will lead to deeper connections with the community at large - the arts community in particular.

In 2009-10, FMCT plans to host four theater groups on its stage, including Tin Roof Theatre, Music Theatre Fargo-Moorhead and the Red River Players. Brusven said arrangements with a fourth group haven't been finalized, but, "I'm going to say it's 99 percent going to happen."

Those alliances will bring some funding into the theater, and, "at the same time, we really, really want to reconnect with the community and make sure that our space is a community asset," Brusven said.

The theater is also expanding its children's theater offerings and looking at hosting concerts of local musicians and art exhibits.

Financially speaking, the "new model will work," Brusven said.

"Before the final decisions were made, we went through a revision of, I think, nine or 10 different budget breakdowns," he said. "Basically from February to June 1 to really make sure that the decisions that were being made were going to be long term. We're not looking at the fix for just this season. We've got a five- to 10-year plan that that model is working toward."