Like every other nonprofit arts organization in Florida, American Stage had to deal with a crippling reduction in state appropriations for 2018. With an annual operating budget of $2.6 million, the 41-year-old professional theater company received a grand total of $9,000 from Tallahassee.
Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte is a “glass-half-full” kind of woman, however, and she tells the Catalyst that she, and the venerable and beloved American Stage itself, welcome new challenges.
St. Pete Catalyst: What were your company’s biggest accomplishments in 2018?
Gularte: Two words: growth and diversity. This year we saw more engagement and more diversity throughout our programs and among American Stage audiences and artists as a result of our Next Generation initiatives, our program selections and a nonprofit business culture that emphasizes community. We’re reached our highest subscribership since the company first moved into its new space 10 years ago and we’re seeing more young people and many “first-timers” attend our performances and take our classes. Our youth programs had record breaking enrollment and thanks to the support of our donors, we were able to offer more than 150 scholarships to children throughout our community. Our improv program has exploded. There’s a building sense that the American Stage community is energized by and connected to the work we do. I feel personally energized by the level of engagement in our work. It’s been an exciting year!
St. Pete Catalyst: What was a challenge the company faced in 2018, and what did you learn from it?
Gularte: The state funding cuts to the arts of over 90 percent was really a blow. Not only because of the immediate and significant reduction in funding but because of the message sent by this action and the troubling course our state is taking with regards to support for the arts. Florida was once ranked 10th in the country for arts funding. We are now 48th.
For those of us in St. Pete, those cuts are happening at a time when we our organizations are contributing more than ever to our local economy. From this challenge, I re-learned the hard lesson that the arts cannot rely on one funding source for support and that, while my role is to bring quality and impactful arts programs to our community, a significant part of my job is finding and maintaining those other sources of support.
But on a much more positive note, I also learned how much our community cares about its arts organizations. Many individuals and businesses have stepped up to help bridge the gap and to let us know how much they value American Stage.
St. Pete Catalyst: What are your goals for the company in 2019?
Gularte: There are so many opportunities ahead in 2019! As a society, it seems that we are A-WAKE right now. At American Stage we want to build on our momentum in a meaningful and positive way. Specifically, we’ll work to continue to build an American Stage community that more closely reflects the exciting diversity of St. Pete; grow our under 30 audience; add 2-3 new staff members to the American Stage team; and inspire meaningful dialogue through some of our most compelling and challenging mainstage productions. This will also be the year when we launch our 2019-2022 strategic plan, providing the American Stage staff and board with clearly defined steps in its evolution to become one of America’s leading professional regional theatres.
St. Pete Catalyst: What business insight (advice or a tip) can you share with readers?
Gularte: I believe in being authentic, being consistent and being ever-curious about what else is possible.
St. Pete Catalyst: What was your favorite: movie in 2018?
Gularte: Okay, truth: A Star is Born made me bite my lip hard so as not to ugly cry in public. Beautiful performances. A heartbreaking story.