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updated: 1/15/2014 10:13 AM

Metropolis needs changes to survive

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  • Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.

    Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.
    Daily Herald file photo


A report put together by a volunteer task force outlined numerous problems with the way Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is being run, but officials for the Arlington Heights theater said the organization is already in much better shape than when the report was written.

The Metropolis Task Force was formed in April of last year and presented its more than 20-page report full of observations and recommendations on financing, programming and marketing in October. The report was released to the Daily Herald this week after repeated requests.

Metropolis has been sometimes controversial in Arlington Heights because of its financial struggles and the fiscal support it receives from the village. Arlington Heights owns the building where Metropolis resides downtown and provides an annual stipend of $160,000, though in some years the financial contribution has been higher.

"We believe that local theater is a vital part of our community," the report states. "However, we feel that in its present form, Metropolis will not survive without some drastic and timely changes."

Despite that strong language, the report didn't drop any bombshells and the suggested changes weren't drastic.

Joe Lynn, president of the Metropolis board of directors, said the organization was grateful to the volunteers for putting so much time into the report.

"We appreciate the work they put in. Our first reaction was, 'OK, this is helpful,'" Lynn said, adding that the board wasn't offended.

"There were some things we felt maybe they didn't quite understand or some things that they pointed out which were maybe opinion as opposed to empirical fact," Lynn said, citing portions of the report that criticize the Metropolis logo and quality of its programs. "We took this in the spirit that these are people who care about the organization and their desire to see us succeed." Many of the suggestions made by the task force were already being put in place, Lynn said.

"The proof is where we're at today; there has been a tremendous upswing since that report was done," he said.

The task force recommended a rebranding of Metropolis to make its name more easily and positively identified in the area as a professional acting company. It also suggested a quantitative study of the economic impact of Metropolis "to help state the case as to why village support is so critical."

The task force also suggested that Metropolis form a "friends of" organization to handle fundraising and volunteering as is done at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library and other organizations in town.

The report says the Metropolis board of directors needs better purpose and organization.

"We had a difficult time determining the current board's roles," the report said.

The report also voices concerns about Executive Director Charlie Beck's role. It suggests that hiring an operational manager to run the day-to-day functions would allow Beck to focus on building relationships with possible donors or sponsors in the community.

Lynn said the board would consider hiring an operational manager but can't afford to do so right now.

The report said the Metropolis "offers a variety of programming -- comedy, concerts, theater and children/family events -- but the overall quality is inconsistent and has declined in recent years, causing the Metropolis brand to suffer." The task force suggested having fewer programs of higher quality to draw in new and returning patrons.

One point the Metropolis is taking to heart is a criticism about the lack of visibility for the theater from any main roads in the village, Lynn said. Officials from the theater are planning to talk to the village about new signage or a large marquee.

The task force report said several area theaters survive with little or no municipal support and at theaters that do receive larger amounts of money, the municipality exerts much tighter control over the organization than in the case of the Metropolis. One suggestion was to tie the amount of village funding to the success of the theater.

Last year, village trustees told Metropolis the organization needed to work harder to live within its means. Lynn said the organization has made changes to do so, such as producing fewer in-house shows or spending less on those that they do produce.

With the annual budget discussions with the village board coming in March, Lynn said he is much more optimistic now than he was at this time last year.

He contends the task force report was written while the Metropolis was in the midst of a turnaround, so it doesn't reflect changes that have been made within the past year.

Beck said Metropolis expects to end this fiscal year in the black for the first time in years.

"We're doing better than we've done in a very long time and we want to keep this momentum going," Lynn said. "We've been through some very dark times and we are absolutely out of the dark times. I'm looking forward to ending a really solid year."

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