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Kerry Clawson  |  August 17, 2015

University of Akron's new E.J. Thomas rental policy will cost dance presenter thousands

A critical player in an effort to make the University of Akron a nationally recognized center for choreography has become another victim of the university's effort to cut costs.

DanceCleveland learned last week that it will have to spend thousands of dollars more than it ever has to use the E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Center Oct. 4 for its season opener in Akron with Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.

The performance will go on as planned, said Executive Director Pam Young, but there could be as much as $22,000 in unanticipated costs for an organization with a $700,000 annual budget.

The increase includes a $17,000 rental package that includes stagehands and some rented lights; $3,000 in Akron-based marketing expenses previously handled by E.J. Thomas staff; and $1,800 for DanceCleveland to hire a production manager. Young also expects additional expenses, including renting a hazer, or fog machine, for one of the dance numbers, hiring a fire marshal and renting a dance floor.

DanceCleveland will also have to pay a new 6 percent secondary fee on all ticket sales for the concert.

Because the higher costs come after DanceCleveland's annual budget was approved by its board, Young is looking to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and other donors for emergency funding.

"We see the potential of additional funding coming from the community to help us," Young said.

Knight involvement

Local foundations already are heavily committed to DanceCleveland and the UA dance school.

The Akron Community Foundation in June said it would make $10,000 available for the October event.

In addition, Knight has promised $5 million to fund a choreography center at UA, to be run by a board made up of representatives of DanceCleveland, the university, the foundation and a former founding director of the only other university choreography center at Florida State University.

According to statements made at the time of the partnership announcement in May, use of E.J. Thomas is part of the deal, but whether that also is affected by university cutbacks could not be discerned Friday.

University Chief Financial Officer Nathan Mortimer, who has taken over responsibility for the performing arts center after management staff was laid off three weeks ago, could not be reached for comment Friday.

It was Mortimer who revealed to Young on Thursday that her organization will now be a renter and subject to fees, at least for the October dance event.

"It's just very difficult to have this sort of cost thrust on us, with so little time to be able to react and to be able to try to overcome it," Young said. "The hard part is we already have a budget; our fiscal year started July 1. To get hit with unexpected expenses, this is big for us. We're a little organization that does sort of big things."

Sharing costs in past

For a decade, DanceCleveland has been a co-presenter with E.J. Thomas and the University of Akron's dance program for its annual fall concert in Akron.

The UA dance department has provided financial assistance in the past, and will continue to do so.

"We've contributed up to $10,000 every year and we'll do it again," said Neil Sapienza, director of the School of Dance, Theatre and Arts Administration.

Artists' fees to bring Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal from Canada to Akron are $40,000 - $12,000 of which covers the company's residency with UA dance students Sept. 28-Oct. 2, which will be paid for by the dance department. The weeklong residency, which gives the students the opportunity to work with national and international dance artists, is in its ninth year.

By sharing costs in the past, E.J. has gotten major dance companies on its stage, DanceCleveland has benefited from the university's marketing power, and the dance department has gotten world-class residencies it couldn't otherwise have afforded.

Civic Theatre to assist

DanceCleveland and the University of Akron did not yet have a contract secured with E.J. Thomas Hall for this fall before UA dismissed all E.J. staff, part of a massive package of cuts to save the university $40 million. Contracts normally go out after July 1, Young said.

DanceCleveland already had sold 350 seats to subscribers for the fall performance by Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal.

Starting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, tickets for the Oct. 4 dance show may be purchased at the Civic Theatre box office, across from the theater in the Ohio Building at 175 S. Main St., or by calling the Civic box office, 330-253-2488.

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