Change was coming to The Paper Bag Players, a theatre organization that had been dedicated to performing for children since the late 1950s. During the 2009-2010 season, The Bags, as they are often called, were going to face financial challenges to their current operating model. In addition, Judith Martin, the founder of the company, was stepping down from her position of Artistic Director. She was leaving the reins to Ted Brackett, who directed his first production for The Bags during the 2008-09 season. Kathy Mele, who had served as President of the Board for two three-year terms, was also stepping down. These were significant operational and leadership transitions for The Bags.
Judith Liss, the Managing Director of the organization for more than forty years, knew that she needed to discuss potential strategies for the future with the rest of her administrative staff and introduce them to the new artistic and Board leaders. These strategies were going to bring change at the same time the organization was adapting to new leadership and to an environment marked by a recession.
The Bags’ low ticket prices had long made it possible for economically disadvantaged children to see live theatre, many for the first time. This pricing was an important part of their mission—to present theatre to as many children as possible—a mission which the company had pursued mostly in the Northeastern United States. While the low admission prices had helped the organization attract more than five million children, it also meant that the organization was highly dependent upon donations to subsidize the cost of production.
Arts contributions were declining drastically, in part due to the economic recession that began in 2008, and the organization needed to find a way to become less dependent upon these contributions. Additional contributions were received at the May 2008 Spring Benefit; however, these were one-time gifts honoring the organization’s 50th Anniversary. A strategy was needed for the organization to continue to thrive in the 21st Century and to overcome the significant decrease in contributions which would be coming soon.
This case contains a video link.
Publication Date: 2010-05-15
Suggested Citation: Luis Abril, "The Paper Bag Players (2009)," Yale Theater Management Knowledge Base Case Study #08-16, May 15, 2010
Keywords: New York City, Children, Competition, Development, Great Recession, Leadership Transition, Great Recession, Small Organization, Strategy
Teaching Notes: No
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